ML 139317


Interview 17:00 - 57:00 Play 17:00 - More
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David Doubilet  







Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary; Coral reef description  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
14 Apr 1997

  • United States
    Monroe County
  • Key West
  • 24.48333   -81.76667
  • Ocean
  • Marine
  • Stereo
    Sampling Rate
  • 48kHz
    Bit Depth
  • 16-bit
    Equipment Note
  • Stereo=1; Dual-Channel Mono

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
Dive with David Doubilet

13:00 breathing

16: 23 okay i'm' going to jump now i go ... staggered breath 16:50 ...

17:03 i'm looking at the noaa boat cool-hand. where i am diving is a, reef south of key west. i'm holding out for a buoy right now, breathing through aga mask. at this point going to pull and empty vest and begin to dive.

18:31 i'm hard-wired back to boat through an umbilical cord.

19:42 i'm on a reef that is part of a stepping stones that leads north wards along the fl keys to miami. okay, imagine if you will this, a tail of islands the fl keys trailing south southwestward along the edge of the gulf stream sandwiched between the great green waters of the gulf of mexico and the blue waters of the gulf stream its strange but to really see the waters of the gulf stream....21:15 a tiny polyp, eating...

21:23 this tiny polyp creates the largest most complex structures built by a living organism on our planet ...if you added all the corral on our planet tog. all the reef sys. you would come up with a seventh continent an x-tra continent, a continent built of living creatures ...apt. made of calcium, ...creatures like blue gorgonians and sea fans ...waving back and forth, they are not feathers or plants ...they are animals each composed of a tiny mouth feeding ... on the plankton of the sea ...

22:38 this reef i am on is called a western sambo reef is a recipient of large storms hurricane that sweep up from carr . ...creating huge waves crashing across the reefs ...

23:12 i'm going to swim a little bit right now, get into position


24:20 hands sort of outreaching hands in prayer...reaching toward the light and toward the surface ... if you look closely at them you can see the structure, this is a brown coral. the edge of the brown coral has really like fingers thick spatulate fingers ... and each of these finger-like, composed of polyps ... i can see the mouths of the polyps opening and feeding ...each polyp has tentacles ...and they feed on the broth of the ocean plankton and plankton means everything... zooplankton (ex) living creatures, phytoplankton made of monocolonial algae plankton moves and swims drifts the great blooms of phytoplankton--and all of these corals are feeding on them.

25:22 now here's where i am in rel. with our continent. the florida keys ...kind of dribbles out of the end of fl arching south-¬southwest ...they are kind of like a picket fence a line that divides the open atlantic from the green waters of the gulf of mexico ...

25:57 here's an octopus crawling right in the branches at the top ... of this antler coral i'm lookng right into his eyes now he's the color but when he sees me he blushes, he blushes with a reticulated pattern...brown and white the oct. eyes are one of the most complex of the animal kingdom .. this is a creature that only lives for 2 years but some of them grow very large size this oct part pretty they have eight arms that's why they call them octopus ...and in the middle a beak they're the mortal enemies of lots of shrimp and crustaceans ...occ they'll go out after a fish, but here it is crawling around the very top of this antler coral.

27:15 Eastward, the gulf stream born on the bottom part ofthe carribean sweeping through the yucatan channel sweeping around ... sweeping around and up across florida and all along our eastern seaboard and around like a gr gyre across the atlantic the gulf stream is to the east and it meanders back and forth kind of spraying its blue waters across the fl keys ... from time to time. The prevailing winds from the west ... push the green waters from the gulf of mexico and the gulf of mexico countercurrent ... also across the fl keys and these reefs, these reefs are quite northerly reefs. (Repeat.)

gonna swim the other way

28:30 coral is an animal .. that needs warm water. .. not temperate water. The water drops much below 70 degrees or so the coral stops growing. . .. These fl keys reefs are subject to cold water in the winter and warm water in the summer. .. They are very much like our east coast of north america, a reef version ofit. A boiling hot summer, a cold winter but never freezing .. what happens then is the coral when its cold does not grow as rich or as vibrant as it does in the warmer waters of the carribean .. Anything that happens to these reefs, ... the recovery may be slower. But on the other hand ... these are the currents that feed them . and these are the currents from the gulf stream and these are the currents produced by the gulf of mexico's countercurrent. That sweep across like a great round circle across the gulf of mexico and around the gulf of mexico ... Scientists have for years studied these reefs ... The strange thing about it¬ as the old adage the more we find out about them the less we seem to know. .. Reefs may be, very. Very old and may have a very, very long cycle, the coral competes with other corals for places on the sea bed structure ... that's one of the things that happens.

