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City View from the Water; Boston, Massachusetts 12.2007
When I had departed the Texas Horizon it was almost Christmas. I am uncertain about your family’s traditions, but when the holiday season of Christmas came to the Benford household the world seemed to stop for this special event. I absolutely love the Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s holiday season; maybe it is because I am able to spend a substantial amount of personal time with my good friends or family? Or possibly it is because most people during this time are in good spirits and a little more warm-hearted? Perhaps it is generally just a well-liked holiday season and perfect for Snowboarding? Whatever the reason is, that time was quickly approaching and I was eagerly looking forward to spending it in my hometown. Before I had the holidays to get through, I had to first depart on December 21st from Boston, Massachusetts and then get a flight into Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Since I was working offshore for quite a while, a few of my colleagues and I decided to spend a day in Boston, Massachusetts before leaving to each of our final destinations. Taylor, Annya, Renae, and me all spent the day at the New England Aquarium, and then finished our evening at a nice restaurant overlooking the water. It was the perfect ending to a great rotation. 
Renae Keeping Warm; Boston, Massachusetts 12.2007

01′ Mustang Convertible; State College, Pennsylvania 10.2007

Jake Excited for My Visit; Rockwood, Pennsylvania 10.2007

Jake and I; Rockwood, Pennsylvania 10.2007

I managed to have a few days off in between some of the Boston project which had given me the chance to fly back to my mom’s house. In addition, I even managed to make time for a few days to visit Whitney and her family – “New Friendships Created; Reuniting Old Ones.” One of the best memories I had when I visited my family in Pennsylvania was not only the times that I would visit with my family, but also when I rented a 01’ Mustang Convertible for a couple of days and drove to PSU to visit a group of friends. The car was absolutely beautiful and was my favorite color baby blue – she rode very smooth in the perfect weather conditions! It was not snowing at this time, which made it ideal to use the convertible sunroof whenever I had the chance! I remember feeling like a million dollars when I landed in Pennsylvania – I was in the final completion stage of finishing my first official project and I was enjoying quality time with my fellow Penn Staters. The vacation at PSU was awesome (as always!); it was so nice to see several old friends’s smiling faces. 

My Little Brothers: Josh and Jake on Christmas Day; Rockwood, Pennsylvania 12.2007

My Favorite Picture of Jake on Christmas Day; Rockwood, Pennsylvania 12.2006
Mom and Jake; Rockwood, Pennsylvania 05.2006
When I arrived in Pennsylvania to visit my family for Christmas after my project was finished, I noticed a large pile of snow that had conveniently placed itself in front of our driveway. That winter was definitely one of the coldest winters that I remember having in Pennsylvania. Maybe it was the new beach babe in me, but I was pretty chilly! I spent my Christmas with my gram and with most of my mom’s 8 brothers and sisters. I love our family gatherings – this time I created a slide show with music displaying my favorite photographs from the Boston project. My little cousins were very enthusiastic about my presentation – I absolutely love little kids and their positive energy. I remember I was on call to leave again for work and had to disappear at a moment’s notice for Florida if needed. Thankfully I was able to visit with my gram for our family gathering – at first, I was afraid that I would not have had the chance to see her when I was in town. Ironically, the next day after my family gathering I was told that I had to come back to Florida to start a manatee dredge job (more on this later). 
Two Manatees Cuddling; Melbourne, Florida: Crane Creek 12.2007
What are manatees you may ask? Manatees are slow moving mammals that utilize their front flippers to crawl along ocean or river bottoms. Their flat, horizontal tails move up and down to gracefully glide them through the water. Unfortunately, Manatees are endangered – mostly due to the collisions with boats, which leave a pattern of scars on their backs or tails; however, some of these collisions may be fatal. Researchers use these patterns of scars as a key to identify the particular individual. Besides boat collisions, Manatees also have been found crushed or drowned in flood-control gates. Currently Manatees have been documented drastically suffering from pollution and habitat loss. I was anticipating working on Crane Creek in Melbourne, Florida because this is where large amounts of Manatees were observed. I have never seen a Manatee before; I was stoked to see my first one! 

