The Beacon

Blog Tags: Diving

Q&A: Alexandra Cousteau

The new issue of Oceana magazine is hot off the presses! In this issue, I interviewed Oceana senior advisor Alexandra Cousteau, who also graces this issue's cover. 

The granddaughter of famed ocean explorer and filmmaker Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Alexandra doesn’t take her family legacy lightly. She spends her days advocating for ocean and water conservation around the world. Oceana welcomed her as a senior advisor to the  organization in February, a role she will juggle along with many others, including being a mother to her baby daughter Clémentine. Besides lending her expertise to Oceana, Alexandra is a National Geographic Explorer, founder of Blue Legacy International, and brand ambassador for Oceana expedition partner Revo Sunglasses. Here's what she had to say:

Tell me about your family’s history with the oceans.

Clearly my family has a long history with the oceans. It’s hard to tell my story without talking about my grandfather because it’s a multi-generational continuation of what he started. He spent years imagining the aqualung, finally co-inventing the regulator with Emile Gagnan in 1942. And it hasn’t evolved that much (since then) – the technology is incredibly simple. It allowed him to pull back the curtain on 70 percent of the planet that up until that point nobody could have imagined. My grandfather was really the first to tell stories about what’s there and help people understand it.

What’s your earliest ocean memory?

My first dive was when I was seven. My grandfather took me in the Med off the coast of Nice. He had fashioned a small scuba  set for me, a little mask and a little tank with rubber suspenders and what seemed like a huge regulator on my small face. I was hesitant at first because I didn’t understand the technology; breathing underwater was just counter-intuitive. Before I had a chance to protest, he looked down at me, gave me a wink and pushed me in. I took a few tentative breaths and as soon as I saw that it worked I started swimming down, I was so excited. I found myself surrounded by these small silver fish which were swimming in unison in a circle around me.


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Cuba’s Gardens of the Queen on '60 Minutes'

On Sunday "60 Minutes" aired a great piece by Anderson Cooper on one of the most pristine coral reefs in the world, the Gardens of the Queen (or Jardines de la Reina) in Cuba.

Diving in, Cooper is not disappointed – he is surrounded by colorful corals, large sharks and a 200-lb critically endangered goliath grouper.

Oceana’s research vessel, the Ranger, sailed to the Gardens of the Queen in 2008, and documented a wide variety of marine life including sharks and sea turtles.

Check it out:


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Photo of the Week: Colorful Octopus

octopus

© Oceana/Carlos Minguell

The Oceana Ranger has now been at sea for several weeks, and as usual, the crew has been sending us some incredible photos. Starting this week, I’ll be posting a photo of the week from the journey.

This week’s photo of a beautiful octopus comes from a dive the team did off Portugal’s beautiful Algarve region, in Pedra de Martinhal. As the photographer noted, this curious octopus wasn’t scared off by the camera, perhaps because it was mesmerized by its reflection in the glass.

Stay tuned for more great photos in the coming weeks, and check out the Ranger set on Flickr.


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Exploring Uncharted Territory off Oregon's Coast

Vibrant gorgonian corals near Cape Arago, Oregon. © Oceana

This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition. Today's highlights: On their final day in Oregon, the crew ventures into uncharted territory and finds a variety of corals and fish.

Oregon Leg, Day 5

Friday was our last day aboard the R/V Miss Linda and it could not have been a better day for working on the ocean. We left the Charleston Marina at 7 AM bound for the nearshore reef south of Cape Arago and west of Seven Devils State Park. 

As we were working in and out of Charleston today, we invited guests to join our expedition including Dr. Craig Young, the director of the University of Oregon’s Oregon Institute of Marine Biology and Dr. Jan Hodder from the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology.

The University of Oregon has been operating marine studies in the Charleston area since 1924 with year-round research programs beginning in 1966. Dr. Young and his graduate students have made hundreds of deep dives in submersibles and sailed on oceanographic ships in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. Yet surprisingly, nobody has ever been to the areas we went Friday with a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) and underwater camera.


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Rough Seas Near Oregon’s Orford Reef

basket stars

Basket stars in Oregon's Orford Reef. © Oceana

This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition. Today's highlights: more amazing basket stars, anemones and sea cucumbers.

Oregon Leg, Day 2

We pulled anchor early this morning and ran the R/V Miss Linda to the Orford Reef, just southwest of Cape Blanco. 

