Over the course of the past 3 months, Reef Renewal Foundation Bonaire has had two interns working in the office, teaching the interns about and involving them in our coral restoration efforts. Caroline and Mackenzie came to Bonaire from the States in May, and as their time nears its end, they wanted to share a bit of their experience.
What does your typical day look like?
Mackenzie: No two days were the same this summer. Some days we would be sent to one of the eight nurseries to clean or propagate corals, and other days we would be back-rolling off a boat near one of our many restoration sites. There were several days in which we did both! Of course, there were some on-land tasks, such as working on content for social media or the website, but I can count on one hand the number of days that I stayed completely dry.
The nurseries are where the bulk of our work occurred this summer. Due to the timing of our internship, we focused more on the propagation phase rather than the outplanting, so we did a lot of cleaning and pruning over the past 3 months. Pruning dives can be quite therapeutic, I think. You get to hover over the sandy bottom with your own tying station set up next to you, and you find a rhythm. You’re never at a tree alone, too. There’s always a Spanish hogfish or two keeping a close eye on what you’re doing, and the odd peacock flounder will sneak up on you for a peek. Nothing feels more accomplishing than looking at your nursery tree completely cleaned and filled – not a hole or fire coral polyp in sight.
For me, it was a special day when we would hop on a boat and go to a restoration site. There are a lot of materials required for an outplanting dive, and they’re usually two-tank dives. We got into the habit of prepping all of our materials the day before, so I would go to bed excited for the next day at work knowing there would be nothing boring about my day. It’s thrilling to empty a tree of its corals and whisk them away to their new home. Then, after all of the hard work is done and the corals are outplanted, to be able to go back a few weeks later and see them still happy brings so much joy.
One of my favorite afternoons of this internship was when we took our boat, the Coral Lover, over to Klein and went on two fun dives to look at older restoration sites. The best part was seeing the massive elkhorn colonies, then learning on the boat afterwards that Francesca had outplanted some of them herself when the project first started. Not only was the progress of those corals impressive, but it was inspiring to see so many creatures making a home out of them, as well. It shows that our hard work is benefitting the ocean and its inhabitants. And to think, someday the corals that I outplanted this summer will look like the ones I saw that day.
What have you learned from your internship?
Caroline: When I first started the internship at Reef Renewal Foundation Bonaire, my coral knowledge was next to none. Its extent was that coral reefs are dying and they are very important to the ecosystem. My time spent both in Bonaire and at RRFB has given me more insight as to what some of the causes for the decline in coral reefs are and why they are so important to the ecosystem. The causes for the decrease of coral reefs vary from place to place. Around the world, coral bleaching is a big problem, but Bonaire is lucky to not have that be a major factor. Instead, other factors have contributed more towards their decline in reefs: such as the loss of the long-spine sea urchin; coral disease; and physical damage from storms (even though Bonaire is outside of the hurricane belt, it does still feel the effects). One importance I learned that absolutely blew my mind was how much of a hand corals reef have in the field of medicine. I discovered that those in the medical industry are looking towards reefs for medical advances and are using sponges to find and discover new antibiotics. There is always more to be learned from coral reefs, but my knowledge from when I started the internship to now has greatly improved.
Along from improving my coral knowledge, the RRFB internship has helped me develop my leadership skills. This ranges from giving public presentations to leading volunteers underwater. Every week RRFB holds 1-2 volunteer dives. On these dives it was my job to lead those volunteers in whatever activity we are doing for the day. Sometimes this was cleaning in the nursery and hanging new corals in the trees, other times we might have been building structures. By being out in these roles, the internship has allowed me to share the knowledge that I have learned while being here with others.
What was your favorite memory of your internship?
Mackenzie: ReeFiesta was this year’s celebration of World Reef Day on June 1st. It also happened to be the first Saturday of our internship – what a way to introduce us to the community of coral lovers here on Bonaire! It was a full day of diving, both at Buddy Dive’s house reef and over at the 45-tree nursery on the south side of Klein. The morning dive consisted of my first and only elkhorn outplanting dive using the two-part marine epoxy. It was the hardest outplanting dive of the summer, seeing as though it was in five feet of water and took a lot of muscle to rid the rock of algae, but I had so much fun. Then, in the afternoon, four boats filled with participants from all of Reef Renewal’s five dive shop members ventured over to the Klein nursery. Myself and the other 109 divers jumped in and went to town cleaning all of the trees. I can’t quite put words to how incredible it was to see the nursery bustling with so many people wanting to give back to the reef. There were people of all ages cleaning the trees, and there were photographers swimming up and down the rows of trees trying to capture the enormity of the underwater event. ReeFiesta set a positive tone for the rest of the summer. I hope I can come back in the years to come and participate in it again!
Caroline: This was a big day for RRFB, we finally had our boat back in the water after being out of commission for two months. For this day’s work we were outplanting and had our friend, Lorenzo Mittiga, joining us with his camera to help document what we do here at Reef Renewal. Due to this, we were all filled with excitement. When we were all on the boat and had all of our gear set up, Francesca was ready to increase the boat speed. As we were cruising along, Francesca turns the boat so we could head to our South Klein nursery. During this though, the wind caught Garrett’s favorite hat, landing it in the ocean. This caused Francesca to turn the boat around and we all went to search for his hat. Honestly, I thought it was a goner until Francesca spotted it and started yelling at all of us for someone to jump in. In the mass of panic and confusion, Mackenzie was the closest to the edge of the boat and jumps in. She was swimming with her wetsuit half on with no mask, blindly looking for this hat. Both Garrett and Lorenzo then put on their mask and jump in to help her. Lorenzo managed to find the hat as it was sinking and we got them all back on the boat. We all cheered and started laughing as the situation was ridiculous but was also just another day for the coral lovers! Once we all regained our composure, we continued to our South Klein nursery to collect the corals we were outplanting.