Thursday, December 22, 2011

Acid in the Alaska?

Hi Sea Fans!

Well, I'm still in Alaska but now I've been visiting Switgard Duesterloh in Kodiak. 

It's been snowing so much here with temperatures of -10 °C - good thing Switgard sorted me out with a scarf and jacket, otherwise I would have frozen!

I have to admit, it hasn't just been all work and no play, I got to go cross-country skiing (my first time!) to check out the snowy landscape, frosted trees, frozen lakes, and I even saw some deer.

This is Switgard.

At one stage I got so cold I jumped inside Switgard's jacket to stay warm!
After an afternoon out skiing there’s nothing better than a cup of hot cocoa while huddled down under a blanket on the couch, so that's just what I did!

After all the fun and games, we went down to the Kodiak Fisheries Research Center to check out the touch tank and meet Dr. Foy, the director of the Kodiak Laboratory of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, NMFS.  
This is Dr Foy.
At the touch tank I saw big Christmas and pink sea anemones, California sea cucumbers, a range of different species of sea stars, Hermit Crabs, a Box Crab, a red King Crab, some feather duster tubeworms, a large Gumboot Chiton, and a few scallops. Everything in Alaska seems so big!
Saying hi to a sea cucumber.
Next to the touch tank was a big, round aquarium with big fish and more sea stars, sea urchins and crabs.
Checking out an urchin.
What a cool crab!
I liked the curious black rockfish, the big cod and the red sea urchin.

I also got face to face with a hairy crab almost as big as me and you know what? ...The biggest sea stars in the world live here: Sunflower sea stars. There are some in the aquarium with over 30 arms and each arm is as long as my whole body!

After getting a feeling for the place, Switgard said that I was ready for the kids... so the next day it was time to join the students of Kodiak Middle School sixth grade in the Ocean Science Discovery Lab for a class introducing ocean acidification.  First, Switgard talked about how people and animals breathe in oxygen (O2) and breathe out carbon dioxide (CO2), and the plants take up carbon dioxide and use the carbon for their growth and release the oxygen back into the air.

Then, they talked about how every time we burn something (wood, coal, oil, fuel), what you end up with, called the product, contains a lot of CO2. Over the last 200 years people have invented cars, buses, trucks, boats without sails, airplanes and lots of stuff, which all takes a lot of energy to make and run. Also, our houses and public buildings are heated with oil. All that has put more and more and more CO2 into the atmosphere; in fact, there is more CO2 in the layer around our planet now than there ever has been since there were humans!

Most of our planet is covered with ocean (about 75% of the surface of planet Earth is water) and over 30% of all that CO2 we have been producing has dissolved into the oceans. For a long time we thought that the ocean was helping us, but now researchers have found that CO2 dissolving into the ocean is changing the ocean chemistry - not good news!

Chemistry seems like a fancy subject for really brainy people, but Switgard makes it easy to understand by teaching the students how to build molecules (Which is what everything is made up of. Water is made up of water and hydrogen molecules!)
Making molecules with beads.
The most difficult problem was trying to figure out how the CO2 would dissolve into water. There are a few solutions to this problem, but nature's way is to form a carbonic acid molecule. An acid is something that has a pH measurement below 7, seawater is on average about pH 8.1, so it’s not an acid at all. Ocean acidification means that the ocean water’s average pH becomes more acidic (the pH gets a little lower).

The problem is, that the carbonic acid easily falls apart and then competes with all the shell-building animals for calcium in the water. (Calcium is what makes our bones hard and what animals with an outside skeleton use to build their shells).
Different things in the sea that are made up of calcium.
For crabs, mussels, clams, chitons, sea urchins, sea stars, coral, oysters, and many other animals it will get more difficult to build their shells the more CO2 is dissolved into the ocean. One of the main areas of research at the Kodiak Laboratory is to look at the effect of ocean acidification on the development of King Crab when they grow from an egg to a larva and into small crab.

A teeny tiny King Crab.
After this explanation, Switgard got out a flask of seawater and some blue dye. She gave every group a beaker of the blue seawater and a pH meter. She explained how to use the pH meter and the students then measured the pH in their beaker of seawater.

