DeLeon springs is about an hours drive from Renee’s house so we had to wake up bright and early to arrive their on time. Even so, Renee, Andy, George and I were the last to arrive. The gate attendant did not seem too keen on letting anyone from the project into the springs, however, after some coaxing we were admitted. Several of the other Cambrian interns weren’t able to make it, so I ran two test today. Rima, Kris and Jeff were also testing the water samples. According to the Divers, DeLeon is a miserable cave, and they only dive it for the pancakes afterwards. At the park where the springs are located there is a restaurant called the Old Spanish Sugar Mill, which always has a long wait and provides spectacular pancakes. So while we tested the water samples we longed after the pancakes. The sampling actually went fairly quickly, we were done by noon, but did not have reservations until one. So everyone sat around, stomachs growling, until our name was called. Long story short, they have the best pancakes ever! They provide you with the batter and toppings and you make the pancakes (all you can eat) yourself. Everyone departed DeLeon springs full of delicious pancakes and very satisfied at completing the mission.

Otters and Rock Springs

Friday found the team sampling at Rock Springs, another beautiful and spectacularly buggy public swimming hole. Today, there were to be seven divers going in the cave in addition to Tom and I, who would be shooting video outside the cave. At Rock, the flow is tremendous even outside of the cave wear swimmers jump fearlessly into the rock riddled spring. The divers slid themselves in a little more carefully. All the entrances to the water are tremendously slipperly, so extra care had to be taken with entry. The divers goal was to collect samples at four stations in the cave and at the caves mouth. They were also hoping to collect some interesting critters and bacteria. The cave divers entered the cave in two teams, spaced twenty minutes apart. Tom, a videographer, and I entered the water with his camera and tried to shoot some decent footage of the divers entering the cave. This was tricky, since they kicked up so much silt while entering. Shortly after all the divers entered the cave Tom and I gave up on videotaping. The flow was too strong and their were so many swimmers, including one man in black slacks and a button down white shirt swimming underwater quite happily. Tom called him the underwater waiter. Tom and I slipped and slid our way out of the water to wait for Bob to re-emerge after his dive. Once Bob finished his dive, we came to the concensus that we would snorkel down the creek that is fed by the spring and try to shoot more video. Shortly afterwards Tom decided the conditions (lots and lots of tubers and poor vis) were not optimal for underwater footage. Tom, Bob and I, as well as Sandy and Mike, two of the cave divers, began our trip down the creek. We weren’t in the water more than forty-five second before Tom leapt from the water, in some apparent pain yelling “I can’t do it!” He scrambled up some steps as Bob muttered “camera,” and sure enough, Tom returned moments later, video camera in hand, and ready to roll. We embarked again, enjoying the now crystal clear water and the assortment of fish living along the sand and in the grass at the bottom of the creek. The current was so bad we had to stop frequently to regroup. During one of the stops I spotted a strange splash in the distance and pointed it out to Tom, who was still expertly weilding the video camera. He promised to investigate but once we embarked again he was swept past the spot. I managed to stop their under the guise of waiting for Mike who, despite the current, still managed to float at a snails pace. I was not standing there for twenty second before an otter popped up, three feet in front of my mask. I screamed. The otter departed. It was spotted further upstream several minutes later. Unfortunatly, Tom had missed it, and was thoroughly dissapointed. we continued down stream, sighting nothing as exciting as the otter, but we did see some turtles and several enjoyable fish. Eventually the creek opens up into a large swimming hole. Here Tom let me play around with his camera. I had a blast stalking and chasing fish looking for a good shot. After a little while with the camera it was time to return to the rest of the team, who, at this point were done with the sampling and busy packing up. Once everything was all packed, we left to prepare for the long day at DeLeon.

