Copyright (c) 2008 John Rumney/Eye to Eye Marine Encounters
I'm headed to the Society of Environmental Journalists conference and am so excited! This is the BEST conference ever. Seriously. I have many great friends who will be there, and it's such a fantastic networking opportunity for me. I have never attended one of these conferences where it didn't pay off in assignments made after the fact from editors I met, or from the pitch slam - where you read aloud an article pitch in 60 seconds, and then a panel of editors gives feedback. In Burlington, I sold the pitch to Scientific American (Sympathy for the Devil - about Tasmanian devil cancer). Last year, I sold my pitch to Miller-McCune Magazine (Save the Birds - with Doppler Radar). The great thing is the connections made result in many more assignments down the line, as well.
Besides that, the conference has so many great things going on - not just sitting in rooms listening to people talk all day! The first full day of the conference, they organize "tours" which go to different places around the particular location. Last year was in Missoula, MT and I did a hiking tour where we saw how pine bark beetle infestations were devastating the forests. They are native beetles but because the winters are not getting cold enough to make the population die back, they're spreading like wildfire, and causing much death and devastation to the trees. There are always multiple tours, and this year I chose to go on one that brings us to the subject of this post...
I will be scuba diving to the world's only undersea laboratory - Aquarius Reefbase - in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. On the tour will be a handful of journalists and several scientists who will talk about the work going on undersea - work on sea sponges, corals, and ocean acidification. What's more, the Aquarius hosts NASA astronaut missions down there - the weightlessness of the sea simulates space! In fact, a NEEMO - NASA Extreme Environments Mission Operation - is starting any day now... the first mission that will begin to explore how to land on a near-earth asteroid (NEA). We were supposed to see the astronauts down there training but apparently they have been delayed due to weather... it has been raining in Florida for the past several days. It looks like it will clear up by Thursday, so we can still dive, but we will only get to talk to the folks about the NEEMO project rather than see them in action. What's more... Jane Lubchenco is diving with us!
Oh wait - just got an email that she didn't pass the NOAA dive test in time?! Sigh. (I'm not even kidding about this). Well she will be on the bus on the way over from our hotel in Miami to Key Largo, where our boat departs for - the Aquarius is in the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary... It was going to be a lot more exciting blog post - ha! If you don't know who she is, she is the head of NOAA in the Obama Administration! She is also a world-renowned marine ecologist. I remember reading about her work with tidepools when I took Biology 101 at Texas A&M in my textbook! I actually met her at last year's SEJ conference in Missoula. I'm one of those people that goes up and talks to the people I want to meet after they give speeches - I'm not shy! You can't be, I suppose, to be a journalist. That said, I've never gotten up and lined up to ask questions during the conference Q&A...
I was really close to cancelling my involvement on the dive tour. They are optional and cost extra money and times are tight (The conference sessions are on Friday and Saturday but there's also an opening reception Wednesday night - in fact, this year the 4 Cousteau cousins will be together for the first time in public. I dove with Céline in Australia for the Discovery Channel Expedition Shark blog! I actually interviewed Alexandra this morning for an article - she has a newborn baby girl - Clémentine -who I heard in the background - so cute! But I digress.) So, money is tight, and the big project I was doing with the ASA ended, for now, and I was in between assignments, which is always unnerving... But I pitched something about the diving tour like mad, and I got an assignment yesterday - yay! And it will more than make it financially worth it!
At any rate, we will be diving down to the Aquarius, and then we will do another dive to a really freaking cool nursery for endangered coral species, and then we will do a third dive on a coral reef somewhere. I haven't dove since Australia when I did the shark diving so I'm stoked! (and I hope I remember what I'm doing - ack). There's lots more happening at this conference, and I am really excited. And maybe this year - unlike apparently last year and the previous one I attended in Burlington and Austin - I will blog about it this time!