March 9, 2012

Dr. Sylvia Earle © Kip F. Evans – Mission Blue
Today, the wind picked up making the waters quite choppy. The Sea Hunter delayed heading out to Hannibal bank but once there was able to achieve one spectacular survey, despite the weather.

STRI Director Biff Bermingham and Sylvia Earle led the rest of the Mission Blue team on two dives today. “Washing Machine” was the name of the first site and was a set of submerged rock peaks off Isla Jicaron. Before we descended, we saw what looked to be 6 recreational fishing vessels within the park. How can the few fish schools that remain (as far as what we’ve seen) have much of a chance against such pressure?

As we descended into the deep, Philippe rang a bell of sorts by clanging a whistle to get our attention. When I looked up from the spiny lobster that I was trying to photograph in a crevice, I was greeted by a huge passing school of jacks circling the rocks in the deep. Every rock surface was covered with life- hard corals, gorgonians, sponges and coralline algae.
(c) Shari Sant Plummer
Sylvia described a jewel box of coral on the rocks.  Brittlestars wrapped their arms around long gorgonian needles in a commensal relationship. She photographed a yellow Commerson’s frogfish with such character in his face.

On returning to the dive boat, our local dive expert Kevan said with chagrin that all of the life that we saw today was in pale comparison to what massive schools existed only a few years ago.

The second dive was called the cathedral, a shallow undersea rock pinnacle close to the most western tip of Panama. When we arrived, large swells moved in from the open ocean. It was late in the day and darkening with strong currents. Kip and Biff saw a nurse shark. A tapestry of life emerged from the rocks- red, green and brown algae, white flower like gorgonians, hard and soft corals, sea urchins, and bright orange sponges.
Kip saw three large white tip sharks curled up together under a ledge including a Mommy shark ready to give birth. She slipped out from the crevice where the other sharks rested. Here is this mother shark bringing her baby into a world that’s a wasteland relative to what once was. I feel lonely for her and for ourselves. Why can’t we have a 100 year plan and put policies in place in every country to sustainably manage our natural resources?

As Al Gore notes, the Chinese symbol for crisis is also a symbol for opportunity. This is humanity’s opportunity: enforce Coiba!

Jenifer Austin Foulkes, Oceans Manager, Google.

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