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Marine Science-Biology Major Dives on Glow-in-the-Dark Reef

Published: September 08, 2014
Bridget Hickey ’15 was trained to lead dive programs.
Bridget Hickey ’15 was trained to lead dive programs.
Bridget Hickey ’15 knows more than the average college senior about coral reefs. Hickey spent this summer in Key Largo working with the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF), restoring and protecting marine environments.

“One day I could be working in the education center teaching third graders; the next I could be getting ready for a full day of diving, working in the off-shore coral nurseries, outplanting grown corals along the Florida Barrier Reef Tract, or even night diving to monitor coral spawning,” said Hickey, of South Bend, IN.

One of her top highlights this summer came from a night dive.

“Corals possess green fluorescent proteins that, when viewed under a blue light with a yellow filter, allow them to fluoresce,” she said. “Earlier in the summer we were lucky enough to do a night dive and see the fluorescing corals. It's like diving on a glow-in-the-dark reef!”

Hickey was trained to lead dive programs where she’d host an informational classroom session followed by hands-on training and two dives with the CRF team: one in the nursery and one on the reef.

Hickey explained that corals reproduce in two ways. In the CRF nurseries they take advantage of fragmentation, breaking colonies into pieces and allowing those pieces to grown into separate colonies. However, corals also have a mass spawning event once a year, which she was able to witness.

“We had been monitoring corals in the lab, in the nurseries and on the reefs, collecting gametes and running studies with a lot of awesome, dedicated researchers from partners like The Florida Aquarium, The Georgia Aquarium, NOAA, Penn State and others,” she said. “Because corals spawn at night, we worked crazy hours, but 2 a.m. felt like broad daylight after seeing them spawn for the first time.”

There never was a dull moment during Hickey’s internship, from learning the new techniques and protocols to being inspired by those with whom she worked.

“There's a constant thirst for more that's driving everything we do: more coral outplanting, more researching, more nursery work, more outreach,” she said.

“Wherever you turn, there's a lot of doom and gloom surrounding the environment and, specifically, coral reefs. At CRF, positivity is the foundation of all the work we do. It's important to understand what has caused these declines in the corals, but it's much more important to realize what we can do to fix the problems — and to spread the word about what we're doing,” said Hickey, a marine science-biology major  with a minor in Spanish . “I’m leaving this internship with a much higher level of personal efficacy than I entered, for which I am immensely grateful.”