So today was the day- the day where all of the roads that I have taken in my life have merged together. The Teacher Under the Sea program at the Aquarius Reef Base, the world’s only operating undersea laboratory, is the ultimate collaboration of all of my passions in life, and today was Day 1. My name is Hillary and I currently teach Kindergarten and 1st Grade at Ocean Studies Charter School in Tavernier, Florida. At our school, we have the unique opportunity to spark children’s passion for the ocean at a young age, and because of our location, our students get a hands on experience with weekly field trips to the sea. I feel so privileged to work at a school where I can influence young minds in hopes that they will change the world. However, my love of the ocean does not stop there. Before I was a teacher, I was a SCUBA instructor and a zookeeper. I rehabilitated injured and sick manatees and sea turtles. I have seen first-hand what pollution and the destruction of our oceans can do to animals, and I want to change it.
The study that we are about to embark upon is a study about sharks and how their presence affects herbivorous reef fish. Unfortunately, algae is growing on our coral reefs and it is killing them. Herbivorous fish, like parrotfish, eat algae, however when their predators are lacking, they tend to venture off to find their food. The theory behind this study is that the presence of sharks at the reef will cause herbivorous fish to stay closer to the reef, and in turn, they will eat the algae off of the coral, which will help to keep it alive. We will be using low frequency sound to attract sharks in order to study the fish’s reactions. We will be studying this all week, and I cannot wait! We will be assisting scientists in the set-up, observations, and data collection for this research project. Along with that, we will be diving and entering the Aquarius habitat to Skype with classes all over the world. The most exciting part is that we get to spend a night in the habitat! That means I get to sleep 60 feet below the ocean’s surface. I. Can. Not. Wait.
Today was Day 1 and we had our check out dives. The visibility was poor but we all performed the skills required and demonstrated that we are competent divers. We met all of the scientists, the dive team, and everyone who keeps Aquarius running. We learned all of the “dos” and “don’ts” of Aquarius and how to keep ourselves safe. There were a lot of new faces, tons of information, and a lot of excitement. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!