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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
Friday, July 24, 2009

by G.P. Schmahl
Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary
Sanctuary Superintendent, Safety Diver

Anchors Aweigh

After a peaceful night at Stetson Bank, this morning greeted us with outstanding sea conditions and beautiful weather.  The Gulf of Mexico was almost glass-calm and visibility in the top  layer of the water column was spectacular, exceeding 100 feet.  Although much of the work being conducted on this cruise is through the use of technical diving techniques, conventional Scuba diving is also utilized in water depths less than 130 feet.  This morning's first task was such a dive. 

Our mission was to attempt to raise 2 large anchors and other debris at about an 85 foot depth near Stetson Bank buoy #3. The anchors had been there quite a long time, probably lost by shrimp boats anchoring at this location many years ago.  From  what we understand, dive boats used to utilize these anchors as a mooring site prior to the installation of mooring buoys in the 1980s.  In fact, two anchors had been chained together to provide more stability for visiting vessels. 

It is a tribute to those early divers that they went to the trouble to create a mooring location rather than use their own anchors, which could have caused significant injury to the sensitive biology and geology of Stetson Bank.  However, since the installation of permanent mooring buoys, first by volunteer recreational divers of the Gulf Reef Environmental Action Team (GREAT) and then by FGBNMS, the old anchors have become just more marine debris.

The job appeared straightforward.  A dive team consisting of myself and Jenn DeBose would go down and attach lift bags.  We would then fill the bags using a separate compressed air cylinder, and the anchors would float to the surface where our small boat (a RHIB we call the Mobula) would tow it to the "mother ship" (R/V Manta) to be picked up using a winch and an A-frame.  But, not so fast! 

As is typical when working underwater, things seldom go as planned.  First the anchors were much larger than originally thought and there was much more anchor chain attached than anticipated.  It took much wrestling with the anchors and chains to get them into position, so that the lift bags could be safely attached.  Then, as we started to fill the bags, it became evident that the anchors were much heavier than could be handled by the lift bags we had brought.  We needed much bigger bags! 

Two men holding onto two large anchors with chain suspended from an A-frame lift at the back of the boat.
Doug and Jeff lift two heavy anchors with chain onto the deck using the A-frame at the back of the boat. These anchors were raised to the surface using inflatable lift bags, then guided to the back of the boat by the crew in the RHIB (seen in the background).

So, we returned to the Manta and the next dive team, Emma and Marissa, returned to the anchors with the correct equipment.  This time, the divers were successful in floating the anchors and they were safely lifted to the deck of the ship, but not without the expert deck work of Captain Chuck Curry, Doug Keisling and Russ Green. 

Two men holding onto two large anchors with chain suspended from an A-frame lift at the back of the boat.
Doug and Jeff finish lowering two heavy anchors with chain into a storage basket at the back of the boat.

After closer inspection, we estimated that the anchors weighed about 500 pounds each and they almost filled the large metal basket into which we have been depositing our recovery.

We then returned to a portion of the Stetson Ring that we had been working yesterday.  A team of technical divers went to a depth of around 190 feet and although no shrimp nets were encountered, they successfully collected several coral specimens that we had not been able to get previously due to their depth and fragile nature.  All in all it was a productive morning at Stetson Bank.

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Mission Blog
Friday, July 24, 2009

by Ryan Eckert
Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary
Research Assistant, Surface Support

While our tech dive debris removal cruise may have started out rough, everything is running smoothly now and we have recovered what I would guess is over one thousand pounds of marine debris.

I have spent the last three days in our inflatable skiff (RHIB) with G.P., following the divers’ bubbles. Once the divers are moving up to their decompression stops they shoot up a bag, and if they are all together they send up a second bag on the same line. At this point it is a waiting game, where G.P. and I drift along with the marker bags, waiting while the deco stops take place. Since we’ve had our tech divers diving deep, their decompression has been lasting over twice as long as their bottom times, which means we have to sit in the skiff in the sun forever.

A view of the R/V Manta at sea taken from the small inflatable boat.  An orange buoy floating on the water marks the divers target site.
Looking back at the R/V Manta from the RHIB (Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat). The orange buoy in between the RHIB and the Manta marks the drop site the the technical divers are targeting.

Today, we remedied that. G.P. and I got a giant patio umbrella from Capt. Chuck and zip-tied it to the console of the inflatable. While we may have looked ridiculous, we got a break from the blistering heat of the sun, which has not been very forgiving these past few days.

Two men in an inflatable boat out on the ocean.  A patio umbrella has been attached to the center console to provide some shade from the hot summer sun.
Ryan and Greg in the RHIB with an umbrella for shade. G.P. is the diver in the water alongside. Photo: Scott Fowler/NURC

While we were out on the skiff at Stetson, the M/V Fling was out on another mooring buoy with divers. We pulled up alongside them as they were leaving so they could give us some frozen water samples they collected from the day two weeks ago when they saw a couple dozen whale sharks feeding about three miles east of West Flower Garden Bank. On our way over to the Fling we rode right by a hammer head that was swimming up to the surface.

After we recovered our divers, we transited over to Bright Bank, in order to assess damage and more marine debris. During this dive I was in the skiff with Greg. Greg has been quizzing me on SCUBA stuff, like Dalton’s Law, to help me with preparing for my NOAA Science Diver test. Greg also gave me some small boat training on the skiff today, so I practiced docking the skiff at the Manta in the open water a few times.

The divers said that Bright was a great dive, and as I am writing this we are all gathered around our dining area watching video from the dive. The video is pretty cool to watch. There was a lot of fauna on the bank. They saw grouper, jacks, creolefish, eels, and more. There appears to be a good amount of line that we could remove, but we probably will do that in the future.

I’m going to go take a shower now, because I’ve been in the heat all day and I’m all salty and gross. Ryan Eckert, over and out.

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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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