On a recent trip to the SFS field station in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), SFS staff member Marta Brill had a chance to sit down and chat with two of our newest waterfront interns, Chrissy Lamendola and Amanda Greenstein. Both of these diving safety rock stars attended the University of San Diego and participated in the SFS-TCI program as students. Chrissy was here in Spring 2010, and Amanda came along the next year with the Spring 2011 cohort. Read on to find out about the life of an SFS intern, where “just another day at the office” sometimes means swimming with hammerhead sharks.
Marta Brill: So, how did you first find out about SFS?
CHRISSY: I found out about SFS my freshman year in the mailroom, of all places. I saw one of the posters hanging up there with cards to tear off, and I thought, ‘This seems awesome!’ I tore off one of the little slips and held on to it until my junior year, when I looked into all the programs and got really excited. What attracted me to the TCI program specifically was all the diving and snorkeling that you could do.
AMANDA: University of San Diego is an affiliated school, so there are posters everywhere and they also have meetings scheduled regularly where SFS alumni show pictures and answer questions from students. I remember going to a session and thinking, ‘This sounds so cool.’ I went with TCI because I wanted to be in the water as much as possible, and I wanted to dive.
MB: And, looking back on your time as a student, is there a particular memory or moment that stands out in your mind?
CHRISSY: When I was going through customs, on my first day, the man reviewing my paperwork told me about the lionfish problem. I had no idea what he was talking about. But he said to me, ‘You have to do something about the lionfish.’ When I got to the Center, I found out that that was a Directed Research project I could do. So, I jumped on it.
AMANDA: I remember my first dive at the grotto. We went down to sixty feet and I saw a reef shark for the first time and I was blown away. My heart was pounding out of my chest, I was so excited. It was a really special moment. I was stunned by the beauty of the water and the diving and the whole experience. This was very early in the semester, but I was already thinking, ‘This place is incredible.’
MB: What do you think you gained from your semester? What were the real takeaways?
AMANDA: I felt a major tie to the community here on South Caicos. I really got to know what this place was all about. Many people who come to the Turks and Caicos come as tourists, but I had a very different experience than that. I was immersed in the culture here and I got a deep understanding of what some of the real issues are. It is not as simple as just saving the environment. You have to think about the social and economic aspects.
CHRISSY: When I first arrived, I was freaked out by how isolated South Caicos is, even though of course, you still have access to all the essentials. But, that isolation forced me really look inside myself and figure out who I was as a person. In the absence of external influences, l could figure out who I really was, what I liked and what I didn’t like. Plus, I came away with strong friendships with students from all around the US and in other countries.
MB: Tell me what motivated the two of you to come back here and work for us as interns?
CHRISSY: I never wanted to leave. When Amanda came back from her semester we met up for lunch, and she said, ‘We are both going to get our dive masters, and then we are both going to go back as interns.’ And I thought, ‘Sure, okay, we’ll see if that really happens.’ But, a year later, here we are!
AMANDA: I knew halfway into the semester that I wanted to be an intern here. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do after I graduated. This seemed like the perfect opportunity and I loved what the program gave me. And I really like the environment here, the feel of the whole Center; the relationship between the students and the staff is really close, like family.
MB: Can you describe a typical day for an intern at SFS-TCI?
CHRISSY: Wake up. Go to two or more meetings. Then you do your morning duties, which could be equipment checks or whatnot. Then, depending on the day of the week, you’re either diving and snorkeling, or doing research field activities, or just basic boat or mooring maintenance. Next, it is lunch, which you are always ready for. In the afternoon, you do field exercises with the students or go on a field trip with them. Then dinner, and then sometimes you do a night dive or a night snorkel.
MB: And how is it going so far? Any good stories?
AMANDA: Well, on our first dive back here we went to the arch, and after about five minutes, a hammerhead shark swam by. Then, at the end of the dive, we saw a pod of five dolphins and a huge turtle. And I thought, ‘This is incredible. If this is any sign of the year to come, this is going to be awesome.’ It was the best dive you could imagine.
CHRISSY: It was a sign!
MB: What do you think is next for you? Do you have a dream career in mind?
AMANDA: I am hoping that this year will give me a better idea of what I really want to do. I am interested to see what opportunities might come from this experience. I can explore what specific area of marine science I want to eventually pursue in grad school.
CHRISSY: I want to do marine mammal rehabilitation and a big part of that is education. By working here, I get a lot of diving experience, but at the same time, I get education experience. This should help my resume stand out.