Travelers illness(es), snorkeling, and scuba diving

*Sometimes I use affiliate links in my content. This won’t cost you anything and will not harm our mother earth. I just might get some funding to go toward filling my logbook and sharing more with you.

¡Hola!

Okay, I know…It has really been awhile this time.

But hey, I am living on island time now!

Sunset on Playa Mann (Photo By: Kayelyn Smith)
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It has been a wild ride so far here on San Cristobal in the Galapagos. I have learned so much about the island, the wildlife, and the locals. I had an adjustment period when I got to Quito in January and I had yet another when I arrived here too.

However, I am WAY more happier here than I ever was in Quito. I have learned from living there that I am not a city girl. Also, I found it pretty easy to adjust to island life and the small town. I think this was so easy for me because my university, Juniata College, is a small campus located in a small town. My high school also had a small number of students and was in a town where everyone knew each other. Therefore, being here just reminds me of being in those environments, which I think is very different for some people in my program who are from cities or larger universities.

Before I get into the details of island life, let me tell you a story about my journey from the mainland to here.

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Quito -> Galapagos

I was supposed to leave on Sunday, February 3rd. I was excited because I was sick of the city and was just ready to be at the beach. However, I woke up that morning and vomited. A lot. I was so nauseated. A lot of thoughts went through my head, “Is my Crohn’s flaring? What did I eat? What do I do?”. I did what I do best and pulled myself together the best I could. I was able to take a taxi to the university where we were going to board the bus for the airport. Long story short, I vomited a lot more and ended up having to miss my flight. I went to the clinic and was treated for a stomach infection, which is common in travelers because the food is so different. My program coordinator here helped me through every step at the doctor, getting medicine, and changing my flight. I spent 2 extra days in Quito recovering so that I would be at my best when I arrive for the islands. I watched a lot of Netflix.

When the plane was approaching San Cristobal, I looked out the window with the elderly Ecuadorian men I was sitting with in awe. The beautiful blue waters and green landscapes were unbelievable. As we descended from the air to land, I could not help but tear up a little. It was finally happening. My dream was coming true. I was going to LIVE in the Galapagos.

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Finalmente

Photo By: Ethan Letourneau

When I got off the airplane, it was my first time directly walking down the steps onto the landing strip. My program coordinator for the island picked me up from the airport and took me first to the campus to put my medication in the fridge since my Humira is so temperature sensitive. We then went to my host family’s house.

My host family situation is just my host mom currently, but I really enjoy it because I get a lot of attention. My host mom’s nick name is Bachita and she is very happy to have me here. She enjoys hosting people, cooking, and cleaning. We are able to communicate in Spanish because I was able to practice my speaking skills so much in Quito with my taxi drivers. I am really glad I took Spanish all throughout high school and in college so far. Even though there is a lot of tourism here, not everyone speaks English. I have really enjoyed being able to practice so much and learn new vocabulary and geographical differences in the language. Overall, I love living with Bachita and she takes good care of me!

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But wait, aren’t you taking classes?

The JC Banner in the office at the GAIAS campus

Yes! I have just finished two modules, which was the past 6 weeks of classes (each course was 3 weeks).

My first course was Marine Life. This course was focused on studying specific groups in the marine ecosystem. We had lecture from 9am to 12pm on days when we did not have field trips. We took advantage of our surrounding environment during the class. We snorkeled at Playa Mann, the beach right outside of campus, and Cerro Tijeretas, to study the fish species there. In addition, we snorkeled at Kicker Rock, also known as León Dormido due to the shape of the rock looking like a “sleeping lion”. While there, we saw many shark species and birds.

