September 3, 2010

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The historical review of data on the Sargasso Sea is vital.  Knowing how people have regarded this critical part of the ocean over time will seriously strengthen the case for protection now.  The “shifting baseline” of turtles, tunas, eels, and other creatures — including maybe the Sargassum itself — will come as news to many.
Dr. Sylvia Earle – Sargassum & Coral Spawn – Photo: Look Bermuda
I am in Bermuda now with some of the Sargasso Sea “constituency” looking forward to a second day of searching for Sargassum patches between hurricanes.  Thanks to arrangements made by Sheila McKenna, senor research scientist for Mission Blue,  we went aboard Explorer, the boat Teddy Tucker had for years (now owned and operated by Michael Hayward), and had a remarkable encounter with masses of floating coral spawn — zillions of golden eggs enmeshed in small patches of Sargassum.  Lots of photos!  No large mats of Sargassum but we snorkled around some small patches and had a great at sea rendezvous with the Bermuda Aquarium team who had a big tub of water on board their small boat and were able to show us a cross section of Sargassum’s floating zoo — some of the endemic crabs, shrimp and a miniature Sargassum fish as well as a little puffer, tiny jacks and other little critters.

Sargassum & Coral Spawn – Photo: Shari Sant Plummer

We made stops at a place where Teddy Tucker has a mooring in blue water in about 150 feet and nearly everyone jumped overboard to admire the goose barnacles and fuzzies growing on the line.  Shari Sant, Bryce Groark and I bopped down to the bottom where we enjoyed the cool water below 90 feet, admired vast meadows of Stypopodium, and glimpsed more fish than we saw all day elsewhere — a herd of surgeonfish, a few snappers, numerous parrotfish, wrasses and many more.

At 90 feet on the way back to the surface we were greeted by Richard Rockefeller — who freedived down to meet us .  . .

Healthy Coral – Photo: Shari Sant Plummer

A late afternoon dive on an inshore reef provided good news — some healthy coral — and some not-so-good news — very few fish other than smallish parrotfish, wrasses, angelfish and tiny coral-hugging blennies.  no grouper, snapper, barracuda, sharks or other large fish of any kind. There was a magical encounter with what looked like millions of mnemiopsis comb jellies, each one transformed into a living crystal by shafts of low-horizon sun.

Onwards and Downwards for the protection of our Ocean Hope Spots!

Written by: Dr.Sylvia Earle Founder and President of the Mission Blue Foundation
Edited by: Sadie Waddington Outreach Coordinator for the Mission Blue Foundation

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