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USGS/NOAA Underwater Memorial and Tribute to Captain Roy Gaensslen

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Captain Roy Gaensslen
Captain Roy Gaensslen
On July 14th, nearly four years after his death, scientists from the USGS St. Petersburg Field Center (SPFC) and NOAA's Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) gathered with family and close friends of Captain Roy Gaensslen to honor his life and contributions to marine science. The ceremony was held at sea, ~4 n.mi. off Key Largo within the NOAA Sanctuary. His ashes were scattered over a coral patch reef named in his honor and a memorial plaque was permanently placed at the site.

A resident of Key Biscayne, Fla., Captain Roy, as he was known, was charter captain for the USGS Fisher Island Field Station in Miami from 1974 until 1989 and later for the SPFC until his untimely death in August 1997. Captain Roy served the USGS well, having escorted untold numbers of USGS field trips and research expeditions to Belize, the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, Bahamas, and Florida Keys for 23 years. He served NOAA by conducting scientific research cruises in the Sanctuary. The last one, a 30-day seismic-profiling cruise, had been awarded by the USGS and permitted by NOAA before his death and was carried out in the middle and upper Keys in October 1997 by chief scientist Barbara Lidz.

Captain Roy's USGS cruise arenas include the origin of whitings on the Great Bahama Bank, coral reef evolution in the Caribbean, Gulf, Florida Keys, and Bahamas, sampling of drill muds around offshore drill rigs in the Gulf, and environmental effects of decades-old shallow- and deep-water exploratory wells in the Gulf. The well study was conducted for the Minerals Management Service.

collage of photographs remembering Captain Roy Gaensslen
A collage of photographs remembering Captain Roy Gaensslen.
collage designed by Betsy Boynton
[large version 122KB]
His boats were unconventional but memorable research vessels, the 50-ft Shrimp Trawler Sea Angel and the 50-ft Marine Trader Captain's Lady. The USGS core barrels, drill equipment, tripods, Scuba tanks, compressors, dredges, magnetometers, water-sample gear, grab samplers, sidescan-sonar, and seismic-profiling arrays were not kind to his vessels, but Captain Roy took the dents and dings in stride.

He had a genuine interest in the scientific questions, objectives, and results his research cruises would produce, and he was an active and enthusiastic participant in every aspect of a cruise. He solved engine and equipment breakdowns by repairing "malfunctioning internal components" or by giving the offending apparatus "the float test." He could fix nearly anything, enabling research to proceed despite mechanical problems.

Though he never lost a piece of USGS equipment or scientific sample, he nonetheless gave Fisher Island personnel true cause for concern one summer—for life, limb, and property. Loaded to the gunwales with the usual heavy drilling equipment and two weeks' worth of valuable reef cores, he was more than a week overdue returning from Belize. While trying to outrun a hurricane in heavy seas, Sea Angel had been hit by lightning and radio contact was the only thing that had been lost.

a diver above the memorial marker for Captain Roy Gaensslen a closeup of the memorial marker, which reads 'Captain Roy Gaensslen 1924-1997 In memory of Captain Roy Gaensslen for his dedicated service to marine science and for his love and knowledge of the Florida Keys'
Memorial marker: Bronze marker installed on a pedestal that is cemented into bedrock at the edge of Captain Roy's Reef off Key Largo, Florida. Water depth at high tide is ~12 ft. One of the large coral heads can be seen behind the Scuba diver in the photo at left.

Gene and Pat Shinn hosted the coral reef dedication ceremony aboard their 42-ft trawler PaPa-San. Joining them were Chris Reich, Bob Halley, Jack Kindinger, and Barbara Lidz from the SPFC, Harold Hudson, reef restoration biologist with the FKNMS, and Dan Robbin, program coordinator with the Department of Veterans Affairs in Miami. Harold and Dan are former USGS Fisher Island Station researchers. Also present were Robert Ginsburg and colleagues from the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science in Miami along with Roy's friends from annual Scuba diving charters, the Key Biscayne Crandon Park Marina, and from private industry in Miami. Approximately 60 people attended the on-site memorial. A banquet onshore followed for those who could stay, about half the group, at which tales of Roy's nautical adventures were told and imitations of his signature Bimini straw hats were given to narrators.

During the ceremony, Harold presented the Gaensslen family with a letter from Marine Sanctuary Superintendent Billy D. Causey designating a particularly magnificent coral patch reef to be hereafter known as "Captain Roy's Reef." The letter read, in part,

dedication letter
Dedication letter: The letter from Marine Sanctuary Superintendent Billy D. Causey to the family of Captain Roy Gaensslen designating "Captain Roy's Reef."
[read the letter 78KB pdf]
"The designation of the coral reefs and surrounding waters of the Florida Keys as a National Marine Sanctuary in 1990 was due, in large part, to the unprecedented and unique research focused on understanding the dynamic geological and biological processes governing this precious marine ecosystem. Captain Roy Gaensslen's nautical expertise was an instrumental part of these efforts.... Researchers who worked with him unanimously agree that we would know far less about this area today had they not benefited from Captain Roy's expert navigation, diving, mechanical skills, and his general good humor to stay the course when frustration mounted. While there were many individuals involved in these efforts, Captain Roy stands out as an icon of reef discovery."

".....The rules of the US Board on Geographic Names require a five year waiting period from the time of an individual passing before a memorial name can take effect. Upon arrival of that date, I will endeavor to ensure that the Board adopts this designation and places "Captain Roy's Reef" in the database of geographic names."

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Pulley Ridge Reefs

Outreach Stellwagen Bank Visitor Center

Meetings Great Lakes

Coastal Zone 2001

ESRI Conference

African Dust Briefing for DoD

Awards Hazardous Waste Work

Staff & Center News Capt. Roy Gaensslen

Publications Monterey Bay Sanctuary

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