My class also visited La Loberia to study both the terrestrial and aquatic species that can be found there. Unfortunately, this is when stomach plague number two hit me. The night before, I began vomiting multiple times. There is one public hospital on the island and it is the same place you go for a minor issue such as a bad cough. My host mom took me there for rehydration and anti nausea medication. I spent about 12 hours there. Thankfully, I did feel a lot better after receiving treatment. In these situations, knowing Spanish has been very helpful. Although treatment is free there, it is important to remember that as a “Gringo” or just a white person, you will get treated differently. It is difficult to get tests to help figure out what is actually wrong with you unless you specifically request and pester them about it. In addition, it is just not as common to figure out exactly what is wrong, their focus is to treat and get you on your way. However, this definitely varies based on person, symptoms, and who came with you to the hospital. For example, when one of my program coordinators came, she managed to get me all sorts of tests and medications.

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Scuba Certified

Before my next course began, my goal was to get my scuba diving certification for Open Water. We began on a Saturday afternoon with watching the videos. It was a hot room where; it was hard to stay awake. Afterwards, some of us treated ourselves to some pizza. You do not realize how much you miss food from the United States until you have it. The next day we did our pool dive. We learned how to put together the gear and practiced safety skills in the pool. It was definitely a very different experience that I have never had before. Overall, it was really fun though.

The next weekend, we dived right off the shore from Playa Mann in a shallow area so we could get used to the gear in an open environment. We had to expedite the processes of getting our certifications so that we would have it in time to dive in our next course, so the next day we dived again. We dived at Cerro Tijeretas, which was amazing! We saw sea turtles, sea stars, and amazing fish. It was also really great practice in an area with some currents. After returning from our dive, we took our exams to get certified and by the next day, we were officially PADI Open Water scuba divers!

Thank you Wreck Bay Diving Center!!!
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Back to Business

My next class, Marine Ecology, began that Monday. This class was taught by the same professor from my Techniques of Marine Research 1 class from Quito. I was excited to see her again because I learned a lot from her in the previous class and she has a well-structured course. She packed a lot of things into a 3-week course. In addition, we had a 2nd professor who was doing research here on a Fullbright. We assisted her in part of her project in the lab doing a heat stress and a cold stress experiment on corals here. I knew nothing about the coral communities in the Galapagos until now and she brought a lot of knowledge to our lectures in class. Our field trips included snorkeling at Rosa Blana, which is a mangrove site, snorkeling and hiking at Punta Pitt, and scuba diving at Kicker Rock/León Dormido.

At Punta Pitt, we hiked to see nesting blue footed boobies!

Now cue me getting sick….AGAIN. This time was the worst. Non-stop diarrhea and vomiting. However, the next day I was supposed to go scuba diving at Kicker Rock. This field trip was the whole reason I expedited my scuba class. So, I did what I do best and pulled myself together. I probably should not have, but I do not regret it one bit. I was not able to do the first dive, but I felt better after vomiting on the boat (my 4th time vomiting in 20 hours) and joined the second dive. I saw sharks and felt great underwater (thanks adrenaline)…you only live once!! I went to the hospital immediately after getting off the boat because I was very dehydrated. I spent the next few days feeling awful. I went back to the hospital a second time because I was still so sick. I finally felt better after a week. I promise, I am taking care of myself! Many other students are also very sick. There is a lot of new and different bacteria here.

Scuba Diving at Leon Dormido/Kicker Rock after vomiting 4 times
After the dive…
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Returning to the good stuff.

In both of my courses, my professors tasked us with creating and performing a small research project here. My first project was an observational study on the sea lion populations here and how they react to human presence. This is a hot topic here because the sea lions are EVERYWHERE. You will be walking down the sidewalk and all the sudden almost step on a sea lion. They also really enjoy hanging out on benches. However, tourists often do not respect the boundaries and attempt to get close to the animals. We were curious as to how the sea lions reacted to these attempts at various locations. Some sea lions are very reactive, but most are used to human presence.

In my Marine Ecology course, my group studied the interactions between fish and sea turtles. We filmed sea turtles and observed the cleaning symbiosis. Algae and sessile organisms gather on sea turtle bodies and fish will come feed on these organisms cleaning off the sea turtles. In addition, some fish will follow sea turtles as they feed to take advantage of the nutrients being uncovered when they forage in benthic sediment. It was really neat to see these interactions here.