Measuring the pH.
Then, they used straws and blew bubbles into the seawater - how fun. Some boys made a mess!

After a while, the blue color disappeared, instead the water turned kind of yellowish. Another measurement with the pH meter showed that the pH was lower now. What had happened was that by blowing into the water they added CO2 to seawater and produced carbonic acid - just like ocean acidification!

So much informationin one day, but so much fun!

The next day, it was time for the grade 7's.  They had a different project to do...they exposed young oysters to 3 different pH levels and then measured the effect on oyster growth. 

I helped measure,
and weigh oysters in the experiment and then...

put it all onto the computer.
Along the Pacific Coast from Oregon to Alaska oyster farmers have seen strange things in the last 6 years. Sometimes, when they have just set up their tanks with oyster spat (little oysters that just changed from a larva and settled to the bottom), they would watch them disappear overnight. When scientists helped look into the problem they found that the oyster disappearances were connected to offshore winds. When the wind blows offshore, it pushes the water away from the shore and is then replaced by water from deeper layers of the ocean.  This water that comes up along the Pacific coast is water that has not been at the surface for a thousand years and it has a lower pH than any surface water. This means that when it makes its way into the oyster farms it dissolves the newly formed shells of the oyster spat. Shame!

Thanks to Switgard and all my new friends I made in Kodiak, I had soooooooooooo much fun! If you want to learn more, Sea Fans, why not visit the Kodiak lab and see for yourself what amazing work they do may even get to see the teeny tiny crab I was holding. : )

Have a great week Sea Fans and a fantastic Christmas.
Chat soon.
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Monday, December 12, 2011


Hi Sea Fans!

I know you've all been waiting patiently to hear from me and yes, with internet I should be able to get to writing as soon as I've done things, but I've been so busy that I've hardly had 2 seconds.  Don't worry, you get to see all the fun stuff I've been up to, just read on.....

I've just left the Alaska Sea Life Centre in Seward and what fun we had!  I knew it was cold there, but wow, it can be FREEZING!   I don't know how those guys dive in that water every day.  Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself, I need to start at the beginning. 

Casey was nice enough to invite me to come and visit them and she made sure that I got to help out in ALL their animal departments - marine mammals, avian (birds) and in the aquarium.

In the aquarium, I met Jared, the Aquarium Co-ordinator who invited me to help him feed the octopus.  Not just any octopus, mind you, I got to feed the Giant Pacific Octopus called Lulu.  

Lulu came right up for her food when she saw Jared.
Lulu is four years old and loves razor clams.  We had so much fun, I felt like staying with her all day. 
This is what Razor Clams look like.
Some interesting stuff:
  • The Giant Pacific Octopus (GPO) grows bigger and lives longer than any other octopus species. The size record is an animal that measured 9.1 m across and weighed more than 272 kg.  The averages are more like 5m and 50 kg though. 
  • GPO's have been known to attack and eat sharks as well as birds, using their sharp, beaklike mouths to puncture and tear flesh.
  • They are found throughout the temperate waters of the Pacific, from southern California to Alaska, west to the Aleutian Islands and Japan.

After visiting Lulu, I spent a little bit of time with the front of  house staff at the touch pool where they had some really pretty starfish/sea stars.

It's very important to read signs in an aquarium!

You can see how much fun I was having!

You can't work in an aquarium and not get wet, so after seeing the front of house, I got to dive in the deepest sea bird exhibit in North America!  My dive buddies introduced me to Big Mamma, a wolf eel, and then we got down to the serious work of scrubbing.  After all, everything's got to be clean and it's not going to get that way by itself! : )

My dive buddies Darin and Jared.
To defrost from the long dive, I went over to Assistant Curator, Cade, to see if I could meet the Pacific Harbor Seals. I was in for a treat: he was just about to start a training session with Snapper, their 27 year old Harbor Seal.
Snapper is so well trained, he even followed my command when I gave the training a try.
After seeing Snapper, I got to meet Tongass, Snapper's son.  They're such beautiful animals and amazingly elegant when they swim in the water.  Like all good trainers, after the fun and games, I went and got my hands dirty.