Manatee Saying Hello; Melbourne, Florida: Crane Creek 12.2007
I originally made plans with one of my best friends from college, Leslie, to spend our New Year’s Eve together at PSU – “Last Destination Florida; the Road Trip down the Chosen Path.” Of course, when I was told to pack my bags and be on the next flight out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania I had to cancel our plans. This was one of my first times that I had to postpone our plans; I felt horrible!  Luckily, Leslie was super understanding and we had made preparations for her to come down during Spring Break 2008 (more on Spring Break 2008 in future posts) to visit me. The next thing I knew I was on an airplane to Orlando, Florida; someone from the Ecoes office was coming to the airport to pick me up. I had asked MJ to start my car every month while I was on the Boston project to make sure that my car still had the juice that it needed to run. In other words, starting my car on occasion would keep the battery alive and ready to run when needed it to. Long story short, when I arrived back to the Ecoes office my car would not start at all, not even a smudge. Mary Jo’s or MJ’s husband Stephen offered to bring me to back to their house since it was late in the evening. Ironically, I discovered over dinner and drinks in Boston, Massachusetts that my cousin (who I never really knew that well) Stephen was married to MJ. How is that for a small world? Bottom line:  I was not hired for this position due to my family ties; MJ explained that she hired me due to my impressive CV and great personality.  
Manatee Struck by Boat Propeller; Melbourne, Florida: Crane Creek 01.2008
Anyways, I came back to the house with Stephen and recapped some great memories in Boston, Massachusetts with MJ – it was a great night! The next morning I was taken to my car around 10am. Unfortunately, it took my car an hour to start with the jumper cables – I never had any problems with my car until this event. My manatee dredge job was scheduled to start the next morning so it was imperative that I had a working vehicle – I had to drive to Melbourne, Florida. The road trip was about an hour away and I needed to be guaranteed that I would make it to work instead of being stuck at the side of the road. Finally, after getting the car started I had arrived safely back in my condo that I had not seen in 4 months – it was such a great feeling to see all of my personal belongings again. Later that evening I was able to purchase a battery, fix my car temporarily, and make preparations for work the following day. The next morning I woke up and discovered that my car was not working! I overheard MJ tell Stephen that Meghan was working with me on this project – I hopped it was Meghan from the Boston project! I called her really early in the morning and found out that she was working the project with me! I was relieved – she even offered to give me a ride to the project site! Wow, she was quite the life saver! 