Wekiwa Springs

Thursday’s location was Wekiwa Springs, where our mission was two-fold. The first goal of our mission was to collect and analyze water samples from five different stations in the cave at Wekiwa as well as samples from the mouth of the cave. Our second goal was to collect bacterial mats from several pre-existing biomass sample sub sites at three stations in the cave. This was done so that Rima could return to the lab and analyze the bacteria as well as estimate a growth rate based on previous bacterial collection at the same sub sites. To do this, the dive team planned two dives to collect the necessary samples. They also added some new biomass sample sites at each of the three stations, including two new sub-sites at all three stations and one repair at station three. At Wekiwa I was analyzing samples with the surface team. I did the Nitrate test, which takes forever since each sample has to be shaken for three minutes then incubated for ten. The nitrates dropped the further into the cave the samples were taken. The water analyses performed were the same as yesterday’s, and yielded consistent results. That is, there was no sulfur or iron, and the nitrate, ammonia nd alkalinity where the same as other trips to Wekiwa. The water analysis process is moving faster now that the team has some experience with all of the different tests. The sampling also moved much faster because Ricky was at the mouth of the cave bringing samples up to us as the dive team filled them. At Sanlando, all the samples were brought up at once so it took much longer. After all the samples were taken the dive team surfaced and debriefed for their second dive while we finished with the samples. Once we were done with the samples, we were free to gorge ourselves on the food Rima brought and swat flies at our leisure. Eventually the dive team returned from their second dive with fresh bacterial mats which Rima seized for testing. Then all the gear was broken down and packed up and we were on our way home.

Sanlando Springs

I departed on July 5th for my five day internship with the Cambrian Foundation. When I arrived at the Orlando airport, Ricky drove me over to Renee Power’s house, where I would be staying for the next few days. That night, a portion on the team arrived for a project briefing. Basically, Renee and Rima went over what we would be doing for the next five days. The goal of the mission was to collect water samples from different stations in four different caves. In addition to this, some bacterial and critter samples would be taken. To do this cave divers would enter the cave each day to collect the samples. After they returned the samples, the surface support team would run water quality tests on the samples. Our first spring, Sanlando Spring, was located in a private gated community. Today, I would perform my checkout dive with Bob Giguere. Before this, however, I listened to the walk through that the cave divers do before they go into any cave. During their walk-through, they rehearse how each sample will be taken and put in the correct bag, so that the surface support would be able to tell which station each sample came from. After the walkthrough, I geared up in the searing Florida sun and hopped in the water to wait for all the cave divers to don their pounds and pounds of specialized gear. Bob and I watched as the cave divers splashed and entered the cave. After all three cave divers (Renee, Andy and George) had dissapeared, Bob and I began swimming around the spring in search of wildlife. It wasn’t hard to find. Swarming around the cave entrance is a school of Plecothymus. The Plecos are a tropical invasive species that resulted from the dumping of large “algae eaters” from home fish tanks into springs. Though the Plecos are certainly not native, they do not appear to be harming the ecosystem and are fun to watch. They make frequent trips to the surface of the water to gulp air for an unknown reason. Bob and I also spotted a turtle and tons of tiny tropical fish like guppies, living in the shallows. Several egrets and other birds where aware of their presence too and fished consistently while we were there. I also spotted what looked like a sampling bag that the divers took with them in the middle of the spring. We later found out that a diver had dropped the bag and the current carried it out. At the end of our dive I exited the water broke down my gear and went to the surface team, headed up by Rima, to see if they needed any help. I was put to work shaking water samples with little packets of cadmium in them for the nitrate test. Soon enough all the water samples had been tested and it was time to pack up an go home. At Renees house after the sampling we went over the plan for the next day at Wekiwa Springs. Somewhat of a logistical nightmare, Wekiwa has five testing stations as opposed to Sanlando’s three. The divers and Rima planned out the activities for Wekiwa and went on their way, everyone needing their rest after such a long day.

