Gray’s Reef, one of only fifteen National Marine Sanctuaries in the United States, is a beautiful collection of color and biodiversity hidden below 65 feet of water off of the Georgia coast. It was not until being awarded the Georgia Sea Grant State fellowship that I was able to experience it for myself. On my first trip aboard the Sam Gray, a Gray’s Reef  research vessel, I was slightly nervous as we headed 30 nautical miles offshore. But the moment I rolled off the side of the boat and descended into the Georgia waters as part of my first dive at the reef, all my nervousness subsided and I was left with pure joy and excitement.

Upon receiving the news that I was being offered the first Georgia Sea Grant State Fellowship, I was ecstatic and couldn’t wait to get started. I felt a little wary of having to take a year-long break from my master’s program at Savannah State University, but the opportunity to work at a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration facility could not be passed up. Considering all that I have learned so far, I know I made the right decision.

As a Fellow at Gray’s Reef, I have been trusted with the tasks of developing a long-term science plan and working with the sanctuary’s advisory council to address the need to document how the reef is connected to the rest of the ocean. Working on the science plan has allowed me to dive deep into the research needs at Gray’s Reef and discover what type of data collection is needed to advise the management of a marine sanctuary. Making the plan has also given me the chance to think critically and fill gaps that we have in our current research data.  The connectivity project has provided me with the opportunity to work with scientists and other stakeholders to determine research projects that would best inform management of the sanctuary.  My work has also allowed me to see first-hand how the federal government functions and the responsibilities different entities have within the sanctuaries system.

Outside of my primary responsibilities at Gray’s Reef, I’ve also really enjoyed getting involved with public outreach programs. Being able to talk with people, many of whom have never heard of Gray’s Reef, about the ocean and the amazing resource that is right in their backyards has been amazing. Hearing the excitement in the voices of children and their parents as they go on a virtual dive on the reef never gets old. I have loved my first six months as a Georgia Sea Grant State Fellow and can’t wait to see what the rest of my fellowship has in store for me.

Georgia Sea Grant is currently accepting applications for the 2020-21 State Fellowship. Learn more here.