REEF members are the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. A diverse community of divers, snorkelers, and ocean enthusiasts support our mission to conserve marine environments worldwide.

This month, we highlight our Events & Communications Lead Intern, Maddi Piascik. Maddi graduated from the University of South Carolina with a B.S. in marine science and a minor in advertising and public relations. While in college, she conducted an independent research study focused on phytoplankton and served as the Design Director for USC’s Dance Marathon. Last year she served as a Marine Conservation WTSA Volunteer in Sodwana Bay, South Africa, and also spent a semester studying abroad at James Cook University in Australia. She came to REEF at the start of 2020 as a Marine Conservation Intern, and will spend the next year supporting REEF's programs with a focus on communications, design, and event planning. We're excited to have Maddi on our team!

How did you become interested in marine conservation?
I’ve always been fascinated by the underwater world, but I became interested in marine conservation while I was studying marine science at the University of South Carolina. I switched from being a visual communications major to a marine science major when I realized that a career in conservation gave me the opportunity to make a difference. It sounds cliché, but it’s true! I believe my communication skills uniquely empower my ability to make a difference in the health our marine environments.

In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs?
I believe the most important aspect of REEF’s projects and programs is the engagement we have with our members and within the community. The various ways in which we involve and inspire the public in each of our programs empowers our mission to protect marine environments worldwide. I think REEF’s engagement with the public is unique in the sense that our mission would not be achievable if we did not call upon the public to help!

What have your most valuable REEF experiences been so far?
My most valuable REEF experiences have one thing in common: interacting with the general public as well as our REEF members. From the beginning of my Marine Conservation Internship until now, I have really enjoyed engaging divers and snorkelers with our Volunteer Fish Survey Project on dive boats. Teaching other marine enthusiasts fish identification and empowering them to contribute to citizen science is actively making a difference in marine conservation. Additionally, I had the opportunity to attend a local elementary school’s science expo to teach students about fish identification and the impacts of the invasive lionfish with interactive games. As if seeing first graders be proud of their new knowledge wasn’t enough, a week later we received handwritten cards from the kids expressing how grateful they were to REEF and how much fun they had learning about fish!

What are some of your goals for the upcoming year as a Lead Intern?
This upcoming year I have a long list of both personal and professional goals I want to achieve as a Lead Intern. Personally, I want to advance my diving techniques and obtain my rescue certification. In a professional sense, I want to build a communication skillset that allows me to successfully execute everything from planning events to designing promotional products. I’d love to see my designs on REEF t-shirts, brochures, and posted on social media! It is also my goal to develop a strong portfolio that illustrates the various graphic design projects that I’ve created for REEF!

Tell us about a particularly rewarding project that you worked on during your Marine Conservation Internship.
One of the most rewarding projects that I worked on during my Marine Conservation Internship was designing the educational signs that coincided with our upgraded lionfish display. This particular project was funded by a Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) grant so I gained firsthand experience at applying for grants as well as allocating the provided funds to maximize the impact of REEF’s educational resources. I compiled the information and photographs, designed the layout of the display, and executed the production of the signs. It was a tedious process, but once both signs arrived at the REEF Campus it was worth it to see my designs in a permanent display! The most rewarding part about this project is knowing that my designs will leave a lasting impression on all who read them, encouraging the public to join REEF’s efforts to control the invasive lionfish population!

What career path do you hope to pursue after completing your Lead Internship?
After my Lead Internship I hope to continue working in marine science communication. My goal is to pursue a career in which I can merge my two passions for marine conservation and creative marketing! I’d like to implement my graphic design skills for the preservation of marine environments worldwide! I’m striving for a career that allows me to effectively communicate scientific knowledge to the general public in a way that inspires them make everyday decisions that benefit our fragile marine environments.

What do you like to do outside of work?
Outside of the office you can typically find me scuba diving, running, or working on my freelance graphic design work! I also love to explore the Florida Keys by paddleboard!

Where is your favorite place to dive and why?
My favorite place to dive is in Sodwana Bay, South Africa. I was lucky enough to spend a month diving on the coral reefs of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park as a WTSA Volunteer in June 2019. The nine mile stretch of coral was nearly untouched by environmental threats and tourism. Each mile of the reef was also distinctly different from one another, with varying species and coral formations. One reef, Lettuce Reef, is known for the abundance of lettuce coral that completely covers the seafloor! To date Sodwana Bay is the most colorful, alive reef system I’ve experienced and it was the first place that I saw an octopus, my favorite sea creature!