Urchins, black sea urchins appear and disappear and the warm summer months the coral gets bleached. And the symbiotic algae in the coral seems to leave the coral. Coral turns white and seems to die and yet the reef recover

31 :08 coral, is like a gr. Housing development for fish. It offers them a sanc. A sanc within a sanc. A place to gather 31:26

31 :27 I'm looking at a group of french grunts, yellow striped grunts, blue striped grunts, three species (?) ... they're moving in and out in a surge past the coral if I back away they'll form a sort of school or group where all the eyes will begin to face in one direction ... toward evening these fish will go out and hunt individually. In the evening light. By night fall they will find sleeping places in the reefs. Fish that tend to be red and here I'm looking at a squirrel fish hidden among the branches of the coral .. are nocturnal hunters because red at night in the absence of light becomes the shadow of black. Its hard to imagine but think about this... if you take a bright red shirt, dress, belt shoes or whatever, turn out all the lights you'll actually see this red less than you see any other color... So this squirrel fish these red fish will go out and hunt along the reef at night eating plankton. French angel fish has just moved by ...

32:55 The reef also offers a kind of a collection place for algae ... and many fish are algal grazers and what they'll do is they'll basically move along the reef and graze but here ... in a small structure in another piece of coral I find a little damsel fish ... damsel fish have been biting the coral from the coral using the coral to defecate and in essence the little fishes has become a farmer of algae in this coral .. Parrot(?)fish are also an incredible fish because what they will do is swim along the reef structure and nibble the coral. .. they will actually bite chunks of the coral off, scrape the coral and digest the coral, ... subtracting the nutriments they find pieces of worm, crustaceans, a little bit of algae and then defecate white coral sand, .. it is the white coral sand that forms beaches and caves it is the white coral sand that even builds a substrate to what the keys are but there's a wonderful linkage without parrot fish there can be not turtles, because the turtles depend on this white coral sand this soft beach sand to lay their eggs, ev in the sea is linked together

34:54 now looking at something else now. Here's a coral that .. .within it are small tube worm holes and some of them are unused. Now I found here a tiny blenny (?) I could fit four of them in a nail of my pinky and he pokes in and out, ... now he looks out at me quizzically. These are also hunters of plankton these tiny blennies

35: 3 5 so I'm standing on this reef actually kneeling very softly on a bottom substrate that has no coral growth ... facing north. The keys march north one after another its funny we call them keys or keyes, but in many ways a lot of them look like green piano keys linked by the us 1 highway the bridge that sweeps down from miami sewn together by this concrete thread and these keys march north in a gr curve north to miami. to my right the gulf stream sweeps north sometimes boiling along at almost five or six knots pushing great (?) of blue water up from the caribbean and keeping like metronome like quality time as our globe spins and the water around it gurgles. The gulf stream is very much like a kind of current you see in the drain of a bathtub a great sweeping mysterious current caused by the rotation and gravity and earth and water, but in essence it brings this warm water up to the car. And the warm water spews across the reefs ofthe keys supports them brings life., underwater its been now blowing for several days and finally we have a calm day now ... But the sand along the back reef and the flats between this outer reef of the western sambo reefs key west about ten miles to the west of us has been churned up ... the visibility has dropped considerably from the air it looks like the a mild blue cloud has covered all ofthe reefs in the sea its a milky kind of a twilight -like cloud, ... it doesn't have the crystal like color of the reefs and the way that you imagine reefs are ... but nevertheless its still ... has a wonderful feeling that the ocean does.

