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Sylvia Earle  







Submersibles; Benthic communities  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
1 Jul 2001

  • United States
    Monroe County
  • Dry Tortugas National Park
  • 24.66417   -82.88528
  • Stereo
    Sampling Rate
  • 48kHz
    Bit Depth
  • 16-bit
    Equipment Note
  • Stereo=1; Decoded MS stereo; Neumann RSM 190 through Sonosax preamp into Sony TCDD8

Log of DAT #: 7
Date: July 2001

Kip Evans
Tim Bulman
Sylvia Earle
Steve Baumgartner
Sasha Lebaron
John Allan

ng = not good
ok= okay
g = good
vg = very good

0:15 Divers going off the boat...(cross-talk about flippers, boat ...)

1:14 Splash.

2:12 "This is a special day folks ..."

2:30 Am I clear? I'll be waiting for you in the water. Sylvia, I'll be in the water."

2:35 Air sounds ... "have you checked your air?"

2:52 "Never mind, you're not going in yet. Okay, Shelly's group" ...cross-talk and prep ambi...


4:32 Plane taking off from the boat's perspective ...

6: 11 Plane engine starts, takes off.


7:50 Kip Evans, documenting sustainable seas as photographer, pilot submersible, scuba diving, taught pilots photography course ...

8:52 Other than sand crabs, lots of little critters on the bottom, real good dive.

9:15 ng (very soft, loud bkgrnd) This is an alternative to anchoring. There's always something there, but there are always trade-offs ... AC: Is it within the preserve? KE: No, it's not. The story was the ships were anchoring on an area w/in the preserve, on the Banks, Tortugas Banks. And we didn't want them there. It's all coral, they were damaging the coral. We're talking huge anchors; these are freighters, tankers.

9:48 How much do they weigh? KE: upwards of 15,000 lbs. And that's just the anchor. Probably putting out 300 foot of chain, each link prob. weighs 40-50 pound. And every time that? chain, it's just like a giant lawnmower, it just mows that floor down.

10:12 They anchor there two reasons, first it's shallow and they don't have to put out much chain, and the second reason is that they can fish. That's why they want to anchor there, and they always hung out and waited until they got orders from their home port, and they would tell them to go to the Caribbean or where ever. So the deal was basically that we took that off and made it a no anchoring zone, but we had to give them something. So we picked two areas. And the one dive that we did today, the other dive we did today of the two areas I picked. We were really hoping that we wouldn't find anything, and sure enough. It was a real challenge, just to be able to fly and not see the bottom, to have no orientation, up down ... So I was shocked when I came back on board and looked at my track; it was straight. It wasn't in the right direction, but it was straight. I wanted to go North because I perceived a current from the South. But I went almost due, N-E. I don't know if it was the sub or what, but we were in the box ... Always pulling to the right, you notice that, by the way. Not a big deaL .. a lot different from your dive; I did not see any green algae growing on the bottom at all. And I saw a lot of welk tracks. I saw one welk in the surface, but thousands of tracks of welk on the bottom. But it was active, small fish.

14:15 At the end of the dive, the visibility went from zero to worse. I finally ... okay, what's this joke? .. .it's about the welks ... I finally got the point, I was sitting on the bottom, and I couldn't see the bottom and the camera couldn't see the bottom and the compass was spinning. So I radio Sasha, and he said, 'maintain position and they'll pick you up in a few minutes.' ... It was so bad on my side that I was cruising along and I ran into this big bank. And I literally hit it, not very fast, and I said, '000, I stopped.' And I dropped, I dropped into this big hole. And I could see the sand, if I'm sitting here... the sand came up about this far, so I'm sitting in this hole. So I figure it's a grouper hole, and I get out of it. As soon as I hit the thrusters up, it was like 'zwoop.' And I wanted to get it on video, but I figured no, I'd be here for like 2 hours.

16:04 You hit that thing like an Indy car hitting a guardrail .. it stopped me pretty good... but it was the only thing on the bottom ... is John up there now with a Q-tip getting the sediment out of everything... I felt bad, I must have got dirt everywhere ...

