July 18, 2011

The next morning found the expedition facing more rough conditions. With one wave following another in an unending sequence, and no island on the horizon, our team retreated to ride out the remaining hours. Nearly 20 hours later after our journey started, we finally reached the Swan Islands and a respite from the pounding.

Settling in to our initial position at James Point East on the southwest corner of the island, our team prepared for the first dive of the trip. The captain gave instructions on safety and what to expect on the dive, and then we took to the water.  Dr. Melanie McField, Director of the Healthy Reefs for Healthy People Initiative (HRI), and her team are conducting reef surveys and she offered her comments on the first dive.
HRI research diver Marisol Rueda conducts fish survey, (c) Kip Evans Photography
“My firsts thought after this dive is one of surprise that everything looks just a little too familiar.  It looked a lot like many other places on the reef that we explore on a regular basis.  We were hoping we’d jump in and see everything look a lot healthier, with more fish and less algae, because there’s nothing out here (no human activity).  A lot of times we are looking at local influences, thinking these things are probably impacting the reef and making the reef conditions decrease.  But out here, there is nothing specific you can see that is causing the reef decline. I think the bigger factors are past hurricanes and bleaching events, as you see a lot of dead coral sitting in place that’s probably dead from bleaching and disease. I think there is more coral here than on average, so the coral cover is pretty good. The amount of fish is not what I expected out here (less than we had hoped for), so obviously there is some fishing going on somewhere.”

Reef Rubble – probably damaged from hurricanes, (c) Kip Evans Photography
A patch of healthy reef welcomes us and gives us hope for better dives tomorrow,
 (c) Kip Evans Photography

Despite the general lack of fish cited by Dr. McField on this initial dive, it is clear that one species of concern has gained a foothold even in this remote region.  As seen in the picture below, the invasive Lionfish can be found here on the Swan Islands as in much of the Caribbean.   The Lionfish is native to the IndoPafic, but it has aggressively colonized the Caribbean as well as areas in the Gulf of Mexico. While it is disappointing that it has expanded it’s range to include the Swan Islands, it does offer some hope, as it will take a place on the expedition menu!

Stay tuned for more updates as Dr. Sylvia Earle joins us today!

Text by Dustin Boeger
Photography by Kip Evans

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