I am going to end this post here, but I will be focusing more in my next post on the everyday life here and the ins and outs of the Galapagos. I promise I am actually having fun and living! I just had Spring Break and did some island hopping.

Enjoy some photos below of my island exploration!

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Here’s to less stress and more health!

Puerto Chino

My Real World

*Sometimes I use affiliate links in my content. This won’t cost you anything and will not harm our mother earth. I just might get some funding to go toward filling my logbook and sharing more with you.


The lake and the mountains have become my landscape, my real world.

Georges Simenon

Hello? Hi, its me! Remember me?

Wow, oh wow! It has been awhile. I have finally found time to crawl out from under my pile of work, stress, land commitments to write (for fun this time…but more about that later).

Midterms

As the semester progressed, midterms became closer and the stress was climbing. At the field station, since we have each class all day once a week, midterms were slightly spread out. This was so we did not have to cram and stress for multiple exams at once. Fall Break gave us a little break during that time from October 11th-14th. We all survived and made it through together. One nice thing about living with people who are taking the same classes as you are is that you can study together. We took advantage of that and helped each other understand the content. We definitely feel each other’s struggles!

Class at Balance Rock in Trough Creek State Park
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The End of Boating Season

As the weather got colder, our opportunities to go out on the boat for class were growing slim. Our limnology professor took advantage of Raystown Lake for the last time with our class. We replicated our survey from the beginning of the semester to compare data from different seasons. This was a very cold morning and unfortunately one of our boats broke down. However, it was nice to have one last boat ride this semester.

A few of us also decided to kayak for the last time. It was just barely warm enough and it was super windy. It was a lot easier to paddle in when we got to the cove out of the wind. If you ever want to experience ocean kayaking, just put in at the field station on a windy day!

Research, Research, and More Research

My research project for the semester is completed and I just finished writing the first draft of my paper for it. It has been a lot of work and A LOT of writing this past week! We spent our snow day last week writing our papers all day long by the warm fireplace in Shuster Hall. As a refresher, my group studied the effects of Acid or Abandoned Mine Drainage (AMD) restoration in Miller Run. This stream is located in a previously mined region in Central PA. The local watershed association has completed many restoration projects and our goal was to monitor the streams progress in recovery. We sampled various water quality parameters, kick netted for benthic macroinvertebrates, and electrofished for brook trout in the stream. We only spent 3 days in the field, but many more days in the lab identifying macroinvertebrates. To be honest, I have never identified anything to the genus level, so this was very difficult. However, I learned fast (thanks to help from classmates and professors) and feel like I have learned a lot from this experience! I will be receiving revisions on my paper from my professor in the upcoming weeks and will complete the paper. 

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Also, I revisited my project from the Spring semester, which was tracking the movement of brown trout in the Little Juniata River. I had to opportunity to join other students on the project to present our research at a poster session as part of the 2018 Susquehanna River Symposium at Bucknell University. It was intriguing to see the other research occurring within the watershed and to answer questions about my own work. We also heard from Christopher E. Williams, who is the Senior Vice President for Conservation for American Rivers. The company’s website states their mission is “to protect wild rivers, restore damaged rivers and conserve clean water for people and nature”. Williams discussed his career path, which included law school. He also discussed how our world is entering a “water insecure future” and what that means for our resources. This also includes having too much water; for example, the flooding in Ellicott City. Rivers are important for channeling water and also for providing it. This does not even account for the life in the water and the surrounding areas that rely on the resource. Overall, it was an interesting keynote address and it definitely had me thinking about the big picture of all of my freshwater research. 

Lastly, I am presenting my research from last summer at ORNL in a poster session on December 13th in Washington D.C. at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting 2018. The conference is being held at Walter E. Washington Convention Center. If you are planning on attending or know a colleague attending, let me know! I would love to connect with more scientists. I will be attending the conference late due to my finals in the beginning of the week, but I will be there the 13th and the 14th.