16:41 So tomorrow we have targeted the NW sector that has recently been put into the protected area, but has not been looked at ... It's very deep. Well, not very deep, but deep for scuba, so we haven't looked at it. But no side-stand that I know of. .. It has been trawled... This is an important area to look at for trawling scars, discarded fishing gear. .. We're looking for fish traps specifically. Who's going to be diving tomorrow? .. .It depends, Alex do you want me too? ...scheduling... before you decide, I'm, thinking of doing a deep dive on pulleys to look at those trawling scars we found last year. When you say 'deep dive on pulleys,' the only 4-digit dive we did last year was not pulleys, they were in the area south. .. I want to see those trawl marks again, confirm that they were trawl marks, and they were prob. at 12-hundred ... More like 16 ... Yeah, they were deep. About 15-hundred ...

18:22 The whole issue with trawling is that different gear-types have different levels of damage to the marine environment that we really haven't studied well. Part of the reason is that we haven't had the eyes to go deep enough and look long enough. And this really is an emerging issue nationwide because what we're seeing is, trawling no to deeper and deeper depths to catch fish we couldn't before. And these scars don't go away ... that's why I'd like to. I know we did kind of a base-line last year, but I'd like to take a look at it this year and see, now that we've closed it down, maybe do the baseline now that we've just now closed it down, see what's going on.

19:19 One of the fundamentals is, how fast do these areas regenerate, and DO they regenerate back to what was there before? It's a pretty simple question we don't have the answer for ... these are large sand areas as well, but they've been essentially bulldozed, scraped along there. And again, these are not barren wastelands, there's burrows and that's where this deep arthropod lives (off mic, unintelligible) ...

20:50 Planning talk ...

21 :49 How deep is it? ...There is an area we discovered the last time I went out on Tortugas West Bank that's almost like Sherwood. I call it Jurassic Park. And it gets very.. I was diving and I was down to 80 and it was going down. .. There are about six or seven places where we've run transects, what're called in-shore, out-shore transects up over the beef break (?). Couple that we excluded from the random sample because we could get divers down there 115 ft at the base of the marble wall ... the reef is prob. starting around 50 ft and dropping off pretty quickly ... that's prob. what we're talking about, Jurassic Park ... Yeah, if you look like Tortugas bank as being kind of a feature like that, it's here... plain corals ... ... the sound begins around 115, we can only go to 110 ... what we're seeing on either side of it is going to be some kind of micro-algic plains, maybe some waffling (?), there's been some kind of upwelling event these weeks. Lately it's been very cold, we get down to it, about 79 degrees at 80-90 feet. Lot of algae on the bottom ... I know at one point there is a wall on the West side and it goes way down ... that could be a transept.

23:58 (ng) One of the things we are trying to document w. this particular work is that the fish, as the darkness seems to build up on the coral interface, there seems to be this fanning migration out onto these flat areas. We don't know how far that goes. Probably not very far, but for some animals, prob. farther. But what's driving that is that in the areas around here, we've found the tissues from the animals that live on the reef, when they migrate, they have an isotopic signature from the benthaklykor algae in the waffling and from the green algae in the flats. So they are bringing a tremendous amount of energy back to the reef with this nocturnal feed activity and we'd like to see where they go.

24:51 (ng) there are tone of these little mictofics, the lantern fish, out in the deeper water. And the Captain, Rick. .. (unintelligible) ... these larvae coming up as an important source of food for the top of the water ... we've only scratched the surface of the food web. But the study we're been doing has been on the uniface, so there's a ton of data on the reef proper. .. But how it linking it to, setting in context ...

25:33 - 70% of the reserve is potential soft-bottom environment, was the last number I saw... yeah, but when you can't pinnacles there ... so that mud you were looking at is good stuff, I wouldn't plan a vacation around it .. .

26:10 More planning ... (unintelligible)

29:44 Oh yeah ... Some of us have done some digital recording from inside, too. Comes out pretty well ... we're not recording any of the audio that comes by service, but we have it in the sub. You can get a sense of it... I have some on the computer. .. we should start as early as we can, to give you enough time.