Cleaning fish buckets.
I ended my time at the Alaska SeaLife Center in the seabird aviary, home to 10 different types of Alaskan seabirds. Along with Educator Callie and AmeriCorps Member Sara Ann, I got to hand feed a range of different birds.
Me, Callie and the birds.
I got to meet a real life Puffin and a Kittiwake.  A Kitti - what - e, you ask?  A KITTI-WA-KE, it's a type of gull and it's very pretty: it looks a bit like it's had it's wings dipped in ink.

The Horned Puffin we fed.

The Kittiwake.
All in all, I had a great time at the Alaska SeaLife Center and I loved meeting all the staff who work there and get to spend every day of their lives around amazing marine animals.  If you'd like to find out more about the Alaska Sea Life Centre, go to or better yet, if you're in Alaska for Christmas, why not pop over to the centre and see it all for yourself!

Thanks ASLC staff, I had a great time and thanks so much for my standard issue Grunden wear, the overalls (as we call them) are great!

Have a great week Sea Fans!
Chat soon
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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Homegrown Hit!

Hi Sea Fans!

Just wanted to let you know that the Cape Town's Child Magazine labelled "Predators" a "HOMEGROWN HIT".

I hope you've all stocked up for Christmas! : )
If not, Heidi will be at Kirstenbosch Market with craft kits and my books for sale this Sunday from 9am to 3pm....go and have a look, it's a great market!

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

What not to do when you're diving!

Hi Sea Fans!

Diving is a great sport and it's the best way to see some of the most amazing creatures on this planet.  The only problem is that some people don't respect the underwater world, before, during or after diving! 

A shoe polluting the reef. Photo: Marco Care/Marine Photobank

Trampling a reef.  Photo: Georg Heiss/Marine Photobank

I've been lucky enough to dive in quite a few beautiful places around the world and so often, I see traces of us humans disrespecting nature.  From pollution to broken coral.  It's really sad and if we don't do something about it, who will?  So please Sea Fans, when you dive please:
  • don't harrass the animals (hold on to them, chase them etc.)
  • don't take shells home that could be a potential home for a hermit crab or other animal
  • don't break the coral
  • don't hold onto the coral
  • don't litter (leaving any part of your dive gear on the bottom of the ocean is also littering, it doesn't have to be a plastic bag)
  • don't knock the coral with your camera
Lots of people don't realise that they are damaging anything because they're so busy looking at the beautiful underwater world that they don't feel their fin scrape over a reef.  Make sure you have good buoyancy control before swimming over reefs and through overhangs and caves!

Thanks Sea Fans, this will make a huge difference if you can all stick to this and make sure your friends and family stick to these rules too.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Under Pressure Competition

Hi Sea Fans!

I came across this cool competition where you can learn about pressure under the sea (it's run by the Deep Earth Academy which is part of the JOIDES Resolution - the people I'll be meeting next year who explore what lies beneath the ocean floor!).  All you have to do is make an artwork out of polystyrene/styrofoam and send it to them and they'll take it down to great depths to see what pressure does to it. 

An example of what you can do and how the pressure affects the polystyrene.
It sounds like good fun so why not enter?!  Check out the website for more details:

Have a great week Sea Fans!
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Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Hi Sea Fans!

It's been 2 weeks, I know - sorry about that, but things have been hectic.  Now I have a bit of time to get an update out because, as you know, I'm off to Alaska and I need something to do at the airports.

First it was the Whale Festival in Hermanus, then Yebo Gogga for 5 days in Joburg, then the Joburg Homeschool Expo and then Heidi did a reading at the Book Lounge.  Here are some pics of the fun (hopefully you saw the crafts we did on my Facebook page!):

Hermanus Whale Festival: Renee from the Two Oceans Aquarium told us a bit more about plastic pollution and showed us her bag (blue with fish) that's a recycled aquarium flag.
Can you believe that this is plastic found on just one South African beach - I'm glad I take part in beach clean-ups!! (Photo: Maleen/Marine Photobank)
Hermanus Whale Festival - they had a cartoonist showing kids how to draw marine animals.

