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Marine Debris Assessment Expedition

July 20-25, 2009
aboard the R/V Manta

Click on a link below to jump to a specific expedition blog or scroll down the page to read them all.

Monday, July 20 - Jennifer DeBose

Tuesday, July 21 - Scott Fowler

Wednesday, July 22 (a.m.) - Emma Hickerson

Wednesday, July 22 (p.m.) - Jeff Reid

Thursday, July 23 (a.m.) - Russ Green

Thursday, July 23 (p.m.) - Marissa Nuttall

Friday, July 24 (a.m.) - G.P. Schmahl

Friday, July 24 (p.m.) - Ryan Eckert

Saturday, July 25 (a.m.) - Greg McFall

Saturday, July 25 (p.m.) - Doug Kesling

Click here to return to the Expedition page.

Click here to learn more about the Expedition Team.

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Mission Blog
Wednesday, July 22, 2009

by Emma Hickerson
Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS)
Research Coordinator, Principle Investigator

We pulled off the dock at 9:15 p.m. last night (Tuesday) after a 24-hour weather delay. It turned out to be a long, slow, bouncy ride out to Stetson Bank in 20-30 knot winds and 5-7 foot seas.  It took us every bit of 8 hours to get out, with the captains trying their best to make the uncomfortable ride as comfortable as possible.  I'm pretty sure all of us were airborne for several moments, on more than one occasion during the transit, as we dropped into a trough and launched ourselves up the crest of the next wave. 

We were still sitting on occasional 6-foot waves when we tied up to a mooring buoy at Stetson. NOAA Diving limits dive activities to 5 foot seas, so we elected to spend some time briefing everyone again on objectives, dive plans and safety, RHIB (Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat) operations and vessel safety.  By around 9 a.m. the seas had calmed down a little and everyone had a better handle on the day's plan.  They were also full of eggs, bacon, waffles and fruit. 

Turns out that only 3 of the 4 buoys were out that we were expecting at Stetson. And, wouldn't you know it, the one we needed was missing! So, our first dive team (myself, Jennifer and Marissa) navigated our way underwater from buoy #4 to buoy #1.  We sent up a signal float from the u-bolt to identify the location of the mooring for future dives, then swam out to the pinnacles in search of the engine block.  We ran a line some of the way, and then marked the engine block with a floating white chain for the next dive team. 

A southern stingray resting on a rubble and algae strewn bottom at Stetson Bank.
A southern stingray resting on the bottom at Stetson Bank.

There's a pretty stiff current but great visibility.  We saw a nurse shark and some southern stingrays, and Marissa spotted a terminal male Mardi Gras wrasse!  The Mardi Gras wrasse was first described here at FGBNMS.

A small, elongated  fish with purple, yellow, blue and green coloring.
Terminal male Mardi Gras wrasse. Photo: Joyce & Frank Burek

Marine debris of different kinds litter Stetson Bank, both on the shallow pinnacle areas where recreational divers have access and deeper on the Stetson Ring: old anchors, an engine block, monofilament line, rope, random metal debris, bits and pieces of shrimping gear and even full sets of shrimping nets complete with Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs). 

While I write this blog, Scott and Mauritius are getting their first dive in on Stetson Bank buoy #1 over by the engine block.

NOTE: Be sure to check back with us for more photos.

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Mission Blog
Wednesday, July 22, 2009

by Jeff Reid
Georgia Aquarium
Technical Diver

After a rough evening of travel, everyone was lacking sleep and a little tired coming out of the gates this morning.  In spite of that we were all very excited to get in the water and get some bottom time. 

We started with the first team (Emma, Marissa and Jenn) going in and marking known sites of debris for removal.  Their dive went well and they marked an engine block as the first item to retrieve.  So, Team 2 (Mauritius, Greg and Scott) got ready for the first tech dive of the trip and entered the water. 

Immediately, they were whipped away in the current.  They all had scooters running full blast at the surface and were barely moving.  One of the divers was swept away and retrieved by the chase boat (RHIB), and the other two managed to eventually get to the mooring line and descend on the line. 

On their dive they discovered an anchor in addition to one we were already planning to retrieve. They also marked the engine block with a surface marker to make it easier for team 3 to descend on the debris. 

A rusty anchor and chain resting on the bottom at Stetson Bank.
A rusty anchor and chain previously spotted at Stetson Bank.

Next, Team 3 (Doug, Russ and I) entered the water.  By that time, the currents had receded a little and we were able to descend right to the target.  I was pleasantly surprised at how clear the water was.  We could see the bottom at 100 feet, almost immmediately after entering the water.  The landscape was also beautiful with lots of fish, including some very large southern stingrays.

A large school of fish swimming in clear blue water above a rocky pinnacle covered in small corals, algae and sponges.
A swarm of creolefish and sergeant majors on a pinnacle at Stetson Bank.

Doug and Russ opened a cargo net, moved the engine block into it and attached lift bags. They sent it to the surface as I video taped the entire evolution.  After we safely returned to the surface, Team 2 got ready for their second tech dive.

Rusty old engine block, covered in sponges and other marine growth, resting on top of a cargo net on the back deck of a boat.
Rusty, old engine block that was removed from the seafloor at Stetson Bank. The engine block still rests on the cargo net used to lift it out of the water.

Mauritius, Greg and Scott entered into the drink.  They recovered one anchor and retrieved their lines & reels.  They also took some compass bearings to retrieve other debris.  After their dive we all pulled the chase boat (RHIB) out of the water and began to clean gear, mix gas and get things ready for a good day of diving tomorrow. 

A person in wetsuit and hardhat examining a rusty anchor resting in a metal cage on the deck of a boat.  Water visible in background.
Marissa examininig a rusty anchor retrieved from Stetson Bank by Mauritius, Greg and Scott.

Following cleanup, we all ate a delicious meal, prepared by Captain Chuck and Jenn, with fish, rice, salad and mushy asparagus, which is the best way to eat it!  We all have work to do so we are ready to dive early in the morning and continue our project at Stetson Bank and the rest of the sanctuary.

NOTE: Be sure to check back with us for more photos.

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Mission Information

For a general overview of this expedition, please visit the Marine Debris Assessment Expedition 2009 page.

To learn more about the scientists on this expedition, please visit the Expedition Team page.

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weather report observations cool stuff get wet

Orange, branching gorgonian (soft coral) anchored in a bed of sponges and other sea life.
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