Here are the details:

Abstract Title: Quantifying Fine-root Branching Response to Experimental Ecosystem Warming Utilizing Image Analysis Software 
Presentation Type: Poster 
Session Date and Time: Thursday, 13 December 2018; 13:40 – 18:00 
Session Number and Title: B43M: Plant–Soil Interactions Under Global Warming: Learning Mechanisms from Multiyear Field Experiments and Natural Gradients Posters 
Location: Convention Center; Hall A-C (Poster Hall)

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Study Abroad

As this semester comes to an end, my plans for study abroad have begun. I was officially accepted to the GAIAS program through Universidad San Francisco de Quito a few weeks ago. I am currently in the midst of attaining my VISA, scheduling flights and classes, and figuring out my medications while abroad. There is a lot to do before I go, but I am really excited!!! I cannot believe it is almost a month away.

NOAA Internship

In my last post, I mentioned that on October 1st the database for Hollings scholars to begin viewing internships would open. I spent a few days casually viewing the projects listed and gawking at the amazing locations they were in. However, I did not see a project that really stuck out to me, but I decided to pick a few that I wanted to learn more about and could see myself participating in. I emailed one potential mentor about his project and scheduled a phone interview. After sending that email and not feeling as excited as I felt I should, I decided to look more into the projects that included some outreach or education. In 2017, I had an environmental education internship and loved it, but I knew that was not all I wanted to do. In 2018, I had a research internship and also loved the experience, but it still did not fulfill everything I wanted. I always thought it would be great to have a job where I could do research and outreach. I also really love studying the Chesapeake Bay, but I was trying to go to another ecosystem. 

Well, you know what? Like my dad says, the doors of opportunity do not just open for me. Instead, they run up and throw themselves down in front of me. There was this one project that I saw when I first looked and it had the word education in it. I did not even click on the description because I kept telling myself, “This is NOAA! You should do research!”. You can guess what happened next. The words “Chesapeake Bay” finally called my name enough and curiosity caused me to click on the project. I only read the first few sentences before I copied the whole internship information page and emailed it to my mom with the subject “AMAZING INTERNSHIP OPPORTUNITY”. 

I emailed, scheduled a Skype interview, had the interview, and got the position. It was an amazing interview and I never felt more qualified or excited about something in my career. They emailed me less than an hour after our interview to offer me the position. It really feels meant to be! I will be doing a site visit on December 16th-18th to meet my mentors, tour the facility, and the area. 

My project is “Translating Chesapeake Bay Research and Stewardship Projects into Useful, Hands-on Education Products” at the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Virginia on the campus of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS). This project is exciting for me because I will get to do both of the things I love: research and outreach. I will be living in Williamsburg, VA this summer and will also be looking for apartments for the summer soon. Let me know if you have any connections to the area or any tips for my upcoming summer.

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Field Station Fun

As always, I try to share some of what I do when I am not in class or doing research. At the station, we have had a lot of fun and bonding experiences lately. In early October, we dug out this years crop from the potato patch! We have been eating lots of yummy potatoes as a result of this adventure. 

To celebrate Halloween, we carved pumpkins as a group, toasted pumpkin seeds, and decorated our fireplace for the season.

Each semester, the station hosts an Etiquette Dinner to teach us which fork to use and how not to embarrass ourselves in that kind of setting. Our group also decided we wanted to do a “murder mystery” game. Everyone dressed up in character assigned ahead of time and we enjoyed our meal, while trying to discover who the “murderer” was. We definitely had a lot of fun!

While trying to finish up our papers, we had a snow day. Due to the limited time in class, we still received work over email, but it was still a snow day! I spent the majority of the day writing, but in the evening when the snow ended, some of us decided it was the right time to go sledding in the drive way. 

I never thought I was going to experience snow at the field station, but I am really glad I did. It was so beautiful!

Also…we are in the woods so sometimes trees fall…in the middle of the road.

Call me Lumberjack Letourneau!

Our class spent one day collecting and identifying macroinvertebrates to assess the health of another AMD stream in PA for community service. Shout out to Marissa for the awesome picture!

Lastly, my mom came and visited one weekend. I took her to Trough Creek State Park and Rainbow Falls. We took pictures and she even got some of me!