30:43 New engine drone, banging around, unintelligible talking, air hose sucking sound

32:07 Very interesting sound here... clearer air hiss ...

32:51 Weird boat horn ambi

33:15 This is called sodasorb, mostly barium hydroxide that absorbs the C02 that is exhaled by the pilot, by me in this case. 2 canisters go in the sub. Typically only one is used in the course of the dive, but in the spirit of having a back-up of everything. So this part of your nearly 100 hours of life support. There's enough here to keep the C02 removed over that long a time. The power supply is a greater constraint. There's enough power to keep the scrubbers going for just over 24 hours if you're careful with your power use. But after that you'll use your own lung power and put a face mask on and breath off this like a scuba tank, using your own lung power... ... yeah, exactly. Just got to attach a hose to that, instead of having it come into the sub.

34:48 So you fill two of these... the other scrubber's probably not labeled correctly ... what? .. the other scrubber's not labeled correctly ... What did you put on there ... John Owen...

35:37 Now this gets installed ... move sub seven out of the way to get sub 6 in place, that's the one that dived all yesterday, and this one will be dived all today ... Oh, yes. I used No.7 the last time I went down, and 6 is the one I made the 1800 ft dive off the coast of Mississippi. 100 miles off shore and 1800 feet down. On the surface out there, you could see the Mississippi, up to 300 feet down you could see the fresh water floating on the salt water. And that less-saline water was just packed with sediment so it was Mississippi mud, prob. Iowa mud, Ohio mud contributing to the Gulf of Mexico. But you could see it like a cloud layer over the really clear water below. It was spooky because you got down and broke through it at 300 feet and you looked up and there was this dense cloud of green, green water that was just packed, greenish-brown. And below it was the Caribbean Sea. The loop current really does come up and wash the northern gulf and that's what I dive in and that's what all the little critters live in down on the bottom.

37:34 We've had more than a hundred people now trained with deep worker, including you, Alex. And most of them now have had a chance to go down and use the sub in one form or another. We've had a dozen diff. scientists come down in the last month to use the sub to look at fish habitat, to look at the fish themselves, to look at sea grasses in the relatively shallow areas, to look at the nature of the seafloor. I've found tube worms, they're called vestiferim worms, that actually thrive in the presence of methane, or their bacteria do. They really use the methane as a source of sustenance, and that gets passed on, not just the tube worms, which look like great bushes, I said they look like azalea bushes, great clusters of these tube worms. People think "worms" and they go "bleagh," but these are really beautiful creatures. And laced in within the stems of these tube worms were little crabs and fish, a whole community thriving at 1800 feet, where the water is amazingly was really cold, in the 40s. on the surface in the 80s, so that big a temperature different in half a mile. And the creatures are so attuned ... oh, I actually saw the little bubbles of methane coming up in the middle of the tubeworm cluster.

39:37 Observing them directly. You could use a remotely operated vehicle. Maybe improve camera to pick up 3d, spatial perception. But it's still not the same. You go down there and you can catch something out of the comer of your eye and go after it. Intuition. Use your judgment, experience. And I think the key to Deep Worker success for science is putting scientists at the controls. Now it's great to have just anybody down there. Anybody can get something with a sharp mind, bring their own experience to it. But to have scientists down there. Why not have the scientist who studies grouper go down just as they were if they were in the forest, or the desert. I mean, Jane Goodall, studying chimpanzees, wouldn't assign to an assistant the task of going out and bring back the data. She wants to be there. I don't blame here. That's what I want to do too. But I want other scientists who are studying shrimp or crabs or mud or whatever makes their hearts beat fast to have access. The Deep Worker subs are terrific, but it's basically that class of submersibles that put an individual on the scene. Or two indiv. or six. Astronauts don't go with 2 or 3 stuffed into one spacesuit. They go as bunch of people in one space ship, but when they get out to do work, there's one to a suit.
And it's that hand-eye-mind coordination they take for granted and divers take for granted, well why not a vehicle below where divers can go?

