Submarines for a healthy Gulf

by John Hocevar

October 17, 2010

A couple days ago, we advanced the cause of science and conservation by throwing someone else’s hundred thousand dollar piece of equipment over the side of the ship.  It sank to the bottom.
Fortunately, this was all part of the plan.  The scientists we are working with, Steve Ross and Mike Rhode from University of North Carolina Wilmintgon and Sandra Brooke from the Marine Conservation Biology Institute and the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology, plan to come back next year to retrieve the equipment, called a benthic lander, and use it to learn how deep sea corals are surviving in a rapidly changing and heavily impacted environment.  It took us a couple dives, but we were able to locate and film the lander with the submarine.  It settled upright and in a good location, and the containers holding the live corals all appeared to be in order.  Success! 
During our search, we came across some diverse and beautiful habitats, populated by anemones, crabs, corals, and even a conger eel.
Then things went downhill a bit, when the system we use to track the submarine went down.  So today we got a little creative, and dove with a long line and a buoy tied to the sub so the crew could track the sub ye olde fashioned way.  Where goest the buoy, goest the sub.  We surveyed a site called the Alabama Alps, in water so murky that we could rarely see more than 5 feet in front of us.  This made things pretty interesting, as the area is basically a mud flat with giant 40 foot tall boulders that seemed to lunge at us out of the murky darkness when we least expected them.
Sandra and Mike were my passengers today, so they ran the video camera and provided a running commentary on what we were seeing.  They also had to guide me as I used the robot manipulator arm to collect water samples by firing a Niskin bottle.  The tricky part was that none of us could see the trigger for the bottles, so they had to aim the video camera at them and watch on the monitor as they told me how to move the manip.  It took us a little while to get the hang of it, but in the end we were able to collect samples that will help us see how corals are effected by ocean acidification, and perhaps oil from the BP Horizon disaster as well.
Tomorrow, we’ll be heading back into deeper water, hopefully with a rebuilt tracking system.  The crew on the Arctic Sunrise is unstoppable, and so are the sub operators from DOER (Deep Ocean Engineering and Research).  It looks like we’ve got good weather ahead for the next several days, so with this team on board we’ll be able to get a lot of good research done here and continue to reveal the true cost of our reliance on offshore drilling.     
For the oceans –
John H
John Hocevar

By John Hocevar

An accomplished campaigner, explorer, and marine biologist, John has helped win several major victories for marine conservation since becoming the director of Greenpeace's oceans campaign in 2004.

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