Hermanus Whale Festival: Meredith Thornton from the Marine Mammal Department of the Iziko Museum gave an interesting talk about whale research that she's done.

 Heidi talking to hundreds of people at Yebo Gogga about predators, school groups included!
 So as you can see, we've been busy, but I haven't forgotten about you Sea Fans!  Have a great week and we'll chat soon.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Crabby and Clammy Crafts

Hi Sea Fans!

If you're not sure what to do with your clam and mussel shells once you've had your dinner, then I have found a great idea for you!  Have a look at this cool craft I found on the internet:
If you feel like making your own clams, then check this out:

It's amazing what you can find on the internet.  Thanks to all those people out there who post their ideas and crafts for others to enjoy!!

Enjoy crafting Sea Fans.
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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Int. Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) review Book II

Predators, Heidi de Maine, illustrated by Keli Hazelton, (privately published)

Heidi de Maine is a qualified Marine Biologist and this is the second book in the series Abby’s Aquarium Adventures, a local series of picture books about marine life. Abby works at an aquarium and she loves sharing her love of the sea with children, in this book she takes the kids to find out more about the “big eaters” in the aquarium.

With so much of public attention in SA being focused on the Great White Shark, children could be forgiven for thinking that they are the only predators in the sea round our coast ... readers here are introduced to lesser known, but none the less fascinating, creatures such as Honeycomb rays and Humphead Wrasse. The information is presented in a child friendly yet interesting way and it is a wonderful introduction to an important group of marine animals for children aged 6–10 years. Included at the end are a puzzle and crossword to reinforce the new words.

My quibble is with the cover which I don’t think children would find immediately appealing and I am also not too sure about the black pages. - Kathy Madlener

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sponge Bob's Cousin

Hi Sea Fans!

It's been a busy time again with expos and school talks but before I tell you about the events that I've been to, let me tell you a little more about an amazing creature that I got to see this last week at the Wits University Museum (it wasn't alive, but I've only ever seen them in books so it was amazing to see it!)....the GLASS SEA SPONGE!

Yes, the easy way to remember it is as Sponge Bob's cousin, but it's so much more impressive than Sponge Bob! 
Sponge Bob about to go skiing.  Photo: Alex
Glass Sea Sponges are almost entirely deep-water and not suitable for your aquarium at home. The most amazing part about these sponges is that they don't look like a sponge, they look more like a skeleton of an eel or something and they look very fragile.  They are actually very strong though!  Architects and scientists have found that the structure of these sponges is so strong that they have copied it when building bridges and buildings.  (There are already some buildings that have the same structure and those architects probably didn't realise at the time that there was a sea sponge built the same - have a look at the Swiss Re Tower in London and the Eiffel Tower in Paris).  They're even looking into making fibre optic cables stronger by using the sponge design!!!  Amazing how we can learn from nature!  (In case you're interested, or your parents want to know more, this is called BIOMIMICRY - basically: copying nature).

The most well known of the glass sea sponges is the Venus's flower basket. This sponge has become popular as a collectors' item, but was traditionally given as a wedding gift in some Asian cultures because there are little shrimp (a male and a female) which climb inside the sponge as larvae (babies), and then become trapped there as they grow. These are considered a good luck gift for a wedding couple as a symbol of the lifetime bond between the two partners.

Go to this site for more pics and info for parents:

Nature is amazing...what more can I say!

Have a great week Sea Fans and chat soon.

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Thursday, October 6, 2011

From here to Timbuktu (almost)

Hi Sea Fans!

What exciting news I have for you: I'm becoming a world traveller!!  I wanted to show you some of the amazing people who work in the aquariums and research facilities around the world... so I wrote a letter.

I wrote to a few people, telling them what I wanted to do and asking if they would be interested in having me visit and the response was amazing!  The list of people who have invited me to come and see what they do seems to be growing week by week.  So far, I've been invited to: Alaska, Canada, the USA, Mexico, the UK, Turkey, Portugal, the Phillipines, Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand... and I see that there are more mails in my inbox so hold thumbs, I might be coming to your country!
World Map showing the countries that I'll be travelling to in red.
If you have a great aquarium or other type of marine/animal facility in your area, let me know (on this blog or at and I'll contact the people in charge and see about popping in there too.  The more countries the better!