46:25 This morning I'm going to take the Deep worker out to look at a part of the newly protected area that until recently was pretty heavily fished and trawled. But it's a little comer of a place that has been set aside this year for NOTEC protection, but it is a place that the marine reserve people haven't had a chance to thoroughly look at. It is a little comer, the NW sector of this tract that has been established for full protection. There are two things I want to look for, I want to look for places where there has been damage from trawling, and I've seen an awful lot ofthat in other places on the Gulf. The second is basically what the character of this area is: will I find coral? Will there be seagrass beds out in the relatively shallower sections? Will there be grouper holes? Will the groupers have their habitat set up? What is the nature, the site characterization, basically, to establish a solid reference point against which change can be assessed now that trawling and other activity has been banned here, with a starting point that we might set with what we are doing here this morning. We might be able to come back, people will come back, whether it's next year, or five years, or fifty years, and say in the year 2001 this is what it was like and this is how it's changed.

48:09 Tim Bulman, dive supervisor. I oversee everything on this leg of the trip.

1: 12:58 just going to test the camera really quick to make sure everything's working ... what we're doing it trying to do is check all the functions of the camera. Because when it's down there, there's nothing we can do but bring the sub back up to the ship which is a huge waste of time and money ...

1:23:25 Walky-talky... Sylvia getting in ... do have to take my special little pillow ... Dr. Earl, I'm going to hand the submersible over to you, I hope you have a good trip ... Well, thank you Mr. Evans. Good job.... We put in some goodies for you. Tim took out the rubber snake I had in there earlier. " Oh, bummer, we need a deep diving snake ... we have enough on this ship already ... what I need now is my special seat, and ice .. .

1 :24:47 Alex Promo: This is Alex Chadwick.. Join us for our next Radio Expedition, diving deep under the surface of the sea with Dr. Sylvia Earle .. The Deep Worker 2000, the next Radio Expedition, from NPR News, at the Nat'l Geo Society.

1 :25 :25 Styrofoam cups under pressure ...

1:25:58 AC: It's 9 o'clock in the morning. We're on the deck of Gunther, and Sylvia Earl is just preparing the DW 2000 for this morning's dive. She's going down a couple of hundred feet to see what's there ... Before they launch the DW in the morning, they go through this long list of things that they are checking to make sure that sub is functioning and they have all the equipment on board that they are going to need. Which includes a videotaping system, oxygen supply equipment, safety equipment and some things you really wouldn't expect.

1:27:09 AC: Here's a normal-sized Styrofoam coffee cup, and here's the same type coffee cup after it's been to the bottom on a dive with DW... SE: outside ... outside, and it's maybe a quarter the size of a normal cup, and it's just been ... compressed... compressed completely. So all the air has gone out of the styrofoam and all you have left is the hard, shrunken plastic ... SE: now, any of the air spaces in human beings are vulnerable to the same kinds of compression, if you are outside. That's the beauty of this little sub, inside it's always 1 atmosphere, the same pressure we're enjoying here on the surface. Just as astronauts, when they go up in the sky, you don't expect them to adapt their bodies to the outside pressure, which is lack of pressure. So does going down deep in the sea require pressure, the really strong pressure. But the life support goes all the way down with you, the way it goes up in the sky.

1 :29:05 SE: There are times I wish I was 6 inches taller than I am, but piloting DW, I'm glad, more room to wiggle around, life support lasts longer .. AC: 2 bottles of frozen water. .. SE: emergency water supply, should you be stuck down there longer than you intend, it's also air conditioning in a bottle ... video monitor to see what the camera is seeing ... taking little video camera, to get pilot's view, put that in my lap ... In a sub, you have to fasten your seatbelt, even though there isn't much traffic down there ... take clock to know when to start life support ... ice back, out it in my lap under the camera ... and my squid hat, I try not to dive without my squid hat ... AC: Is this a good luck squid hat? SE: well, it is roy pal. It's been down to 2000 feet, which is the deepest these little subs can go, and come back, that's the important part. So 1 always try to take it with me. Flashlight, battery. AC: David Breashers says when rot climbing, the goal is at the
bottom... round trip.


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