Teaching is now in full swing, and just as a reminder that I am working here not just partying it up on deserted islands, I thought I’d share some of what we teach here.  We teach three programs a day, 9-12, 2-5, and 8-9:30 (sometimes 8-10).  Between programs we supervise students at meals, prepare and break-down our boats and classrooms, and check kids off at lights-out in the evening.  On average we work about 60 hours a week.  All for the bargain rate of about $1.70 an hour.  That makes it sound rough (and believe me it is sometimes) but usually it’s fun at the same time.

The most common programs that we teach are coastal ecology, shark ecology, squid dissection, algae community lab, night-wade, and of course our boat trips.  What we teach on boat trips is determined by the weather (where we can go) and by the school group.  Usually we teach near-shore ecology and coral reef ecology on the boats, though sometimes we throw in some algae or seagrass ecology, or with bad weather we’ll teach birds and terrestrial ecology.  Usually I’m teaching anywhere from 10-15 kids during the day, and up to 40 at night.

Now for the fun report!  Last week Ryan and Will came down from Key Largo to visit us SeaCampers!  They trailered Ryan’s boat down with them and seven of us went out to Looe Key (the outer reef here) and snorkeled.  Then after dinner, we went out to a small island called Money Key just off the Seven-Mile Bridge to go camping.  That’s right, we spent the night under the stars around a campfire on a deserted island in the Keys.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

Picture:  One of our flattops with the flag they all flew this past Thursday for Earth Day.  Just you can get a better look at our snazzy boats!


For Easter weekend, Seacamp actually gave us an extended weekend!  I was off Friday at noon and had a whole three days off, back at camp Monday at noon.  I had planned to drive up to Key Largo and meet up with Ryan (previously mentioned dive buddy) and then go up to Ft. Lauderdale with friends to go to the beach.  On the way up there, Ryan and I met at the southernmost tip of Lower Matecumbe Key to help his friend Russell sail his boat back to Key Largo.  Unfortunately we sailed (motorsailed) into a headwind the whole time so the trip of about 25 miles took around 5 hours.  It was still fun though, who can say no to hanging out on a sailboat in the Keys tanning and drinking rum?  Once we made it back to Key Largo we met up with Jamie and Nicole (who both work with me and had also headed north for break) for dinner at a delicious Thai place.  Who knew I’d find good panang curry in Key Largo!  Finally Saturday morning we headed up to Ft. Lauderdale to hit the beach and hang out with some friends.  It was nice to get “off the rock” as they say here.

So back to life at Seacamp…  now that we’re all teaching on our own, it’s time to move up the final step to full “instructor” status!  That would be to coordinate your own group.  Each school group that comes has one instructor designated as their coordinator.  The coordinator is in charge of contacting the school before the visit to work out the schedule of programs and review logistics, making the school’s schedule and assigning teaching areas and nights off to the other instructors with that group, giving all announcements to the group and coordinating any schedule changes with the head chaperone, as well as reviewing the school once they leave property at the end of their trip.  As of today, I’ve made my coordinator call and my schedule, and my next school (the one I’m coordinating) arrives on Wednesday.

On my day off yesterday I went out snorkeling with Ryan’s group of kids to some seagrass beds which were pretty cool.  Ryan teaches at a facility very similar to Seacamp up in Key Largo, along with five other former Seacamp-ers.  On our way off property for lunch, we ran into a group of high-school boys playing with some lizards they’d found in the bushes.  Ryan says to them, “Did you know you can let them bite your ears and wear them as earrings?”  They look at him, obviously thinking he’s pulling their leg, until one of them says, “no way, you first.”  Ryan shrugs and takes the lizard, lets it bite his ear, and I’ll admit I was skeptical, but it just hung there like an earring until he reached up and took it off!  So of course I had to try, after telling the kid that I’d do it if he did it.  Here’s the picture!

Miss you all!  In other news, I’m officially not staying at Seacamp after my internship ends May 29th, but where I’ll be is still completely up in the air.