Manatee Tail Displayed Above Surface; Melbourne, Florida: Crane Creek 01.2007
My first day’s schedule was a bit ridiculous. I woke up at 5am, got ready for work, and packed my lunch – I felt that I had just been presented a job as a Construction worker! Luckily, Meghan was cool about picking me up – she arrived around 6am. Before I left my house I double checked and triple checked that I had everything I needed for the day. Meghan and I were scheduled to work at 6:45am, but were not punctual due to my lack of great directions – well technically we were never given “great” directions. In result, we reached our destination at 7:05am. The Ecoes office was not particularly keen about our tardiness, but hello we were working in the middle of nowhere near dirt roads – it happens! The crew was not bothered by it; they were running a little behind this morning. I arrived at the “actual” job site around 8:45am (the crew had to move some pipeline and were held up for a while).
I rode out in a little crew boat (very small) with Meghan. Meghan was dropped off on the barge that was about 75m parallel me. I got dropped off on someone’s dock to observe the dredge from that point. I was on a person’s private property; their fishing boat was right beside me – talk about feeling strange and uncomfortable. After seeing nothing for 4 hours, and standing on a hard dock while trying to observe around the dredge, the homeowners come down to greet me. They were actually pretty cool, but I still apologized profusely for being on their property. They were super sweet – I recall them stating that, “as long as we are helping the manatees out, then that we are more welcomed to stay.” What an awesome feeling to reassure that I was part of a greater cause in the area; the locals were really interested in their natural surroundings. Though it was torturous baking in the 90 degree weather and trying not to die from heat exhaustion, I still maintained to enjoy the project and oversee the wildlife that passed through. Another perk to the job was that Meghan and I were provided with walkie talkies so that we can communicate about our sightings. Some of the time we used this tool to keep each other’s spirits up – the weather definitely took its toll on us!
What is a dredge job you may ask? During this particular project plans are to hydraulically dredge Crane Creek located within Melbourne, Florida.  A discharge pipe would run from the dredge up to the staging area, which is the designated dredged material handling site.  The dredged material will be sent to an offsite location prior to a final placement location. Based upon the Sediment testing results, most of the dredged material is expected to be put to beneficial use rather than being sent to a landfill for disposal. The dredge will be operating within an enclosure to limit the migration of suspended sediments away from the dredging site.  No navigation within the enclosure area will be possible.  The enclosure will be as small as practical so as to limit its interference with navigation.  The dredge and the enclosure will also move frequently so that the amount of time any one place is blocked will be very limited. During active dredging, the dredge discharge pipeline will be in place and has the potential to interfere with vessel navigation locally.  To the extent practical, the pipeline will be submerged and marked with buoys so that most vessels can safely pass over it. 
The local that I mentioned earlier brought up the question, “Will this dredging damage my dock?” The dredging program has set the cut of the dredge away from any existing structures and pilings, so that they will not be damaged.  Before dredging, a comprehensive site inspection was completed to examine the dredging areas to identify structures and existing conditions so that the program could be modified as necessary to avoid damage to structures and to document the conditions of existing structures including seawalls, docks, and mooring pilings boat lifts. His wife’s question was, How will the project impact marine life and wildlife?” Preserving and enhancing the environmental health is one of the key objectives of the dredging project. According to studies conducted to analyze the material, its contents are organic in nature and will not release unsafe chemicals into the water and wildlife. In addition, the dredging will be done hydraulically, a method specifically designed to minimize turbidity in the water and protect wildlife.

First Sighting of Manatee; Melbourne, Florida: Crane Creek 12.2007
Manatee Surfacing Snout First; Melbourne, Florida: Crane Creek 12.2007

The dredge project was a success. I had a few sightings of Manatees – one of the most memorable moment was when I was radioing Meghan and all of a sudden, two nostrils appeared out of the water about 10m in front of my face! I was super confused at this point, but quickly had become aware that there were four Manatees all lying on the seabed  only a short distance in front of me. Immediate action was taken, the dredge was halted, and the observation of the Manatee was carefully documented. After the sighting, Meghan and I were able to take a speed boat and follow their trail for a little bit until we had to turn around near the trees. The project was unique, I was able to meet some cool locals, witness Manatees, drive a speed boat, and work with one of my really good friends, Meghan. I would definitely work a project like this again!
I worked the manatee dredge for only a few days before my departure for my next project. I spent my New Year’s Eve with Meghan and her family. Meghan and I stopped by Mary Jo’s or MJ’s on New Year’s Day and visited for a while. I spoke with Whitney on the phone for a little – she had called MJ’s house to discuss her current project. Whitney was already in the Gulf of Mexico and I was on my way soon to join her – whether it was the same ship or the same fleet, this I was uncertain about. It would have been nice if we were able to work together on my first project in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM). Wishful thinking, I suppose! 
A few days later I was on a flight to Lafayette, Louisiana to partake in my HUET (Water Survival/ Helicopter Underwater Egress Training) in Lafayette, Louisiana and then headed to my second project which was now located in the Gulf of Mexico.


If interested in an additional reading about Florida Manatees and dredging – Read this article, “Florida Manatees Appreciate Spring Clean”

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