The Beacon

Blog Tags: Diving

Exploring the Monterey Shale Beds

sunflower star

A sunflower star feeds on the Monterey Bay seafloor. © Oceana

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

Day 1:

Today, in beautiful Monterey, Oceana kicked off the first part of a three-week research cruise. This week we are aboard the research vessel Derek M. Baylis, focusing on Important Ecological Areas (ocean hotspots) in Monterey Bay.

Today’s goal consisted of conducting trial runs with the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) called Video Ray Pro IV as well as allowing the Oceana crew from South America, Alaska, Oregon, and California to get our sea legs and refine our on-board duties. With a small High Definition camera on the ROV, we recorded about an hour of footage at each of the four sites we visited.

At the Monterey Shale Beds, at depths up to 125 feet, we observed a myriad of life in the nooks and crannies including sea cucumbers, anemones, gobies, juvenile rockfish, kelp rockfish, sculpins, gorgonian corals, an octopus, a wolf eel, and a metridium (an anemone that looks like white cauliflower). We watched a sunflower star feeding and a sheep crab that was not so ‘sheepish’ as it instigated a wrestling match with the ROV.


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ROV Explores Seafloor Near Key West

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. 


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Diving in Tarpon Springs, FL

A brief update from the boat by Elizabeth Wilson, and some gorgeous photographs:

Sept. 21:

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: 

 


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Face to Face with Goliaths in the Gulf

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:

Oceana Dive Operation at Sherman Tug near Port St. Joe 09.17.10 from Oceana on Vimeo.


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Expedition Photo of the Day: Arrow Crab

Arrow crab off coast of Panama City Florida

© Oceana/Eduardo Sorensen

These nocturnal crabs resemble underwater daddy long-legs, with purple-tipped limbs up to three times the length of their abdomens. Despite their gangly appearance, they are surprisingly agile.

This feasting crustacean was captured on film on our oil spill research expedition off the coast of Panama City, Florida.


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Day 6: Back to Reality

Here’s your expedition update for today, from Oceana’s senior campaign communications manager Dustin Cranor:

News flash – the oil in the Gulf is not gone.

Although there have been lots of media reports that the oil in the Gulf is "gone," two new scientific studies were released today that give a different -- and less rosy -- picture.

First, independent scientists estimate that as much as 80 percent of the oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill is still in the Gulf. Even if it's only 50 percent, that’s a lot of oil. Second, and even more disturbing, scientists discovered oil from the spill on the seafloor of Desoto Canyon, which means that oil could be in shallower waters where vulnerable habitats exist.

Oceana believes that the worst of the oil’s impacts are yet to be seen. As part of our effort to document valuable and vulnerable habitats, we took advantage of our location and dove not too far from the same beach that President Obama recently visited in Panama City.

On this nearly 90 foot dive, Oceana’s divers spotted tiny corals, arrow crabs, hermit crabs, flatfish, soapfish and butterflyfish, all species at risk from the effects of oil spills. What many do not realize is that there is simply no effective way to remove oil from coral.

Look at some of the incredible creatures our divers spotted:

 

 


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Expedition Photo of the Day: Inquisitive Blenny

blenny in gulf of mexico

© Oceana/Eduardo Sorensen

With all the great footage we’re getting from our research vessel in the Gulf, I wanted to highlight some of my  favorite photos with a new daily feature.

This inquisitive blenny sticks his head out in the Florida Middle Grounds off the West Florida Shelf in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico, roughly 100 miles from shore. Like all blennies, it has a long body, a single long dorsal fin, and peg-like pelvic fins, which it uses to prop itself up.

Be sure to check out all our footage from the expedition – photos, videos, blogs - updated every day!


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Day 5: Diving into the Unknown

Here’s your daily expedition update from Oceana’s senior campaign communications manager Dustin Cranor:

The Oceana Latitude faced rougher seas today as it reached The Florida Middle Grounds off the West Florida Shelf in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico, roughly 100 miles from shore. This is another area that was apparently spared the impacts of oil drilling, at least this time.

Oceana chose this location for its next diving operation because it’s a very important and popular fishing area sitting amongst a complex and vulnerable seafloor habitat, including deep sea corals. Although it’s a popular fishing area, there is little information about the seafloor itself, due to its distance from shore and depth from the surface. 

Our first dive site was nearly 100 feet deep and provided a great opportunity to document large hogfish and angel fish as well as sponges and sea fans.


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Day 4: Diving at Egmont Key

Here’s your expedition update for today, from Oceana’s senior campaign communications manager Dustin Cranor:

 After nearly 30 hours in commute, we finally arrived to Tampa.

The crew took off early this morning on the Oceana Lat-Long, the Latitude’s 28-foot tender, to dive at Egmont Key at the mouth of Tampa Bay. Egmont Key, a national wildlife refuge only accessible by boat, was home to Fort Dade during the Spanish-American war. Although this island was once capable of protecting our coasts from offshore invaders, it’s no defense against oil.

Here’s support diver Soledad Esnaola: 

Soledad Esnaola Second Oceana Dive Operation Egmont Key from Oceana on Vimeo.


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Day 2: ‘Diving in Milk’

Your daily expedition update from Oceana senior campaign communications manager Dustin Cranor:

The Oceana crew set off for their first dive operation at the Western Dry Rocks off the coast of Key West yesterday morning.

The diving conditions at this first location were far from ideal. Recent storms stirred up the water with sand and mud, leaving the divers with limited visibility of only three to nine feet. Support diver Soledad Esnaola described it as “like diving in milk.”  The site was approximately 50 feet deep and a majority of the coral was covered in sediment. Despite the poor conditions, underwater videographer Enrique Talledo spotted a six-foot green moray eel.

The second dive took place at the Western Sambo Reef, which offered much better visibility of approximately 25 feet. After diving in many different environments all around the world, Oceana’s divers found the reefs to be mostly dead or dying, with little biodiversity, very few fish and no invertebrate life. It was far from what they expected to see on a Caribbean reef. They did catch sight of a 10-inch yellow stingray, a three-foot wide brain coral boulder, grey angel fish, yellowtail snapper, small sea fans and wrasse, small cigar shaped fish.


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