Begun March 18:

I realized today that I hadn’t written in quite some time, so I’ll try to fill in the highlights of the last month for you.  I finally got some diving in this month now that it’s warming up!  Two weeks ago eight of us from camp went down to Key West for a couple dives and then to go out and have some fun in town.  In the morning we were supposed to be taking a test ride on BOBs (breathing observation bubbles), which are like scooters with a bubble over your head so you can breath without being scuba certified.  One of the other interns here knows someone on the BOB Dive staff so we were going to be their guinea pigs before they had real customers.  Unfortunately, the currents were too strong and we weren’t able to use them, but got invited back to try again some other time.  After lunch we went out on the dive boat for two dives at Western Sambos.  Visibility wasn’t very good, and the water was still really cold, but we saw four or five nurse sharks on the first dive and a green sea turtle on the second.  Of course, if you know me, you know that turtle made it worth it.  🙂

This week (ok, now it’s last week) I lucked out and actually had two days off in a row so I went up to Key Largo to visit friends and got in a night dive Tuesday night.  Being away from camp for two nights completely recharged my batteries and I’m feeling great and ready for my next group of kids tomorrow.

Picture:  Will, myself, and Ryan before our night dive Tuesday (3/16) night.  Clearly I was the last one in the water.  We dove the wreck of the Benwood off Key Largo; I’d love to go back there during the day.

Continued today, March 27, 2010:

Again, so sorry for never writing but things have gotten rather busy here now that training is entirely over and we’re teaching our own groups now!  This past week I had my first group solo and it went really well.  Once training is over, we started observing returning instructors, then began team-teaching with them.  Once we did that with a few groups, we team-taught with another intern.  Finally, provided we did a good job, we got to start teaching solo.  My first solo group was nine 5th and 6th grade students and three chaperones from a public charter Montessori school.  They were a wonderful group for my first time alone, and everything went as close to perfectly as it could have with such young kids.  I taught shark biology, squid dissection, fish anatomy and dissection, jellyfish lab, mangrove/coastal ecology, one boat trip to snorkel, and a campfire program.  At the end, my kids gave me the very best gift they could have given me: half a box of thin mints and some hugs.  The one chaperone who was a teacher had wonderful advice and compliments for me as well, and when the group left I was so sad to see them go.  Today I’m on first aid duty so I have lots of time to catch up on reading, write here, and relax, as long as I’m in the first aid office.

End of Training!

As of Sunday training is officially over!!  We were off yesterday, and today I become officially a paid staff-member.  Key word there is PAID.  Woohoo!  This week we start shadowing current instructors and next week we start teaching.  : )

A few days ago we finally had good enough weather line up with an appropriate place in the schedule for us to go out to Looe Key and snorkel on the outer reef.  I got to drive us out there — first time driving in the open ocean, and using my compass instead of landmarks!  The reef was gorgeous.  It put all of our other snorkeling trips to shame and completely re-energized me for this job.  We saw tons of fish: parrotfish of every species, tangs, jacks, snapper, grunts, damselfish, angels, and two sharks!   A nurse shark about five feet long swam directly below us between two of the reef’s fingers and I dove down to swim just above it, it was great!  Then a bit later we saw a black-tip that was a bit larger but it was too far away to get a good look (or a swim).

Happy Valentine’s!

(I wrote this on Valentine’s Day, but only now got some internet.)

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! Over the last couple days we got our schedule for next week (the last week of training) and the rest of the month. It’s so exciting to see something other than “TR” (training) on our schedules! Next week we enter the rotation for “hospitality services” with the rest of the staff and begin observing instructors with their teaching groups. The following week we start team-teaching!

It’s been cold and windy over the last couple days so we’ve been staying out of the water for the most part (thank goodness). Sometime next week I have to finish my Skin Diving Leader skills, which I’m not looking forward to.

Today’s picture: Nicole and I about to get in the harbor to scrub some boat bottoms on Friday’s “maintenance day.” Every two weeks or so, we have maintenance days where the teaching staff (including interns) are assigned to work-crews around property. Duties cover anything from bleaching water coolers, to deep cleaning the staff lounge, to building a new boat ramp, to everyone’s favorite (and the only constant): scraping boat bottoms. To be honest, it’s not that bad as long as they’re done every few weeks, and would be a lot better if the water was warm. Here’s how it works: you suit up (for protection from cold AND from the stuff you’ll be scraping), then hop in the harbor with mask, fins, snorkel, scraper and brush. You work your way around and under each hull of each boat scraping, then scrubbing, scraping, scrubbing, scraping, scrubbing… you get the picture. Periodically of course you duck under your pontoon to pop up and scare the person next-door! We also thought to bring out the boom-box from the staff lounge and set it on the dock with us so we had a bit of a dance party under the boats which was a slight waste of time I’m sure, but so much fun. Between the four of us we got four flattops done during our shift so we were pretty happy with our progress. When we got out we were exhausted from scrubbing, breath-holding, and trying to maintain body temperature in the cold water. How to warm up? Hot shower, clean clothes, followed by a date with the laundromat, then out to dinner at No Name Pub for pizza and beer!

