There is no amount of preparation, mental or otherwise, that fully prepares you for an expedition. Big or small objectives, solo or a team – when the stakes are high, the stress is high.
While I may not have shown it, my stomach has been in knots for weeks now. Being the leader of the pack, it has fallen on my shoulders to handle logistics items for the team, science permits, dive safety plan writing and approval seeking, on top of going through all of my bits and pieces of equipment to make sure that everything is at 100% – rebreathers, several cameras, safety gear, personal dive gear, and maybe even a toothbrush if I manage to keep my already overweight luggage within some reasonable (though not so reasonable according to the airlines) constraints. This ain’t no vacation!
OK, well we are headed to the Bahamas, where life is seemingly slower paced, hot by day, warm by night, clear blue water, and nothing to do but what we are there to do – maybe it is a vacation – I just can’t be sure yet, as it could go either way.
This expedition is a follow-up to our November 2010 expedition to Andros, where we set out to document and explore the natural history of the Tongue of the Ocean‘s Mesophotic Coral Ecosystem (MCE). In November, we refined working practices, and successfully gathered images and scientific data to more than 130 meters depth (430 feet!). This next ten days will be spent on Lee Stocking Island, where it all started for me more than ten years ago, where we will explore the depths of Exuma Sound, a deep trench lining the Eastern margin of the Exumas. The work will be staged through the John H. Perry Jr. Caribbean Research Center (formerly NOAA‘s Caribbean Marine Research Center).
It’s such a special place – more than 50 years of cutting-edge marine science and technology have been undertaken here, including the early work in undersea habitation that lead to NOAA’s Undersea Research Program. This is the site where the roots of the US ocean science and exploration interests still lay.
Our plan is intense, yet strategic. We will be gathering a wealth of data to support the interests of our multi-disciplinary team of collaborators – biologists, ecologists, ichthyologists, geologists, and technologists – all with the intent of catalyzing a scaled up, yet refined series of expeditions to better understand this mesophotic coral ecosystem, and perhaps most importantly – how to get there efficiently, effectively, and while taking methodical steps to advancing human intervention into one of the yet explored alien environments still on this Blue Planet.
I’ll do my best to brief you from the field. In the meantime, here are some additional resources:
Lesser, M., Slattery, M., & Leichter, J. (2009). Ecology of mesophotic coral reefs Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 375 (1-2), 1-8 DOI: 10.1016/j.jembe.2009.05.009
Heine, J. (2000). Scientific Diving Techniques Marine Technology Society Journal, 34 (4), 23-37 DOI: 10.4031/MTSJ.34.4.4