See you after finals!!! 🙂

And so it begins…

*Sometimes I use affiliate links in my content. This won’t cost you anything and will not harm our mother earth. I just might get some funding to go toward filling my logbook and sharing more with you.

Hello friends, family, and anyone who seems to have found their way here!

As my undergraduate career continues, so does my exploration for adventure and opportunities. I have created this page for the purpose of sharing all of this in one place. I hope you enjoy following my journey.

In case you do not know me, I am studying Environmental Science at Juniata College. I have just completed my Sophomore year. At Juniata, I am a cheerleader for both football and basketball. I work only a few jobs on campus. I have spent the past two years as an Admissions Counselor Student Assistant. This past year, I began working as a Campus Tour Guide and a TA for the introductory environmental science classes in the department. On an academic level, I had the opportunity to participate in research this past semester that tracked trout in the Little Juniata River.  On top of all of that, I have the full time job of managing my Crohn’s Disease.

Before I introduce my upcoming experiences, I would like to highlight my internship from last summer. I worked as a summer Environmental Education Intern for 10-weeks at the Audubon Naturalist Society in Chevy Chase, MD. They offer a variety of nature summer camps for many different ages. I gained valuable experience in education with students in Preschool up to 9th grade. Each week, I had more responsibilities in the lesson plans and, by the last week, I had planned and taught my own lessons. By working with a variety of different age groups, I realized that I enjoyed sharing my love for the environment and the importance of caring for it. I definitely want to use this in my future career and be able to educate the public about environmental science. I will probably get nostalgic about it at some point because I loved my campers so much.

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So what am I doing now?

The next two years are far from boring…I can promise you that.

This summer I have been selected to participate in the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI) program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) with the Department of Energy. My description includes that I am “a student intern in the ORISE SULI program [who] will research leaf, wood, and root traits sampled across soil and environmental gradients. [My] primary tasks will be in the laboratory, alongside [the] Environmental Sciences Division staff”.

My first day, which includes orientation, is June 4th, and my last day will be August 10th. I will be leaving Maryland June 1st. I am excited to be living in Oak Ridge, TN with my family this summer and to be able to spend quality time with everyone. If you find yourself near the area, let me know!! For the next few months, the majority of my posts will be about this experience.

Next week I will be in Silver Spring, MD for orientation for the Hollings Scholarship. I was honored to be a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ernest F. Hollings Undergraduate Scholarship Program recipient for 2018. This scholarship program provides academic assistance for two academic years beginning September 2018 through May 2020 and one summer internship in 2019. I will spend this upcoming fall determining where I would like to complete my summer internship, which will be at one of the NOAA facilities. I will be at orientation from May 28th until May 31st. The week will consist of information sessions on NOAA’s offices and a tour of one of the facilities.

This fall I will be studying at Juniata’s Raystown Field Station. The field station is a facility where students can live for a summer or a semester and complete their coursework. The classes are environmental science- and biology-based. This immersive opportunity will allow me to research Raystown Lake while taking upper level electives for my major. Each semester, there is a different module offered at the field station and I will be participating in the Aquatic Ecology Fall 2018 semester. I will be able to take Aquatic Ecology, Geographic Information Systems, Sense of Place Seminar, Nature Photography, and Limnology.

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(Wait….there’s more?!?!?!)

Next spring I am continuing my journey overseas…on the Galapagos Islands!!  In the Spring 2019 semester I will be studying with the Galápagos Academic Institute for the Arts and Sciences (GAIAS) on a remote campus of the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ).  While abroad, I hope to gain valuable marine ecology research skills in a coastal environment and knowledge about an environment that is not in Pennsylvania.  I also believe having a global perspective is important when working with other people to understand cultural differences.

The summer after that, in 2019, I will be pursuing my internship with NOAA through the Hollings Scholarship.  Location: TBD!

That’s it for now…I promise…

I could not have gotten this far without my mom, my grandparents, my father, my advisors, my professors, the admissions staff at Juniata, and my friends.

So please, join me on this adventure.

I am excited to see where these experiences take me.