The First Dives in the Gulf of Mexico
Author: Xavier Pastor
Date: August 13, 2010
This morning at the crack of dawn we used Oceana Latitude’s powerful auxiliary launch, the Longitude, to transport our group of divers to two areas of the reef to perform the first dives of the campaign. The first one was kind of disappointing. Visibility was practically nil and the coral and gorgonians were covered with a thick layer of sediment from the Everglades and other coastal discharges. Like Sole Esnaola said, this was like “diving in milk”. The second dive, like the previous one, took place at about 20 meters, but in an area farther from the coast. It was in much clearer waters and enabled better filming and photographs of that tropical reef. However, it is clear that this area of the Florida Keys has withstood disproportionate pressure from humans, tourism and overfishing. These factors are added to the natural difficulties of turbidity caused by nearby swampland. If more urgent and radical measures to protect those reefs are not taken, they will degrade increasingly until completely destroyed: whether or not BP oil reaches this spot.
As we headed toward the dive points, we listened to the Arctic Sunrise requesting pilots on the radio. The Greenpeace ship was arriving in Key West one day after the Oceana Latitude. When we spotted it on the horizon, we veered from our course to meet it and greet the crew, sailing with the launch toward them. Then we headed on our way. Old friends we have known for more than twenty years are sailing on the Arctic Sunrise like the captain, Pete Wilcox and the scientist, Paul Horseman. When we entered Key West harbor, the Greenpeace ship passed by Oceana’s and sounded its horn by way of a greeting.
While the divers worked from the Longitude, a second Oceana crew came out from Key West harbor in another launch to deal with the media and check the reef’s condition in the most humanized area through snorkeling.
Finally, the remaining Oceana crew members who stayed aboard the Latitude continued working fine tuning the submarine robot, the ROV that will allow us to document seabeds much deeper than the maximum depth that divers are able to reach.
At midnight, we weighed anchor and began our day's run toward the innermost part of the Gulf where the area of coral most threatened by the spill lie.