Cape Blanco is the westernmost point in the continental U.S. and is the dividing line of two distinct biological regions for the near shore ocean ecosystem off the Oregon coast. South of Cape Blanco is also infamous among mariners for its high winds. Today, with 20 to 25 knot winds and seas building up to 12 feet, our work was more like the “Deadliest Catch” than a reef survey. 


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Ranger Sets Sail to Explore Seamounts and Sea Canyons

kelp in gorringe bank

Kelp in Portugal’s Gorringe Bank in the Atlantic Ocean. © Oceana/Juan Carlos Calvin

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!


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Exploring Oregon's Rocky Reefs

basket star

A whimsical-looking basket star off the Oregon coast. © Oceana

This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition. Today's highlights: rockfish, basket stars and hydroids.

Oregon Leg, Day 1

Last night our six Oceana crew slept aboard the R/V Miss Linda, tied to the dock at the Charleston Marina. The captain and his two crew members arrived at dawn, started up the engines and walked our tired souls through an important safety briefing. The Miss Linda is a 76-foot research charter vessel that formerly worked these Pacific Ocean waters as a commercial fishing boat. The captain is experienced, confident and will certainly lead us safely through our five-day expedition.

Our objective today was to get situated working aboard the Miss Linda with our Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) while exploring a large area of rocky reef just south of Cape Arago. Over the next four days we will use the ROV to capture high definition video footage of some of the most remote and rugged areas off the southern Oregon coast. 

By our third dive this afternoon, five miles offshore and over 150 feet down, the Miss Linda crew and Oceana crew were in sync. With each drop of the ROV we saw schools of rockfish hovering over a rich tapestry of seafloor life.


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Hydrocorals and Octopuses in the Monterey Shale Beds

hydrocorals

Spectacular hydrocorals cover a pinnacle. © Oceana

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.


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Close Encounters With Humpback Whales and Orcas

orca

An orca breaching in Monterey Bay. © Oceana/Geoff Shester

This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition. Today's highlights: humpback whales and orcas!

California Leg, Day 3

Yesterday was a spectacular day as we saw some of the most colorful and rich habitats we’ve seen yet! The objective was to gather footage from some of the more spectacular areas of pinnacles and rocky reefs that we started to explore last year.

At the outer edge of the Monterey Peninsula, just off Pebble Beach, is a spectacular reef that we explored last year. While golfers marveled at the sites from the world famous course on shore, we marveled at the wildlife above and below the ocean offshore. 

We brought several guests with us including a representative from Mission Blue, another organization focusing on ocean exploration and conservation. The weather was sunny and warm, however a medium-sized southerly swell made the ride a bit bumpy and our cable operators got soaked.

The Carmel Pinnacles were protected as a marine reserve in 2008. This combination of rocky reef at the edge of a steep canyon wall that drops thousands of feet provides a rich feeding ground, as nutrient-rich water is pulled up from the deep through a process called upwelling. 

As we set our ROV equipment up for the first dive, we saw two large humpback whales swimming right by our boat. We explored a depth range of 90-150 feet. The habitat was composed of large pinnacles and boulders, jutting out of a sandy seabed. Nestled in the cracks and crevices were china rockfish, gopher rockfish, and treefish, while we encountered several schools of black rockfish hovering at the tops of the reefs.


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A Trove of Marine Life in Monterey Bay

jellyfish

© Oceana

This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition.

California Leg, Day 2

This morning after we passed the barking sea lions on the breakwater at the end of the harbor, we traversed through fog so thick there were no signs of land anywhere to be seen. We pushed trough swells upwards of 6 feet to get to our fist dive site of the day. A mola mola (aka ocean sunfish) we passed along the way didn’t seem to mind the intense swells as it basked on the ocean surface.

After motoring out 20 miles across Monterey Bay (north of the Monterey Canyon), we deployed the ROV at the former California halibut trawl grounds. As a direct result of the work of Oceana, this area has been closed to bottom trawling since 2006.

The seafloor here is primarily soft sediment and ranges in depth from 50-250 feet. The areas were teeming with signs of life, including burrows, tracks, and holes. Some places had a lot of juvenile fish and crabs suggesting these areas may be a nursery ground for fishery species. Overall, we were surprised by the diversity of habitat formations and creatures.


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