Courier August/September Courier - Page 68

AFTERWORDS It takes one to know one BY ASHLEY FISH 64 August/September 2018 Gray angelfish Stoplight parrotfish alone wasn’t enough, my other creden- tials include swimming competitively for 15 years and lifeguarding, during sum- mers, for five. I have always loved the water and am so fortunate to have had this unique opportunity to give back. Working with Reef Environmental Education Foundation opened my eyes to such an amazing program. REEF col- lects survey data, recorded from roving snorkelers like me, and adds it to a data- base where experts can look at trends in the types and amounts of aquatic life on reefs all over the world. This data is ana- lyzed to assess the climate and needs of the reefs to help keep them flourishing. Another great thing about REEF is that anyone can get involved, doing as little or much as they want, and snorkel- ers and divers of any level of experience can participate. This was my first time taking part in a project like this, but it will not be my last. For more information on REEF go to reef.org. To see a video of the underwater experience go to bit.ly/ 2N8VhtQ. Video courtesy of David H Krech/islabellabeachresort.com. This experience was incredible. Working with Tourism Cares is always impactful, but this project couldn’t have been more fitting for me. If the last name Ashley Fish is NTA’s senior manager of marketing, overseeing Courier’s new website (NTAcourier.com) and social media accounts. Email her at ashley.fish@ntastaff.com. reef, and yes, it’s even more visually appealing than the chocolate glazed from your favorite bakery. Sightings include a hawksbill sea turtle, southern stingray and great barracuda. We explore for about 40 minutes then journey to our next location, Alligator Reef. No sharp- toothed reptiles here, but among the plethora of fish are a green sea turtle, nurse shark and black grouper. I am very afraid of sharks, but seeing this one in such a tranquil environment makes it somehow OK. Maybe, I think, sharks are just a bit misunderstood. After surveying Alligator Reef, we make our way back to the boat, and once the captain’s head count is complete, we set our sights for shore. The vibrant Islamorada waters are still captivating us as we cruise back. MASK TIGHTENED, fins on, splash! A sea of fish, intri- cate coral and bright blue water engulf us. We prepared for this, but for a moment it all washes away ... mind. blank. My partner, Helene, and I spend a few minutes adjusting our snorkels and look- ing around. WOW. We are amazed at our surroundings, invisible from above, but crystal clear with just a mask. We’re in over our heads, literally. Our team is tasked with identifying fish, a job I was born to do. But we’re just small fish, 14 in total, in a sea of 150 other Tourism Cares helpers dispersed throughout South Florida, volunteering in a variety of ways. We signed up for this project to give back to the commu- nities affected by Hurricane Irma, but unknowingly, we also signed up for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We study fish all morning and learn mnemonic devices for how to spot them (five stripes like a badge = sergeant major). But, once we are in the water, there they all are. It’s not as though a single fish swims by and stops in front of you, giv- ing you a chance to think and identify it. You can’t ask the stoplight parrotfish to come back later once you’ve had time to figure out how exactly to record it on the waterproof form. You just take it all in at once, and the more you look the more you see. Helene and I work well together. After the initial plunge, we get in a good rhythm, swimming around, using hand signals to show each other what we’re seeing and trying to talk through our snorkels underwater. We occasionally come up to check on each other, but at this point we’re