Aquarium Days 4 & 5

On Friday, I started the day helping Jaime with food prep again. This time I got to prepare food for the sharks and needlefish and Puffy and Fugu as well as several others. One of responsibilities was “squid tentacles” where one pulls off a frozen squids head, rips out the beak, then cuts off the tentacles for the smaller fish of the GOT. Once all the food was prepared we started the surface feeds again. I got to feed Puffy and Fugu again. They are my favorite fish in the GOT because they are quite possibly the cutest fish ever to live. They have giant eyes and big lips and they swim up to the platform and stare at you when they are hungry. They also suck the squid out of your hands like a vacuum. The morning went as my other mornings at the GOT had gone, alternately scrubbing and feeding. When you are feeding Myrtle or the other fish amny visitors ask all sorts of questions, from “How come the sharks don’t eat those guys?” to “Does that turtle ever bite you?” It’s fun to interact with the public since they are so curious about all the critters in the tank. After lunch, I geared up for the 1:15 dive again, making the plunge into a wonderland of fish. This time the angels were intensely curious about me and bit my hair frequently. I attracted several gray angels and a queen angel, but they all turned their backs on me once I started scrubbing in ernest, since it mucks up the water so much. Again, the 50 minutes underwater went by quickly until it was time to get out. Then I had to haul tail to rip off my wetsuit, head down to penguins, pull on another wetsuit and then participate in the 2:30 feed. To my surprise, I found out I would actually be feeding the rockhoppers. This was lots of fun, watching all of the birds jockeying for position. They ate a ton on Friday, each penguin had at least 8 fish, and Eudyptes, the chubby guy that sits on top of the rock ate 15. Some of the penguins are slightly blind and go for your fingers instead of the fish, which tended to be a little painful. After the feed, we scrubbed algae and doodlebuged for the rest of the afternoon. After getting out of the water, there were just a few buckets to wash before heading home. On my last day, I started out the morning with Penguins, helping with the African feed and scrubbing out the penguin caves where several pairs were nesting. Then we doodlebuged and algae scrubbed again for a while before coming in for lunch. After lunch I again geared up, this time for my last dive in the Great Ocean tank. It was fun as usual, with the sharks swimming closer than they had before (slightly unnerving) and several run ins with the highly territorial chromis. I scrubbed algae like a pro until again it was time to get out. I helped out with the scrubbing and the 2:30 feed before going down to Penguins to meet with Paul. As a treat on my last day I got to see the chicks. There was one full sized rockhopper chick, still covered in downy fur and looking extremely adorable. There was also one tiny African that had just hatched and was still nestled firmly under his mother and next to his sibling still in it’s egg. There was another African chick in the process of hatching, it had been hard at work breaking out of it’s shell for more than a day, but still had a ways to go. Seeing the chicks was a really neat way to end my experience at the aquarium. I left happy and with some new knowledge of what it’s like to work in animal husbandry.

Aquarium Days 2 & 3

For my second day at the aquarium, I was sent up to Divers to help Jaime and Amy with food prep. It consisted of pulling out and preparing many, many pounds of fish, squid, krill, plankton, and shrimp for the various animals in the GOT. I was shocked by how picky some of the fish must be since I had to de-beak and remove the pens from every squid, de-tail the srimp, and pop the swim bladders of the smelt. Many pounds of fish are also chopped up to scatter in the lower parts of the GOT. The reason the food is prepared in so many varieties is so that the maximum number of fish can get a healthy meal at each feeding, since they all eat food of different sizes. After the morning food prep I got to feed Myrtle at the 10:30 feeding. She has an extremely healthy apettite. At this particular feeding she ate a head of lettuce and about a pound of fish gel and fish and squid. After the 10:30 feeding we returned to the food room and did dishes for a considerable amount of time, then returned to the platform to do another feed at 11:30. I fed Myrtle again, she consumed another two heads of lettuce. At each feed, divers enter the water and target feed certain groups of fish, like the sharks, or angels or rays. After that feeding it was lunch time. After lunch it was back to scrubbing dishes and feeding Myrtle or the puffer fish, Puffy and Fugu, or the needlefish or lookdowns. In fact, the whole day vanished quickly with all the scrubbing and feeding. Soon enough, it was time to go home and get ready for the next day, when I would be diving. On Thursday I arrived at the aquarium and spent the morning with the penguin people. I assisted with the recording on the feed, and then busted out the Virkon and started scrubbing again. My mom came to see me at the aquarium and was really excited to watch the penguins come up and nip me while I scrubbed. The penguins are a bit of a riot, they express their curiosity by biting you, wherever you are most accesible. This is why it’s a good idea to wear a wetsuit. After scrubbing for an extended period of time, the lunch hour had arrived, and I went out to eat with my mom. Upon returning, I started to gear up for the 1:15 dive with Mike the volunteer and Jaime, and intern from UNC-Chapel Hill. Before I knew it we were standing on the platform, in front of tons of people pulling out all the algae scrubbing brushes needed for the dive. The 1:15 dive is always a maintenance dive, so mostly algae is scrubbed off the windows and reef. After stepping into the water I was again transported to the carribean reef, only this time, my job was to clean it, so I got strait to scrubbing a spot on the reef. Many angel fish came to investigate my movements as well as a Kemps Ridley sea turtle who landed on my head. A few of the other turtle came to investigate by bumping into me. The sharks were a bit of a shock each time they swam by, teeth bared. Before I knew it the dive was over and it was time to ascend. After hauling myself ungracefully up the ladder, it was back to scrubbing out buckets in the food room. I passed the rest of the day at divers feeding Myrtle and helping with the never ending cleaning. However Mike is a fiend at cleaning and everything in the food room was sparkling by 4:30, which meant we got to leave early!

