There and Back Again, Part Three

It was mid-September. Six weeks left of our internship. Deadlines were set, stress was high. Then our mentors walked into our cubicle, wondering if they could ask us some personal questions. Nervously, Brittany and I listened, preparing ourselves for trouble. Our worrying turned out to be unnecessary – we were getting an extension to our internship!

So here we are, extended until February. We now have time to do all that needs to be done, experience a Colorado winter, and afford to visit our respective family and friends over the holidays.


The bridge from August to September turned out to be the highlight of my year thus far. Brittany and I were sent to the 17th International Conference on Aquatic Invasive Species in San Diego. As newcomers to the scientific conference circuit, we marveled in every detail, every speaker, every experience. We were housed in the posh downtown Westin San Diego, mere blocks from San Diego Harbor, Little Italy, and the Gaslamp District. Our poster presentation was the first night of the conference – and boy were we nervous. It was one of the most nerve racking experiences of my life to date; representing THE National Park Service in a room full of respected biologists and invasive species experts. We came through it alive, thanks to our month of preparation, our mentor Rita’s presence and confidence in us, and the laid-back atmosphere of the room.

Once our poster presentations were over, we were able to breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy our fellow presenters. We became versed in a whole slew of the latest and hottest invasive species topics, including Asian Carp, dreissenids, ballast water policies, molecular techniques, aquatic plants, and crustaceans.  It was such a pleasure to be immersed in the world of biology once again, learning from the best in the business. Although the topic of invasive species is a depressing and sometimes a helpless one, the confluence of passionate people from across the globe to help in this problem was extremely hopeful, and personally inspiring.

By conference’s end, Brittany and I had formed friendships and made connections from San Francisco to Belgium, from Romania to Australia, and everywhere in between.  One of the conference go-ers organized a pelagic whale watching trip, and we obviously jumped at the opportunity. Many a seabird was spotted, as well as sea lions and seals and even a few whale spouts! It was such a thrilling experience, and made me yearn for my future career in marine biology to begin ASAP.

The rest of our time in San Diego was spent with friends in La Jolla. We spent most afternoons playing at Scripps Beach, where I gazed longingly at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography campus. I went surfing for the first time, taken so kindly by Tom Rottler, former T.A. for my father in Minnesota and current Director of Outdoor Recreation for UC San Diego. We were shown the great, local eateries. I tried my first sushi. I saw a real life lionfish at the Birch Aquarium at Scripps, and we got to be tourists at the San Diego Zoo.  Long story short, I fell in love with California (big surprise, right?)

But the time came to drag our spoiled behinds back to the mountains and back to work and the real world. It took a few days for me to stop moping around, longing for the sound of the ocean and the Southern California sun on my face. The minute I got back, I began researching graduate schools (Scripps included!), marine internship opportunities, and signed up to take the GRE (wish me luck!)

Once back in the office, it was time to get down to business. With the additional three months, we could all breathe a bit easier while still working hard. Our current progress finds us with a total of 583 marine invasive species (a plastic number), and beginning to collaborate with the webpage developers in the office. Our first goal is to have the internal website (available and tailored for Department of the Interior staff), then using our extension to create an external website for the public. It has been a lot of hard, not always exciting, but rewarding, work. Things are finally coming to fruition and we are this close to an actual final product.

Keep an eye out for that Marine Invasive Species website!

Chenie Prudhomme
National Park Service
Fort Collins, CO

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