I'll also be visiting professionals here in South Africa and along the way I'll give you clues to a special kind of treasure hunt that you can do with your mom and dad called a Geocache (Google the word "geocache" and prepare by asking Dad if he'll join in and let you use his GPS).  We're going to have a great time over the next year, keep your eyes peeled for developments!  (An easy way to stay in touch is to join my Facebook Page, connect to this blog so that you get updates instantly and/or mail me, I'd love to hear from you!)

So that's it from me for now, I'll check in with you again in a few days.
Have a great week and enjoy the sunshine those of you in the southern hemisphere (especially SA today!)
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Monday, September 26, 2011

Butterflyfish Craft

Hi Sea Fans!

I've been searching the internet for some cool sea life crafts and wow, there's some great stuff.  Look at this Butterflyfish Origami:
Can you tell which butterflyfish this is?  (Clue: look at the big spot by his dorsal/top fin).  Let me know if you get it right!

Have a great week Sea Fans!
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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Dolphin Trainer anyone?

Hi Sea Fans!

I'm sure many of you have dreamt of swimming with dolphins or even just touching them.  Well, imagine working with them EVERY DAY!!  The lady I'm interviewing today, Gabby Harris, gets to do this.  Check it out:

What is your job?
I am the Curator of mammals and birds at uShaka Sea World.

What did you study/do to get this kind of work?
I learned a lot of the ins and outs of the job on the job. I have a Bachelor of Arts degree that includes psychology and Speech and Drama – these two subjects stood me in good stead when I applied for my job here.

What do you do in a normal day?
Manage staff that work in this department. Train and present dolphins. Lots of cleaning and paper work. Husbandry (caring for the animals) around the animals.

What is the most interesting thing you've come across/experienced in your job?
The first time I saw a dolphin’s belly button I was amazed that these animals are individuals. Seeing a dolphin being born is an incredible experience – with one of the animals my children watched a dolphin birth with me which was wonderful. Releasing an elephant seal after we rehabilitated her was incredible. Holding a penguin chick in your hands. So many wonderful times.

What is a not-so-nice thing about your job?
We love these animals like our family members. If they become compromised (if they get sick or hurt), we worry about them like we do our children. There is also lots of cleaning!

What do you love about your job?
Being friends with the animals – this is an incredible privilege, and it is amazing to bond with them. Love swimming with the dolphins. Love sharing conservation messages with people. Seeing someone’s attitude to the ocean change because they have met an animal is really heartening.

What would you say/recommend to kids who want to do what you do?
Be physically fit. If you want to make a career of this, you need to have good swimming skills and be energetic and strong. It is a good idea to study after school. Perhaps study close to a facility like uShaka Sea world and volunteer on your weekends so you get the lay of the land and a foot in the door. It is not a glamour job, so you need to be prepared to slog hard and get your hands dirty. Learn about the ocean. Become familiar with organisations in this industry, such as the Animal Behaviour Management Alliance (ABMA), the Animal Keepers Association of Africa (AKAA) and the International Association for Marine Animal Trainers (IMATA). Go see them on line.

Anything else?
Love the ocean…

Thanks to Gabby for the insider peak into a trainer's life, I'm sure she'se inspired lots of us to work harder.

Have a great week Sea Fans!
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Friday, September 2, 2011

Great White Shark on display!

Hi Sea Fans!

Interesting news has broken in the aquarium world, read the summary below to find out more:

A Great White Shark.     Photo: Hermanus Backpackers

For the sixth time, the Monterey Bay Aquarium ( has a young great white shark on exhibit. He was brought to Monterey from Malibu on Wednesday night (August 31), just 13 days after he was collected by aquarium staff in waters off southern California near Marina del Rey.

The young shark, a 122cm male weighing 19.6 kg, was collected by aquarium staff and was quickly transferred to a more than 15-million-litre ocean holding pen off Malibu, where he remained for almost two weeks. Aquarium staff observed him swimming comfortably and documented him feeding in the pen before he was taken to Monterey and placed in the 3-million-litre Open Sea exhibit.

