It’s a busy and exciting time of year for our campaigners on the water -- and for those of us who get to see the photos and videos of the incredible marine life and habitats that they send back to land.
As you know if you’ve been following the blog for the past week or so, we have a team off the coast of Oregon right now exploring important ecological areas. And today, our team in Europe is launching its seventh annual summer expedition.
This year the Oceana catamaran, Ranger, will sail for two months through the western Mediterranean and the Atlantic to study seamounts and sea canyons, ocean environments that are rich in biodiversity but relatively unexplored due to their depth and complex terrains. That’s where our scientists, divers and underwater robot (ROV) come in.
In one of the most exciting aspects of this year’s expedition, Oceana will collaborate with Portuguese government officials and scientists to investigate the Gorringe Bank, a little-explored seamount and an oasis of biodiversity southwest of Portugal. Oceana last surveyed these waters in 2005, but this time around, using the ROV, the team will be exploring and documenting areas more than 2,500 feet -- that’s about half a mile! -- below the surface of the ocean.
The ROV will record high-resolution videos and photos, which will ultimately be used to propose the creation of marine protected areas and other conservation measures.
We can’t wait to see what our teams find in the ocean’s depths. We’ll keep you updated as the journey progresses!
This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition. Today's highlights: octupuses, hydrocorals and nudibranchs!
California Leg, Days 4-5
Friday concluded the Monterey portion of the expedition, and we had high hopes and much enthusiasm for the last day. We successfully completed three fantastic dives exploring three unique habitats.
This section of the expedition involves two ROVs, a compact one able to capture footage in more shallow depths and one designed to dive much deeper. The crew is still making improvements to the larger ROV so we used the smaller one to document bottom habitat consisting of sand, boulders, and large white sponges inside Point Pinos reef; the pinnacles at Asilomar State Marine Reserve; and investigated marine life hiding within the ledges of the Monterey Shale Beds.
The strong swells we had been working against all week calmed a bit under the overcast sky. Special guests joining us today included scientists from the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions, a reporter and photographer from the Santa Cruz Sentinel newspaper, and documentary filmmakers from Sea Studios.
Our dive within the newly established Asilomar State Marine Reserve was truly extraordinary. We were pleasantly surprised to see that this marine protected area contained such large pinnacles, equivalent in splendor and color to what we observed further south near Carmel earlier in the week.
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.
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.
Unfortunately, the news from the boat can’t always be good. After spotting quite a bit of wildlife in the Alabama Alps, the crew hit a snag with the ROV. Here’s the lowdown from Dustin:
Monday and Tuesday, September 13 and 14
In an unexpected turn of events, the generator used to power Oceana’s ROV was hit by a large rogue wave Monday afternoon near the edge of DeSoto Canyon. While the ROV technicians spent the rest of the day trying to repair the damaged system, the Oceana Latitude began to adjust course and head towards Mobile in hopes of getting replacement parts.
It was an exciting day yesterday on the Latitude, as Dustin reports. We owe a hearty thank you to Nautica, who is making this leg of the expedition possible.
Saturday, September 11
The heat and humidity did not divert the Oceana crew from the important task at hand today.
After running a few more quick tests on the Spanish ROV, the crew sent it down for its first operation. Positioned near the “Alabama Alps,” the ROV was lowered nearly 250 feet to the ocean floor.
As strong underwater currents tried to move the Oceana Latitude from the operation site, expedition leader Xavier Pastor worked closely with the ships’ crew to ensure that all the necessary measures were taken to keep us on course.
Here’s Xavier Pastor:
In today's expedition update from Dustin, the crew begins the next leg of the journey: whale shark tagging!
The Oceana Latitude gained five new crew members today for its upcoming effort to tag whale sharks off the coast of southeastern Louisiana.
Oceana’s vice president for Chile, Alex Munoz, and marine scientist Elizabeth Wilson joined Dr. Eric Hoffmayer and Jennifer McKinney from the University of Southern Mississippi. Here’s Dr. Hoffmayer on a recent segment of NBC Nightly News:
The Gulf of Mexico is threatened by more than just offshore drilling. Industrial fishing has destroyed many habitats already, as our team saw yesterday. Here's Dustin's update from the Latitude:
A recent story by the Associated Press revealed that there are more than 27,000 abandoned oil and gas wells in the Gulf of Mexico. Some of these wells are believed to still be leaking oil into the Gulf.
Oceana sent its ROV from Chile down (approximately 90 feet to the seafloor) today off the coast of Alabama to investigate an abandoned oil well that began drilling in 1981.
Oceana was unable to find any infrastructure from the abandoned well. However, the ROV did allow us to see the result of using destructive fishing gear in the area. The sea floor at this location was leveled. Trawls appeared to have bulldozed everything in their path, leaving only broken shells and a few remaining fish and sea stars.
Here's Oceana's ROV operator and science director for Chile Matthias Gorny:
Our research catamaran, Ranger, is currently at sea for its annual expedition, and the crew recently made an incredible discovery in the depths of the Western Mediterranean Sea.
Using a deep-diving ROV, they discovered large colonies of deep-sea white coral, which is significant considering that most of the Mediterranean’s deep-sea coral reefs have already been destroyed by bottom trawling and longline fishing.
Most of the research conducted in the Mediterranean to date has found only dead coral; in fact, Ranger’s crew found live colonies of deep-sea coral coexisting with large expanses of dead coral.
The reef, which Ranger found in Spain’s Alboran Sea, is one of the richest and most threatened ecosystems in the Mediterranean, forming a habitat for species such as redfish, roughy, red seabream and countless others.
You can read the Ranger’s on-board diaries for more on this year’s expedition.
Today Oceana and NRDC, in collaboration with Mote Marine Laboratory, are launching an oil-detecting underwater robot off the Florida Keys as a first line of defense against underwater oil plumes from the Gulf oil spill.
For 25 to 30 days, the robot, a.k.a.Waldo, will travel undersea in the water column, an area that satellite imagery cannot access, gathering data every few seconds and transmitting the information to researchers via satellite every three hours.
If oil is detected, Mote Marine Laboratory will provide the local government with this information so that emergency resources and response plans can be activated to help protect the Keys’ important ecological resources.
You can check out Waldo’s location and data throughout his expedition at Rutgers University’s web site.