38:42 I'm breathing through a yellow mask talking to you weightless and I'm watching a school of grunts and snappers move back and forth in the swell. The arms of the antler coral are reaching up toward the brightening surface

39:06 I'm only about 20 feet down, that's not very deep and I'll act check my... depth gauge, no I'm not actually twenty feet down, I'm only 11 feet down on top of the reef structure.

39:23 What I have in my left hand is my umbilical cord which I gather up as I go back and forth the uc links me back to the ship... back to the noaa ship and it lets me talk to you from time to time as I'm doing right now. You never want to get too much uc paid out otherwise it will catch around the edges of these

39:54 what I'm gonna do now is swim along the backside of this coral v carefully and take a look at what's behind this bed of corals here. Wanna look at another kind of structure here. oh here's another damsel fish farming and guarding its algae. Uh when these other damsel fish-sometimes called marine jewel fish-.... when these fish are juveniles they're black with bright blue stars on their heads .... Yellow tails as they get older these blue dots begin to fade ... I've always kind of imagined them to be like
stars on merlin's hat ....

41:01 Huge storms. Spawn between the mainland and Africa caused by oceans of air colliding caused by oceans of air colliding form the cells of hurricanes ... and they rumble across above the equator across the warm south atlantic to the even warmer carribean where they gain power and strength ... and sweep up through the carribean ... what you can see on a reef is a history ofthese storms these hurricanes what they will do is the enormous waves will expose the coral, kill the coral tumbling rocks will begin to polish the coral and at the same time tenaciously the living polyps come back and will hang on ...

42: 16 Now here's a problem. the fl keys are totally exposed to the open atlantic totally exposed to the gulf of mexico they are islands w/o protection .... They are islands totally exposed to the whims of man, a winter flooding, a large storm in the midwest gets flushed into the Mississippi river. .. and eventually spews out all the silt all the fertilizer trucks, cars cows and ev else. The liquid remnants of that spews out into the gulf of mexico and the countercurrent sweeps them by these living reefs in the FI keys. All the water from s of florida spews out across fl bay and across the fl keys ... all of this fertilizer what they call nutriment or nutriment-loading can be affecting this ... at the same time we as humans use these reefs and have always used these reefs, and like most of the oceans have usually abused it, not by kicking the corals and scuba divers and snorkelers, I think that's a minor problem. but mostly by taking fish, the real truth about reef sys.' s throughout the world is that coral tends to grow faster than the major predators of the big fish ... there's too many of us, we're still hunting the way we did as Neanderthals in the ocean we don't farm the oceans. we've only been looking at the ocean for about fifty years anyway ... but in those fifty years we've become terribly enamored by catching a lot of fish. and what's happened is, our desire for seafood, has way outstripped the ocean's ability to provide us food ... And the last twenty five years we've desperately worried about polluting the sea but while we've looked in this one direction, we've carefully and systematically eaten all the fish in the sea here in fl the marine sanc. desperately trying to protect it, but there are problems and one of the problems is people have lived in fl all they're lives ... have always taken food, fish, conch from these waters ... key west has grown from a town of a couple thousand to forty or fifty thousand ... and the desire for seafood has way outstripped the production of anything else ... so much of the fish or the memories of fish that we used to cherish no longer exists and the only way for them to come back is for us to stop eating them ... long enough for these fish and the stocks to recover in some cases they can never recover. .. but as we examine the coral reefs, we look at all these problems and the only problem is in looking at a coral reef we're looking at a sys. We don't fully understand. there's problems that if you think about a coral reef they have a very long cycle.

47:03 Coral bleaching may be a way of a coral producing a forest fire it clears up things that don't work on a reef.

47: 16 And we know that forest fires can be basically good for forests. And this is a theory that's come to fruition in the the last twenty years. Would coral bleaching be basically good for coral reefs? These are kinds of questions we don't really know about and you have to quickly look at something and very thoroughly look at something and not jump to conclusions we are in a weightless, secret place on this planet that we don't know much about and yet we are quickly and efficiently despoiling it ... We have to play catch up wi knowledge but we can't jump to conclusions I guess that's what science is all about, or what real science is all about.

