Check out these gorgeous expedition photos from the Crystal and Rainbow rivers on the Northwest coast of Florida. Photographer Carlos Minguell has received many awards for his underwater photography, and it’s easy to see why:
Stay tuned for more as our Gulf of Mexico expedition draws to a close this week.
Two expedition updates in one day - hold on to your hats! In this one, Oceana marine scientist Elizabeth Wilson describes yesterday’s successful shark tagging adventures, including a monster nurse shark:
Today we traveled to the Dry Tortugas, a small group of islands at the end of the Florida Keys, to study sharks. On board with us is the shark team from University of Miami’s R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation Program, led by Dr. Neil Hammerschlag. Other members of the team on board are Lab Manager and graduate student Dominique Lazzare and Captain Curt Slonim.
We arrived in the Dry Tortugas National Park, anchored near Fort Jefferson and started surveying for sharks. We had a successful research trip where we tagged and sampled three Caribbean reef sharks and two nurse sharks. We attached identification tags to the Caribbean reef sharks and sent them back on their way. The nurse sharks were too big and feisty to bring on the boat for tagging…one was 10.5 feet long and was the biggest nurse shark any of us had ever seen.
In the latest update from the Latitude, Oceana scientist Jon Warrenchuk describes the ROV’s dive near Key West.
The underwater ridge looked promising: South of Key West, 10 miles offshore and 200 meters deep. The bathymetric lines piled up steeply on the chart, indicating some steep relief in some otherwise flat habitat. As far as I knew, no one had ever seen what the seafloor looked like in that area. We deployed the ROV some distance from the site, trying to take into account the drift of the boat.
Oceana marine scientist Jon Warrenchuk reports on yesterday’s expedition dive task in Key West: searching for lionfish.
After a bumpy nighttime transit, we’re now anchored off the lower keys of Key West.
I’ve asked the dive team to count the number of lionfish they see at the dive sites today. It’s easy to recognize lionfish, with their long fin rays and spines, and you’ve probably seen them in saltwater aquariums. Yep, that’s them, staked out in some preferential corner of the aquarium, looking all spiny and finny.
Even though they look cool, we really do not want to see lionfish at the reefs here in Key West. Lionfish are native to the waters around Australia and Indonesia, where they are regular denizens of the fish community there. In those waters, lionfish are bound with all those ecological checks and balances that come with living in their natural habitat; all their competitors and predators that have evolved in the same place have worked out their happy little evolutionary détente.
A brief expedition update from ocean scientist Jon Warrenchuk, who recently came aboard the Latitude.
Rough weather and high seas caused unforeseen problems in launching the ROV yesterday. With no improvement in the weather in sight, we begin to head south to start our next leg of work.
Our intended dive location with the ROV was Christmas Ridge, southwest of Tampa Bay approximately 120 miles offshore. Christmas Ridge was so-named by fisherman for the large catches of fish that could be relied upon to bring home a big paycheck before the holidays.
We were interested to see if the fish were still there, but reconnaissance at this site will have to wait for better conditions on another day.
A brief update from the boat by Elizabeth Wilson, and some gorgeous photographs:
Today the dive team went to Tarpon Springs, which is just a little north of St. Petersburg, FL to dive. Tarpon Springs is named for the tarpons (a species of fish) which can often be seen leaping out of the water in this area. The name fits -- we’ve seen many tarpons leaping out of the water from the Latitude in recent days.
While visibility on the dive wasn’t ideal, the dive team was still able to get some amazing pictures:
Check out the video in today's expedition update from Oceana marine scientist Elizabeth Wilson. The scientists can't resist giving the baby bonnethead sharks a few smooches before releasing them.
The Oceana Latitude is now docked in St. Petersburg, FL for the next few days. I’ve re-boarded the Latitude with two scientists from the National Aquarium, Andy Dehart and Andrew Pulver. We’ll be using two of the Latitude’s tenders (smaller boats), the Longitude and the Lat-long, to do shark research day trips.
It’s time for the next leg of the journey: shark tagging! Dustin reports:
The Oceana Latitude is now headed South, down the west coast of Florida.
While the ship is docked in St. Petersburg for the next few days, scientists from Oceana and the National Aquarium, including Discovery Channel shark advisor Andy Dehart, will work to tag various shark species several miles offshore.
In addition to collecting basic data from each shark, the attached metal tags can provide future information on stock identity, movements and migration, abundance, age and growth, mortality, and behavior. The tags can also help identify these sharks later as those that were in the general vicinity of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, which could help to determine the long-term impacts of the oil spill on shark populations.
Oceana hopes to see several shark species, including spinner, blacktip, blacknose, dusky, lemon, bull, mako, tiger, hammerhead and bonnethead.
In today’s expedition update from Dustin, Oceana’s divers get up close and personal with some rare giants of the gulf:
It was another day of diving for the crew onboard the Oceana Latitude. Today’s site was nearly 15 miles from Port St. Joe and is home to Sherman Tug, a vessel that was sunk in 1996 and now sits upright 75-feet underwater.
This sunken ship is covered in gorgonians and sponges and inhabited by schools of grunts, spadefish and almaco jacks. In addition to spotting a blue angelfish and leopard toadfish, the divers saw two goliath groupers, one weighing approximately 100 pounds and the second nearly double that size.
These inquisitive giants were in steep decline until the U.S. government imposed a ban on catching the species in 1990. Although a slow growth rate makes rebuilding their populations a slow process, it’s gratifying to see them up close and personal.
Here’s a video by Gorka Leclercq:
Here’s Dustin’s latest dispatch from the boat, along with some beautiful photos from a dive near Port St. Joe, Florida:
Under typical weather conditions, it should have taken the divers only an hour and a half to reach the 3-5’s area on the 42-foot Oceana Longitude this morning. But because of rough seas, the divers decided to divert from the course when they realized that it would take nearly twice as long to reach the location. Instead, they visited Marquardt’s Barge, approximately 10 miles from where the Oceana Latitude is anchored in Port St. Joe.