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Click below to go to the Cruise Logs - (photo credit: Lophelia Coral - Open-File Report 2008-1148 & OCS Study MMS 2008-015)


Cruise Log: 8/15/2009    

Liz dives

Liz Baird

Liz Baird in the bow of the Johnson Sea Link, ready for her dive (photo credit Art Howard) - click to enlarge
"For centuries, the only ocean man knew was the sun-drenched, wind-tossed surface. It was a two dimensional element upon which he sailed his ships, on the fringes of which he built his cities. The world beneath the waves was a nether region, inhabited by monsters too fearful to contemplate. Nature had not seen fit to make the water as clear as the atmosphere. Man lived with the stars but the deep sea was beyond his ken." Auguste Picards, Seven Miles Down, 1961

The three dimensional world beneath the deep blue of the Florida current was mine to explore. I gathered my things - an audio tape recorder, a handheld video camera for the science and a surround sound microphone and camera with a fish eye lens from Art Howard for the Museum project...a Ziploc bag with extra tapes, already labeled, extra batteries just in case… my canvas bag with a long sleeved shirt, a granola bar, my flashlight... and I headed out the door towards the submersible, the Johnson Sea Link.

I already had two dives in the stern. The submersible has two compartments, each of which hold two people. The stern is an oval just big enough for two people to sit in with their legs crossed and heads tucked as if they have terrible posture. You enter the stern from below, sliding up through the circular opening and scooting out of the way so the hatch can be closed. The oval windows are small, and the aluminum body lets it get very cold. The stern is usually where you have your first dive as part of the research team.

On Saturday afternoon I had the chance to be in the front of the sub - a large Plexiglass sphere that resembles a helicopter. It provides a nearly 360° view. Being the scientist in the front carries responsibility - not only in working with the sub pilot to determine the direction to take the sub, but also in running the external video camera and choosing what to collect. During the dive you take an audio recording of everything you say. And when you return to the surface you transcribe the audio onto a paper log. Excerpts from mine:

1000 ft   Red shrimp went by - is bigger than appeared
2400 ft   Coral rubble, sand looks course, few little eels
2370 ft   Some glass sponges on stalks, squid ink in water
2302 ft   Gotten more diverse
2245 ft   Huge structure of dead coral, terraces off to side

These notes don't capture the wonder of being on the sea floor. There is an inky blackness that surrounds the submersible. The bright arc lights illuminate what is in front of you, but you always wonder what is just beyond the spotlight. You cruise along a flat bottom and in the distance a step slope appears, with different sponges and live coral and crevices where urchins and eels and brittle stars can hide. Your eye is distracted by the small things that swim quickly into view - pulsing reddish jellyfish, silvery flashes of a hatchetfish, curious Coral Hakes (a type of fish) that swim towards the camera. You try to decide what to sample for the researchers waiting on deck - a small branch of coral goes into a bucket, a crab gets picked off of Bamboo Coral, a sponge is snipped from the sea floor. There isn't time to sit in wonder during the dive. The task of collecting data and capturing the area with video, photo and audio recordings occupies most of your time on the bottom. At the end of the dive, the lights are turned off and you ascend through the bioluminescent show in the water column.

It never fails to amaze me that we can explore the depths of the ocean. As we bob on the surface, waiting for the swimmer to come and attach a line from the ship, and the A-frame to lift us up out of the sea, I marvel at the earliest explorers, like William Beebe, who set out to probe the depths with little more than a concept and lots of courage. He described his feelings about the privilege of descending into the sea in "One Mile Down" as:

"If one dives and returns to the surface in-articulate with amazement and with a deep realization of the marvel of what he has seen and where he has been, then he deserves to go again and again. If he is unmoved or disappointed, then there remains for him on earth only a longer or shorter period of waiting for death."

With every dive, I return with an appreciation of where I have been and what I have done, and know that each dive of the submersible adds to our collective knowledge about the sea that was "beyond our ken."

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