Aquarium Day 1

I arrived at the New England Aquarium at 8 o’clock on Tuesday the 27th, ready for my week to start. I met up with Paul and he gave me a brief tour of the Giant Ocean Tank (from the outside) and brought me up to the Dive office to meet with John who would be doing my orientation dive at 2:30 in the afternoon. John pretty much told me not to worry about it and that I would do great, which was good, because I was a little nervous. Next we headed down to the penguin office were I pulled, squeezed and shoved myself into a wetsuit that was just a little bit to small and hopped into the penguin exhibit. The exhibit is huge and houses four species of penguins, the rockhoppers, Africans and little blues. For the first part of the morning I recorded the rockhopper feed, which meant that I wrote down which penguin had eaten how many fish. All the penguin staff interns and volunteers can readily tell the penguins apart based on their identification arm bands. After this we commenced the scrubbing which lasted from about 9:30 to 11:00. First each rock island must be completely rinsed then scrubbed with the veterinary disinfecan Virkon. It’s an excellent cleaner to use in the exhibit since it does not harm the penguins and dissolves completely in water. While we scrub the islands, the penguins all get in the water for their morning swim, however some get lazy and prefer to hop back on to the island from which they must be removed. This can generally done with a hose. After scrubbing the islands is done the algae scrubbing starts, though it seems somewhat futile. it is a very large exhibit and their is a lot of algae, so it’s an unending battle. At about 11:00 everyone gets out of the penguin exhibit, dries off and gets back in their aquarium uniform for lunch. I travelled with the penguin posse to Al’s for the most intense sub ordering experience of my life. You have to scream your order at one of about twenty people working behind the counter while being jostled from either side by other customers. However, it was well worth it, the sub was fantastic, and about 16″ long. After lunch Paul brought me up to the volunteer office for my orientation. I was given a shirt and they made up an ID for me, they’re not entirely waterproof unfortunately. After my orientation I headed up to the Dive room on the fourth floor to begin gearing up for the dive. This went rather quickly and before I knew it, I was out on the platform in front of a TON of people. The dives are always tied in to an educational program, so an education staff member stands behind and talks about you as you prepare to enter the water. This alone wat slightly nerve racking as giant green sea turtles and sand tiger sharks swim below you. But I made the jump none the less and entered a whole new world. I’ve never been on a dive in tropical waters before, so it was unbelievable to see all the fish. While underwater, John gave me the tour of the tank, showing me all the sensors, filters, cages and effluents. I got to touch the nurse shark and scratch Myrtle”s (the green sea turtle’s) shell. We also looked at the spotted moray and discovered a few of the Chromis when they started biting our hands because we were invading their nests. I still have the welts three days later. At the end of the dive I hauled myself out of the water, quickly got changed and went back out to the platform to help Ryan, the volunteer, with the 3:30 surface feed. Feeding the puffers is my favorite because they are so cute and shy and huge and they kind of suck the squid and fish out of your fingers like a vacuum. We also toss some krill in for the lookdown school and some cappelin for the needlefish. After the feed I helped clean up, which takes forever stored my gear in the locker room and took off around 5:15.

