Mission Impossible: Getting Paid for Pursuing my Passions

Aloha all,

I apologize for my long hiatus from blogging, but life has been busy and I am just now finding the time to sit down and write about some updates. Since my trip to the Philippines, I have returned to Oahu and began my service with Americorps. An important aspect of Americorps is environmental stewardship, as the state of the environment plays such a crucial role in the health of the nation’s citizens as well as the economy. In Hawaii, Kupu is the local non-profit that Americorps is funding. I absolutely love working for this incredible organization. Their mission is to empower future generations to create a more sustainable, pono Hawaii. In Hawaiian, the word “kupu” means “to sprout, grow”, providing the backbone of the non-profit’s efforts to revive the people, land, and sea across the state. Kupu’s work is also based on the Kupukupu fern, which is one of the first plants to sprout after a lava flow. This is significant because the fern not only serves as a foundational species for rebuilding a healthy, native ecosystem, but also symbolizes a place where knowledge can grow. After learning from (our) experience, (we/the youth) can become the next generation of green leaders and positively impact the communities in which we work.

The specific program through Kupu I am involved in is called the “Extended Internship Program” which is a full-time job for 10 months. I applied through Kupu who then sent my resume to different organizations throughout Oahu, who then reached out and interviewed me. Some of these included Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of Land and Natural Resources, Hawaiian Fishpond Association, and a few more. I ended up choosing Hawaiian Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB), and I am thrilled with this decision. HIMB is located off Kane’ohe Bay on a small island called Moku o’Loe, or more commonly, Coconut Island.

Every day I commute across the island, through the beautiful misty mountains, and park at the Lilipuna pier in Kane’ohe, right across from the Windward Mall. Even though I face traffic jams and morning rain, it is such a jaw-dropping commute it is totally worth it. It has only been a few weeks at HIMB and I have learned so so much. As previously mentioned, I am working with the Community Education Department, which means I get to do a lot of education and outreach, all relating to marine biology. If you know me you can probably guess how ideal this position is for me. I adore getting to work with local students and getting them stoked on science and conservation.

I will let you know what a “typical” day looks like- although every day is a little different. In the morning I board a small 6-person boat which regularly shuttles between the pier and the island. It is a short but absolutely stunning ride across. I depart next to the lighthouse, and make my way towards the classroom and office, often taking a detour to the shark lagoon, especially if I am early. There are three black tips and many small juvenille hammerheads in this section of the island. The black tips are used for a telemetry study, so researchers are tracking the way that the sharks move through their environment. The hammerheads are in there to make sure they are healthy and read for further studies. It is funny how familiar I am already getting with this island. I could tell you that there is one huge porcupine pufferfish, and a baby barracuda (kaku) who are regularly hanging out in the same spot. These research lagoons act like an ancient Hawaiian fishpond, as fish swim through the netting when the are little, but eat and grow to a point where they can’t get out. The sharks are fed very well, so they rarely go after the fish swimming in the enclosures, thus there’s a lot of big fish in there.

Sorry for that diversion, anyways I make it to my office between 7:30 and 8, and try to work with scheduling. School groups, community members, and tourists all contact the Community Education Department (CEP) to organize tours, over nights, field trips, labs, ect. I return phone calls and emails and schedule groups. This involves sending out invoices, ensuring our research vessel is available, making sure a volunteer is available…and so on. I often also run random errands and visit the main office to retrieve packages or mail. Some times I head down to our educational touch tank to feed the animals or clean the tank. Other times I prepare for labs or tours. Tours run almost every day, and because I am new I try to shadow as many as possible. At around 9:30 I head back to Lilipuna Pier to pick up the guests and show them around the island. I have learned so so much about the history of the island, it is crazy how cool this island is. Once home to a zoo, bowling alley, saltwater pool, shooting range, tons of bars, and a huge ship! Now it is a would renowned research facility- with amazing and innovative studies being conducted. Scientists can literally jump into the water, grab a fragment of coral, and run the DNA sequence right on the island. It is pretty incredible. These tours last 2-3 hours.

Other days we run labs, mostly for school groups. They are tiring but SO much fun. I generally accompany our boat captain, Fritz, to He’eia Pier where we meet the school. We take the Hono Kai, which fits around 30-40 people. At the pier I go over safety guidelines, and then we all board the boat. If they are young we distribute life vests. On our ½ hour ride back to Coconut island we teach the kids about plankton. We even have them help us collect samples using a plankton net, which are used later for one of the labs. We also always keep an eye out for turtles or other cool wildlife. It’s pretty common to see a rainbow spanning all the way across the Kalalau mountain range, an incredible sight each time.

Anyways, we split the class into two groups, and run two labs simultaneously and then switch. One of these is the plankton lab. We do a presentation to the students about the importance of plankton (making 2/3 of the oxygen we breathe here in Hawaii) and go over the dominant species. We have little guidebooks of common plankton in Kane’ohe Bay, which we distribute to the kids. We have microscopes set up at each table and go over the basic instructions on how to focus/use them. We then have the kids use a pipette to place a few drops of the plankton sample on the slides, and then ask them to identify and draw the species on a handout. It is crucial to educate them on the importance of identifying plankton species, as it helps to indicate the health of the ocean, and can be a sign of a pollution event or sudden change.

The other lab is called the invasive algae lab. I collect gorilla ogo algae from right in front of the beach house, where the lab takes place. I teach the kids about the 7 different phylums. Going into details about what species make up each phylum. For example, “echinoderms meaning spiny skin- like sea stars, sea cucumbers, sea urchins” and just go through the organization of life. From the few times I have led this lab I have found some really amazing sea creatures. One lab we found 75 little brittle sea stars! I have also found the endemic keahea file clam, my new favorite animal of all time. They swim around, make nests, drop tentacles, and are beautiful. We also find tons of crabs, sponges, sea cucumbers, fish, and sea squirts. I have so much fun watching the little girls shift from shrieking “ew gross!” to “omg cool!” It brings me so much happiness to answer their questions and share their excitement. After we separate and sort the invertebrates and native algae, we release them into the sea and use the invasive gorilla ogo algae as fertilizer!

Beyond tours, I help with two larger programs during the school year. Kulia is a group of around 15 high school students, and it is an after school marine biology club. We will be helping them develop research, snorkel around the island, and learn all about marine bio. I do another similar group Wednesdays and Fridays for students. It only started this week so I gave them a tour of the island and have been getting to know them. It is a small group of only 4 high school students, so I have a feeling I am going to be getting very close with them this year.

I have also been doing courses in boating and waterfront lifeguarding. Both o which have been pretty time consuming but super useful nonetheless. Eventually I will be driving the boat so I can pick up tours! Exciting! The lifeguard cert will allow me to bring the students snorkeling with me which will be amazing. I also plan on taking a free diving safety course and maybe even a scientific diving course! I also get to attend workshops and such. I went to the Waikiki aquarium for a marine educators night. I also got to go to the NOAA facility on Ford Island to help out with a workshop on how to use NOAA educational tools. It was soo cool to get to look around the building and learn about current objectives and projects going on. In the future I will be presenting a poster, and even judging at a regional high school science fair! How cool

I have also been working on our website, editing the tabs and hopefully will be adding more blog posts soon! In the future I also hope to aid in research going on around the island. My initial interest is to participate in the shark lab, helping out with feeding and cleaning. I think that would be super incredible. I have been meeting some world famous researchers, learned about amazing research, and met the nicest people ever. I am so excited for what the next. Check out my blog post here

Juvenile Hammerhead Enclosure
Teaching the students about plankton tows
Lunch views

img_69681Swimming clams

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