Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
2017 Gray's Reef Research Cruise Photos
Mission Information
 

Gray's Reef Research
Expeditions 2017

Sunday: June 11, 2017
Log Day 3

Aria Remondi
Gray's Reef Deputy Superintendent for Operations (Detail)
Savannah, GA

An oyster toadfish on the bottom of Gray's Reef

An oyster toadfish on the bottom of Gray's Reef.
(Photo: Tim Henkel, VSU)

When someone comes to Gray's Reef, what they see first is water. Water on the left, water on the right, water is everywhere. If you are lucky, you may see the large yellow buoy, which marks Gray's Reef so you at least know you where you are. If you are lucky, you may see a sea turtle surface or a pod of dolphins swim by. As beautiful as the open ocean is, you may be tempted to ask, "What is so special about this place?"

Crew assist the crane in launching one of the small boats. .

Crew assist the crane in launching one of the small boats. .
(Photo: Aria Remondi, NOAA)

Gray's Reef has to be experienced underwater, where all the life and important habitat lives. Therefore trained NOAA divers will do almost all of the work we are doing on this mission. You will hear more about their work in future posts, but first I wanted to introduce you to dive operations off a NOAA ship.

All divers that NOAA employs have completed training through the NOAA Diving Program (NDP) which focuses specifically on diving to benefit science. The program has a Dive Training Center where NOAA divers must go through an extensive, three week training program that includes basic diving skills, scientific diving, underwater navigation, recue diving, Nitrox and more. There are certified NOAA divers all around the country that are integral to the NOAA mission.

Science crew divers climb aboard the small boat to head out to their morning dive locations .

Science crew divers climb aboard the small boat to head out to their morning dive locations.
(Photo: Aria Remondi, NOAA)

Today three different dive groups went out in the morning and again after lunch. Because they all have very different missions, and are diving at different sites, there were many coordinating meetings beforehand. Remember that you can't communicate much underwater, only what can be said say via hand signals, so every step you take must be very clear before diving. Last night the individual teams went over the very specific procedures they would follow for each project. Each team will perform four or five dives each day. They discussed how they would measure the habitat, which fish would be counted and when, what should be photographed, and where instruments should be placed until every detail was clear.

The NOAA Ship Nancy Foster is a big ship, so dive operations occur off the three small boats she carries with her. After divers load their gear and their tanks, the ships are picked up by a crane and lowered into the ocean. Once launched, the divers climb down a ladder and into the small boat - then they are off for their morning work.

Risa Cohen and Alicia Reigel count invertebrates on a ledge in Gray's Reef.

Risa Cohen and Alicia Reigel count invertebrates on a ledge in Gray's Reef.
(Photo: Brianne Varnerin, GSU)

Working underwater is very cool but is also very difficult. Even with all the planning the teams did over the last two days, things still can go wrong underwater. While two crews had very successful mornings, one crew couldn't locate their site. After a morning of work and the planned simulated emergency, all the boats came back to the ship around 11:00. Divers need time between dives, called a surface interval, to stay safe and avoid nitrogen build up underwater. Lunch is the perfect time for this break.

After lunch we debrief the simulated diver emergency, fill up the tanks, and head back out on the ship - repeating the process of launching the ships with a crane.

The afternoon starts off right with all three groups finding their sites and beginning their surveys. On top of all the normal dive gear they are also carrying quadrates, clipboards, measuring tapes and cameras to do their work. A quadrate is a large grid used for standardized counting of species identifying invertebrates like sponges and corals. The bottom at Gray's Reef has many ledges where these invertebrate like to make their home.

A lionfish caught and bagged by one of the dive teams this morning.

A lionfish caught and bagged by one of the dive teams this morning.
(Photo: Aria Remondi, NOAA)

Overall it was a productive, though long, day. One team even snagged a lionfish and brought it back to the ship. Lionfish are an invasive, venomous, aggressive species of fish. They are native to the Indo-Pacific and eat a very large amount small fish, invertebrates, and mollusks. Because they have no natural predators herein the Atlantic, they are taking over habitat and killing native fish. Divers in Gray's Reef are trained to kill and trap them when found in the sanctuary so that their numbers don't grow. Lionfish are also quite delicious if prepared correctly. Restaurants are beginning to serve lionfish as they are abundant and keeping them out of our ocean helps the environment.


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