January 11, 2011

Though foiled by weather mere seconds before a planned sub launch on their morning attempt to dive together, executive director of the Harte Research Institute Larry McKinney and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Sylvia Earle persevere, and the effort pays off: They complete a successful shallow-water dive off the Florida coast in the dual Deepworker sub–the second of the expedition.

sealing Sylvia in deepworker subJoseph Lepore lowers the transparent dome on Deepworker pilot Sylvia Earle.
McKinney: What did we see? A lot of green “sea snot”–that’s what we used to call it. To be more polite about it, it was the bay getting ready to bloom. It’s over the winter, and that’s what’s happening out there right now. There’s a lot of winter plankton in the water and a lot of nutrients. As soon as it warms up, it’s going to do what it does.
Sylvia: We saw food for the small fish that love to eat the greens, and also copopods, although I was surprised we didn’t see more live zooplankton. Lots of green stuff. We did see some small comb jellies right at the surface. They filter the phytoplankton.

bryce groark adjusts camera before diveUnderwater videographer Bryce Groark adjusts his camera before the dive.

McKinney: We couldn’t see much because we were in the bay at this time, so it was mostly the green pea soup. But for me, because I’m a biologist, that’s like gold. We’re in the winter season here, but we’re not that far away to the first starts to the spring blooms, and that’s what gets the system on these coastal waters going. Once it launches out, it fuels the whole system and produces everything that we enjoy: Crabs, shrimp, and everything else.
So it’s not good for visibility, but it’s good for everything else.
It was shallow water, 28 feet. For me, this was a familiarization run. Sylvia’s an old hand at piloting. I think she’s piloted 30 different submersibles. She let me have the controls so I could get familiar with moving the sub around. So when we do go the next time, I can operate it. I’m really looking forward to it.

deepworker sub in water heading for the bottomThe Deepworker sub heads for the bottom at the start of the expedition’s second successful dive.

We couldn’t see the seafloor–well, actually, it was floating all around us, parts of it anyway. Apparently, there were dolphins all around us, the crew said. We couldn’t see them. They didn’t come up and look at us, which would’ve been a big surprise. But that’s typical in these shallow bay waters this time of year.
We did see a lot of comb jellies, and some larvae. I couldn’t tell you exactly what species they were at this point–just overwintering critters that are getting ready to blossom and grow and move up into these estuaries and take off.

Support for the Mission Blue Gulf of Mexico expedition is provided by the National Geographic Society, Google Inc., the Waitt Institute, and Hope Spots LLC. Follow along in context by clicking on the ship icon near Pensacola, Florida using Google Earth.

Read all Mission Blue expedition coverage here.

Photos by Ford Cochran

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