A marine biologist sounds good...

Graduate Student. Marine Biologist. Science Blogger.

I put on a lot of hats in my daily life, and the end result is that when someone asks me what I do for a living, I usually want to answer "I'm a Marine Biologist." Sounds good, doesn't it? Recently I've had a few people ask to interview me, and when I agree they all ask what it is like to be me. A Marine Biologist! It sounds so exciting! So...what do you do, anyway?

Truth is, what I do depends a lot on what day it is. There are class days - those are fairly self-explanitory. There are work days, which make up the majority of my daily life. And there are field days. I love field days. They're the fun ones to talk about. So why don't we start there? Here are some examples of a typical field day... Let's see if you still think being a marine biologist is glamorous after these.

Studying Sea Turtles for Mote Marine Laboratory:

3:00 am Alarm goes off. Sh#t, it's f*cking early (censorship not really there at this hour). Get dressed. Call in to check what beach I'm assigned to this morning, but like always, it's the furthest south: Venice Beach.

3:30 am - 4:45 am Drive to Venice Beach from Saint Petersburg.

4:45 am Apply sunscreen - 50 spf, super sweat-proof, unbelievably expensive sunscreen. Hit the beach and start walking. I'm looking for turtle crawls, which will lead me to turtle nests lain the night before.

5:15 am Find one. Make notes of its location, lat & long, shape, size, etc. Lots of data. Then, head up to where the eggs are and find them. Hint: "find them" is a euphemism for spend twenty or so minutes flailing around in the sand trying to figure out where in the heck she laid her danged eggs (it's a little later now, censorship is more successful).

6:00 am Begin to carefully take out the eggs. You see, there's a beach renourishment project going on, which means in a few days, three feet of sand is going to be pumped onto this spot from offshore. That's three feet too deep for these little guys to climb out of, so they've got to go somewhere else.

6:15 am Get stopped by snow birds who are about to call the police. Explain to the nice elderly couple exactly why I'm covered in sand and elbow deep in turtle eggs, and that no, I'm not doing anything illegal, and I have my permits in that backpack right there if they want me to show them.

6:45 am Finish getting the eggs out and into a bucket for transport. Apply sunscreen.

7:00 am Immediately take the eggs back to my car, and drive five miles south to a safer beach. Dig a hole the exact same depth, width and shape of their mother's, and carefully place the eggs back into the ground. Hope they'll make it. Bury a cage over the new site to hopefully keep the local raccoons from getting to the eggs, and sprinkle a circle of anti-fire ant insecticide to hopefully keep the fire ants from eating the hatchlings-to-be.

8:15 am Get back to where I was on the beach when I found the first nest, and keep walking. Apply sunscreen.

9:15 am Find another one.

loggerhead babies.jpg12:00 pm Check on the soon-to-hatch nests at the relocation site. Two have hatched. I carefully remove sand from the first: babies did good. Most made it out. A couple eggs didn't hatch, and I pull a couple bodies from the nest, as well as three live sea turtles. Into the bucket they go - they'll get cleaned up, checked out and be allowed to rest up before they're released. The second nest, though... crawling with fire ants. I guess the insecticide didn't work. Just bodies. It doesn't look like one made it out alive.

1:00 pm Finish my stretch of beach. Eat something. Apply sunscreen.

1:15 pm Rendezvous with the volunteers who covered a different area of beach (who aren't permitted to touch the eggs) and find out where the turtle crawls I need to document and move on their stretches are.

4:30 pm Finally finish with the field part of the day. Now, back to the lab, to clean up the youngsters and enter all this data in the computer...

6:00 pm Head home.

7:00 pm Eat something. Realize that despite my best efforts, my back is completely burned. Apply aloe.

8:00 pm Check e-mail and the general internet.

9:30 pm School work.

10:30 pm Watch shows from DVR.

11:00 pm Pass out in front of the TV.

Psssst... you can check out the current season's efforts over here!

Scientific Diver Aboard the Hi'ialakai:

4:00 am Wake up, roll out of bed.

4:15 am Check e-mail, facebook, etc. Yes, the ship has internet. It's the equivalent of two dial up connections for 45 people, so it's better to hit it at this hour, when fewer people are awake to tie up the bandwidth. It's still slower than molasses in wintertime.

5:30 am Move the coolers from downstairs near the mess to HI-2's loading area, two sets of stairs up. There are four of them - a water jug, a dry cooler of food, a wet cooler with cold foods, and a cooler of ice to put specimens in. All but the second one is heavy. Very heavy. Thank Rich, Tim, or Steve for realizing I'm struggling and helping with the heavier ones.

5:45 am Make sure the supplies for the day's work are ready. Check and recheck that all the equipment we need is good to go and in our loading area.

6:25 am Get together my dive gear from the various locations its drying (though it's not dry), including 20 lbs of weights. Needs to go up those two flights of stairs, too. Curse my 5 ml wetsuit and its extreme buoyancy.

6:45 am Think I should have slept 15 minutes later.

7:00 am Breakfast. Shove an obscene amount of food down my throat in 30 minutes.

7:30 am Dive Ops Meeting. Go over the day's conditions, any special considerations, etc.

i-9b58d2a6ec1d39934a9c980c1e6038e5-IMG_4025-thumb-215x322-55518.jpg7:45 am Start launching boats. Mine's the last one, so I take this time to get on my wetsuit, hard hat and life vest, and help hand off gear to people in the boats.

8:15 am Stage the tanks

8:30 am Load the boat.

8:40 am Launch

9:30 am Arrive at our first dive site. Set up our gear and get in the water.

11:00 am Done with our dive, time to get moving - need to swap out tanks for fresh ones. Eat something.

i-662080138c4c4f7ab81a8b5033c6a4f4-P1010251-thumb-225x168-55520.jpg12:00 pm Dive site #2, back in the water.

1:30 pm Back on the boat again. More food. Lunch food. Yummy.

2:00 pm Last site. Back in the water.

3:00 pm And back out again. Break down gear. Eat more. Transit back to the ship.

4:00 pm Get picked up. Rinse dive gear, in bleach and in freshwater (limit the spread of invasive species throughout the protected area)

5:00 pm Eat. Dinner. Lots of dinner. You have no idea how much I'm eating right now.

6:00 pm Process samples.

8:00 pm TV time. Seriously. First part of the cruise it was 24, then it was Dexter. Who knew there were so many quality TV shows I'd never seen?

10:00 pm Stay up on the internet, uploading photos from the day's dives and chatting with colleagues and crew. On occasion, do some non-field work, like work on grant proposals.

12:00 pm Kick myself for staying up, and get to bed.

The Hi'ialakai keeps going when I get off... follow it around the world here!

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You forgot to mention counting the number of leaves on 20 mangroves, when some of them had >400 leaves...oh wait, you had your research assistant do that for you! GRRRRRRRR

It is amazing how some of the most busy days can be the ones to which you look forward most. That is when you know you have found your passion.

Allie: heh :). If you have the ability, you always have minions do your worst work for you! If it makes you feel any better, I'm usually the minion. And you weren't always there... and then I had to count those damned things by myself.

This is a great post!

My husband's a marine biologist, and he's found that when he tells people that, a lot of them reference the Seinfeld episode where George pretends to be a marine biologist and then gets called on to save a beached whale.

You have made really nice post over here and have done good observation also. I also like to know about turtles very much because they have something different story and all the things about them are truly interesting to know.