In 2004, the first female white shark was exhibited in Monterey as part of the aquarium’s Open Sea exhibit for 6 ½ months and was seen by more than a million people. In follow-up surveys, visitors reported coming away with a deeper understanding of the need to protect white sharks and their ocean homes as a result of seeing the shark on exhibit.  In the wild, great white shark numbers are decreasing worldwide, partly because they’re slow to reproduce and because of growing fishing pressure. White sharks are protected in California and other U.S. coastal waters, as well as in South Africa, Australia, Mexico and other nations. Their fearsome reputation has made them a target of trophy hunters and the curio trade.  This means that educating the public and research is vitally important!

Since 2002, the aquarium has allocated more than $1 million toward its studies of adult and juvenile great white sharks – research unrelated to the effort to put a white shark on exhibit. Visit for detailed information about the aquarium’s Project White Shark program.

So Sea Fans, let me know what you think about this.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Clam Craft

Hi Sea Fans!

I was surfing the worldwide web and found a very cool craft - origami.  Try this one out:

Have fun with it and enjoy finding your own (maybe try googling the author of this origami: Fumiaki Shingu).

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Water rat runaway!

Hi Sea Fans!

This last week was so quiet that I even managed to clear my desk - something that is very much like homework to me!  In the pile of papers, I found an incident report from a while back all about our Water Rats escaping when we first got them.  I was having such a good chuckle when all of a sudden, I heard a mayday call on the won't believe it, but the Water Rats had escaped!!

They haven't tried to escape in a long time, but they must have known that I was reading about their last great escape so they tried it again! Ha ha ha!

I laugh now, but at the time it wasn't funny.  The aquarium was due to open in 10 minutes, we couldn't afford to have escaped Water Rats running around with public in the aquarium.  This meant that we had to catch them and FAST!  First thing was to find out how they had escaped so that it doesn't happen again as soon as we've got them back inside their exhibit.  The next was to find out how many had escaped and then get the trainer and at least one other aquarist who worked with the rats to help capture them.  Luckily, it wasn't an exhibit problem, but rather an aquarist in a hurry that caused the escape (the aquarist cleaning the enclosure didn't close the door behind them whilst cleaning so the rats decided to take the gap).

We soon found them: hiding inbetween the filtration pumps (the machines that clean the water) behind the amazon exhibit, looking a little confused.  Luckily, they love their food and their trainer knows them very well.  It only took two carrots and a whistle to get Beavis and Noris into their travel boxes and back into their exhibit... with 2 minutes to spare.  Phew!  Never a dull life in the aquarium!!

When you think "rat", you think "small".  This is not the case with Water Rats, otherwise known as Nutria. 
Moral of the story: anything can happen...twice.

Have a great week Sea Fans!
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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Do you want to be a diver?

Hi Sea Fans!

Well, if you ever thought that you might want to take up diving as your career, stay put and read on.  Today we have Tersia with us, she works as a diver at an aquarium and she's going to tell you a little more about what she does in a day:

Tersia above the water.
What is your job?
I am a diver at the Two Oceans Aquarium and look after a few tanks and take care of all the sharks and fishes in it.

What did you study/do to get this kind of work?
I did not study for this job! I started as a volunteer because I have a passion to look after fish and dive in the ocean.

What do you do in a normal day?
I look after my displays, feed the fish and do a presentation dive while feeding the fish, sharks and turtles.

What is the most interesting thing you've come across/experienced in your job? 
The molting of my spider crabs - the way they climb out of the old carapace!

What is a not-so-nice thing about your job?
We have to prepare our own food for the fish on weekends when we work, then we stink like fish!

What do you love about your job?
I love diving and feeding the sharks in my big tank because not everybody gets to do such an awesome thing.

What would you say/recommend to kids who want to do what you do? 
You would have to be a hard worker, be dedicated and love looking after your animals.

Anything else?
You must love what you do and what makes you happy! It's nice getting up in the morning and looking forward to going to work.

Tersia below the water.
Thanks Tersia for inviting us into your world!  So, who wants to be a diver?  I know many people who want to be able to do what Tersia does!!

Have a great week, Sea Fans!
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