It’s supposed to warm up tomorrow, so as long as I can survive today’s bitter single people and mushy couples I’ll be happy! (We’re off Tuesday this week instead of Monday for some reason.) Personally I think Valentine’s Day should be to celebrate all of the love in your life, not just your significant other. So happy Valentine’s Day to my family and friends, miss you! Love from the Keys!

Sorry for not posting in a while, but things were rather stressful and insanely busy last week.  I guess mid-training is always bound to be that way…  I can’t wait for training to end so I can finally work with the school groups on a regular basis.

So last week wasn’t so great, but this weekend was a blast!  Sunday a bunch of us went to one of the bars on the island to watch the Super Bowl.  We had a great time, even though I lost a bet.  Since I’m not a fan of either the Colts or Saints, I arbitrarily bet a Saints fan, and now I have to wash his car.  Woops.  But it was good to get out and participate in the real world and meet some new people.

Then on Monday, our only day off, we went out to breakfast at a local diner, then to the beach.  Reading on the beach has never been so relaxing!  After the beach we went out to Mexican for dinner, then saw Avatar at the local single-screen theater.  I can’t believe it took me that long to see it, but it was so good!!

Today we had our “Joey Drill,” which is our procedure for a missing swimmer in the canal.  It is, in a word, terrifying.  Basically this is for cases that will never ever happen unless everything goes wrong, but even those times need to be practiced for I suppose.  For purposes of the drill, the management station us around camp to wait for the alarm.  The alarm is sounded (an air horn) and we sprint from wherever we are to the swim canal, while stripping off clothes and shoes, to get in line with a bathing suit and dive mask only.  The person in charge (PIC) at the canal organizes us into five-man search lines, directs us to an area of the canal, and in we go.  Each line has a leader, and on leader’s command we jump in, check behind and beneath us, yell “clear,” regain our line and spacing, and dive on command.  We dive to the floor of the canal, swim three strokes at the bottom, surface.  We then back up to the furthest person, then three more feet, then regain spacing, and dive again.  We repeat until Joey (the sunken mannequin) is found.  When he is found, all searchers exit the canal while the rescuers bring him to the dock and get him started on oxygen and CPR as needed.  Keep in mind the canal is about 10-14 feet deep depending on the tides and the visibility is rarely more than two feet.  (One time when we practiced saving Joey, I had my hand on his clothes and couldn’t see him at the end of my own arm.)

Today’s times:
Alarm to Joey found: 2 minutes
Alarm to oxygen being administered on the dock: 3 minutes

It’s a nerve-wracking drill, but for good reason.  After it’s all over, it’s actually rather empowering to be part of such a well-practiced team.  In reality, it’s never happened, and never will so long as we all do our jobs.  : )

On Snorkeling


Today I purchased my third pair of fins that I have here.  Already had my neon yellow split-fin scuba fins, and my lame turquoise lap swimming fins from swim team, which I THOUGHT I could use as my snorkel fins.  Turns out that they’re really not built the same and didn’t fit so well anyway.  $30 later I have new pretty fins that are the right size and I felt so FAST!  Woohoo!

Anyway, back to snorkeling.  I hate snorkeling.  Or I did.  So we’re taking this class called “skin diving leader” which is snorkel bootcamp.  It makes me feel so useless because I keep having leg cramps…  but these new fins are supposed to be better.  We shall see.  The class is so far not so useful to me, except for hours and hours of snorkel practice which I suppose is, in fact, useful.  But we went out today to see some of the sites we teach at, and for the first time the water was NOT painfully cold and we actually enjoyed snorkeling with no wetsuit on!  The weather here is bizarre.

In other news, I passed my boat captains’ test this morning!  Things are starting to get more stressful and hectic now that the easy lifeguarding part is over.  Miss you all!

If you need my address:
Liz Becker
NHMI at Seacamp
1300 Big Pine Avenue
Big Pine Key, FL   33043

Today’s picture:  My dorm.  We live in a staff room in the student housing (all the better to work dorm-duty!).