10/27/05 - Under the sea
Doni Angell and MT Palmer went on Thursday's dives to the Stetson Banks. Here are their journals of the dives.
From Doni Angell:
At 10:30 pm last night, I abandoned my night watch's duty of transecting so that I could get some sleep before this morning’s dive. Before the sun rose, I was up again, getting a light breakfast, checking e-mail questions, and getting instructions on how to operate the video camera and the voice recorder for my morning dive. With the dive schedule being readjusted due to the down time caused by Hurricane Wilma, I was flattered that the science team felt strongly enough about the education aspect of this mission to let me go on a dive. As a result, I was especially nervous about letting them down—messing up a tape, not speaking enough into the recorder, not recognizing species.
The aft chamber of the Johnson-Sea-Link felt as confining as I had remembered from two years ago, but the feelings of anxiety stemmed only from my potential inadequacies, not from any fear of the dive itself. The descent was silent and peaceful, giving me an opportunity to get my gear organized and ready for when we reached the ocean floor. Dr. Martha Nizinski assisted in answering my numerous questions as she helped navigate from the bow.
For the next two hours, I peered through the portholes, describing the topography of the ocean floor and guessing at the substrate and the organisms I saw. Aside from a few fish species, including one very large shark, most of the life forms visible were sessile. The corals and sponges, which made up a large portion of the organisms I observed, were nevertheless amazing to watch. Some seemed immobile, while others swayed in the current, or from the wake of the Johnson-Sea-Link. Most were rather bland in color, but then a spark of color would stand out against the darkness.
Unfortunately, the dive couldn't last forever. Soon the batteries were running low and our time below was over. Seemingly effortlessly, we drifted up the water column, back to the world of light, people, and noise.
From MT Palmer:
I had a very calm and relaxing day today. I spent the morning answering questions from the web, renaming files, and organizing some of our data. Then I saw Doni off on her dive to Stetson Banks. After the sub returned with collection buckets full, we spent the afternoon taking pictures of specimens, learning how to better use the digital camera, and helping Martha label and store specimens. At 3:00 pm, Andrea Quattrini gave me a briefing in preparation for my sub dive, our second at Stetson Banks. She taught me how to use the video cameras, the video monitors, and voice recorders. Andrea also gave me a list of the information she wanted me to compile during the dive.
At 4:00 pm I prepared to board the stern compartment of the Johnson-Sea-Link. This was one of the few times in my life that I felt lucky to be only be 5'4" tall—I fit in the sub quite well. In fact, if my face hadn't been pressed against the glass of the porthole practically the entire dive, I would have been quite comfortable.
We descended to approximately 2,200 feet, turned on all the lights, and started to get a sense of the area, concentrating on recording the habitat around us. The current was very strong, so we tried to move with it instead of against it to save battery power and to maximize our dive time. We rode along ridgelines and dropped into valleys. We collected several coral samples and saw many types of fish like nezumia, wreck fish, and scorpion fish. I worked in the back keeping track of which specimen went in which bucket, recording what I saw out my portholes, and helping Andrea keep the video clear and in focus.
When our battery power was low, it was time to ascend. The sub pilot turned off all the lights and we were surrounded by a bioluminescent light show as we rose to the surface. All around the sub and as far as the eye could see, there were blue, orange, and yellow flashes. Some creatures stayed put as we went by while others dashed about, leaving bursts of blue trailing in their wake. At one point, at about 500 feet, the amount of bioluminescence became overwhelming. I don't know how to describe it except to say that it was like being surrounded by millions of blinking fireflies.
After the dive, I found Andrea and gave her a big hug in thanks for a great trip. I checked out our catch and then ate a great dinner of steak, shrimp, and a baked potato. Now I am sitting at the computer writing to you and trying to take it all in. It was more than I ever imagined it could be.
As soon as the sub was on board, we started steaming for Jacksonville, Florida. We shall see what wonders tomorrow holds for us. We are hoping for good weather and calm seas as always.
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