48: 17 Now, let me look around some more

request from ct to return to dev. of sand and turtles -
¬hooked onto something. ¬

49:11 if you follow a parrot fish underwater a parrot fish comes in diff colors some are in midnight blue others are in orange and green ... they all have beaks like parrots. And what they do to earn a living in the ocean--here's one of them-a small grey one-is they eat bits of coral from the coral they eat the algae ... they eat and digest the coral itself and inside the coral are pieces of worms and crustaceans ... the parrot fishes gut is a marvel of biological engineering because it processes the coral, the calcium of the reef removes all the nutriments and excretes out sand. He'll bite and chew and he'll eat and then like a sort of flash gorden rocketship he'll excrete a cloud of sand behind him ...

50:36 so here's a fish and I've seen last week on the northern reefs near key largo ... I watched a group of about 60 midnight blue parrot fish each about twenty lbs a piece chewing, processing and excreting the coral ... and you can hear them they're munching and scraping it literally sounds like you're biting the reef it has that kind of horrible scraping sound a combination of snapping teeth and nails on a blackboard.

51: 13 Now what happens then is the sand drifts downs drifts and eddies begins to coat the inside of the reefs the outside of the reefs... and is pushed up eventually to form by the action of waves to form sand keys? Sand keys eventually produce vegetation will eventually become mangroves or even little
islands, white sand beaches made by the leavings of parrot fish so without parrot fish you would have no turtles why? Because turtles need the white sand beaches to lay their eggs. This is kind of stretching an analogy but in other words much of the sys. In the sea are like this-complexly, totally interlinked the interlink between parrot fish and turtles ... sand is not produced by the grinding smashing of waves alone, but this white powdery sand is produced by a biological action and that holds v much on the way the reefs work in this world.

52:48 here's a tiny little polyp that feeds and produces a skeleton dies leaves this skeleton in a struc for a tiny little polyp to settle, seven days after a full moon in the middle of the summer, these reefs explode with life they spawn. The corals release packets of egg and sperm which rise together gr formulate and formulate a planula or a small protocoral which eventually drifts and then settles and forms part of the reef Now much of this spawning activity gets carried north by the gulf stream.

53:39 so these reefs in many ways lose their offspring. They don't recruit them ... I'm now in a field a stony forest as it were of antler coral and it grows up around me brown and thick v rich, I reach down now and touch a waving sea fan? These are called gorgonian corals they wave back and forth in the tide feeding on all the plankton moving back and forth. Right now because the visibility is not v good and the waters are v rich I can sea the open polyps of this purple sea fan, a royal purple color, ... it is attached to the base of the reefs by a complex kind of hold fast sys ... Here's another interesting thing on a reef structure too remember all these things are feeding in the plankton. The plankton is composed of the coral and the spawn and the eggs of fish ...

55: 16 One thing that takes advantage of it, is something called a feather duster worm . ... There about the size of two fingers, the tips of two fingers, and they look like old ¬fashioned feather dusters. A kind of spiral intensity things and these are basically the gills, the mouths of these creatures. If touch them, go near them my shadow will cause them to withdraw to spring back into their shell this one feather duster has found protection, a place to live, within the arms of a colony of fire coral fire coral ... has not only polyps but stinging cells known as nematocysts that cover them, if you touch this fire coral it feels like you've been burnt its literally the same feeling because as your skin passes over them each of these nematocysts come out and basically stick a small harpoon in you and inject by a bit of venom it protects the coral and devoured by the parrot fish. The parrot fish will come and nibble around the base of it. I'm looking in the face of a damsel fish that is guarding its farms of algae.

A little scratchy-maybe come up. 57:57 uninterrupted breathing, but can hear onboard a little coming back up-59:04.

Really faint conversation on board

1:06: 17 Tape ends

-Sound quality vg and consistent throughout.
-Second explanation ofinterconnection between parrot fish and turtles better than first begins at 49:11.
-elipses ( ...) where dd breathing .

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