08/12/02 - Educator goes off the deep end
Today provided quite an adventure for Alan Felker, our educator from Boone, North Carolina. He got to go in the submersible on a dive to see coral at depths of 1,400 feet. He rode in the stern compartment with two portholes and a video screen showing the activities in the front of the sub. Scientist Ken Sulak sat in the large plastic dome of the forward compartment so he could document the fish species. The following is Alan's description of his dive:
"The dive began at 8:00 am and lasted over three hours. With all of the activity and assignments, the time on board actually seemed much shorter. Everything encountered by the sub is documented by paper logs, digital voice recorders, and mini-digital video cameras. The submersible is designed so that in an emergency situation it can remain below the surface for five days. However, for our research each dive lasts approximately 3-4 hours.
The morning dive was to the deep coral beds of the Lophelia banks. As we began the descent, I was amazed to see how the sunlight penetrated the water column for hundreds of feet. As people who have been to the coast of the Carolinas know, shoreline water is often green and rather opaque. Water at the edge of the continental shelf is a beautiful royal blue and almost transparent.
The descent to the bottom of the banks took about twenty minutes. As we descended, the water always had "ocean snow" drifting down through the water column. This material is actually detritus from dead animals. It also contains many live animals that are less than one centimeter in length. Arrival on the bottom was carefully planned so that the submersible did not harm the coral or become entangled in clumps of rock.
The large coral beds harbored many interesting life forms. One of the first sea creatures we saw was a large purple conger eel. He was approximately 1.5 meters in length. Brittle stars were the dominant species in the coral beds. Many times there were so many brittle stars that they masked the shape of the coral. Galatheid crabs, (commonly called squat lobster) were often found in the coral mounds. The submersible is equipped with mechanical arms, suction tubes and specimen holding tanks for collecting specimens. During this dive samples were taken from the habitat so that they may be studied later in a laboratory.
The trip back to the surface lasted approximately twenty minutes. Once the sub broke the surface of the water, the swimmer dove off of the ship and attached a special line to the top of the sub. This line pulls the sub to the stern where it is brought on board.
Traveling to the oceanic world is an experience that will not soon be forgotten. Research like this helps us gain an understanding of the important world beneath the sea. As we exploit the terrestrial portions of our planet, we must not forget that many areas of our home contain incredible wonder and excitement for us all. It is our responsibility to protect these large unexplored areas of the Earth for future generations."
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