Fairhaven Days 2 & 3

On Wednesday we departed at about 8 o’clock for the National Archives Northeast Reagion, which is located in Waltham. This is about an hour’s drive from Farihaven, so on the ride over, Eric described our objective. The plan was to search for evidence supporting the tentative naming of an unidentified shipwreck. The steam lighter that Eric had found previously is believed to be the New York Railroad No. 14. The ships have matching lengths and other measurements but after the ship was sold in 1962, there is no record of where it went or how it ended up sunk in Boston Harbor. Therefore we searched the Army Corps of Engineers records of wrecks and obstructions to find any mention of the ship. These records deal with shipwrecks that are obstructions to navigation and their removal. Sadly, after many hours of searching we found nothing about the little lighter we were looking for. On the other hand, we did turn up some interesting information on the Chester Poling and a wreck called the Snetind which Eric had discovered some years prior. After lunch at Bertucci’s we swung by the Quest to fix a broken shower valve. This was much more trouble than initially assumed because the valve which needed replacement could not be found at any local boating stores. Finally we found one at a Home Depot and Eric was able to fix the shower. Since this took the majority of the afternoon we headed home and again rested up for the full day to come. The next day we awoke to meet with some of Quest Marine Service’s client. We drove out to Cape Cod for an appointment with Bill who works at Benthos. Benthos makes a variety of underwater products ranging from sonar systems to ROVs to glass balls. The sonar is a unique trail behind system that can scan the bottom topography making it possible to map and survey underwater areas. In the products testing stages, the Quest used it to take a survey of the Cape Cod chanel. Benthos is also the company that manufactured the ROV “Little Geek” seen in the movie Abyss (they still have it). The glass balls are one of their most popular items, often used to house sensitive scientific equipment at great depth. Eric and I recieved a full tour of Benthos’ facilities, which are sizable and impressive. They have tons of engineers, people assembling products, large pools for testing their products and tiny pools capable of testing the equipment at great pressures. After the tour, we headed back to the Quest to get it fueled up for the weekend dive trip. The highlight of this trip was probably the swarms of ctenphores lighting up in the harbor water. After this, we grabbed lunch and headed to Providence to Visit another company that Quest does testing for, Farsounder. Farsounder is still a youthful company, hatched from a URI undergrad with an idea to create forward looking sonar for whale avoidance. After many years of science and engineering far over my head, the prototype was created and Farsounder with it to market and sell the product. We met with Cheryl the CEO who gave us a history of the company and gave us a description of the product. Then we were introduced to the engineers behind the product who talked with us for a while about the myriad applications of their sonar and then gave us a demo of it. The sonar is now marketed more as an aid to navigation capable of showing what is in the water in front of the boat, and any obstruction’s exact distance and depth. The demo was pretty cool because the image updates everysecond or so and can provide several different views and angles of the water in front of the boat. At the conclusion of our meeting I said good by to Eric and Cheryl and took off for home to get ready for the dive trip planned for the weekend. Unfortunately we were blown out again, so I had a few days to prepare for my trip to Boston and working at the aquarium.

Fairhaven Day 1

This past week, from Tuesday to Thursday I went up to Fairhaven, Massachusetts to visit Eric Takakjian and his wife Lori. I arrived around 10 o’clock on Tuesday and Eric gave me the grand tour of his house, which is chock full of artifacts recovered from shipwrecks. Eric does all the restoration himself, which takes a remarkable abount of time, but everything turns out looking spectacular. After the tour, we got to work filling tanks with trimix, and interesting process that I’ve never seen before. Eric also showed me the decompression software on his computer and how it works. After this, we took off to drop some tanks off for fills, then we headed over to the New Bedford Whaling Museum. The museum houses a huge blue whale skeleton, as well as full humpback and sperm whale skeletons. The museum details the culture of whaling in New England. It has many spectacular displays of scrimshaw and model ships as well as some temporary art exhibits. The bow of a whaling has been imitated for people to walk over and view. After our visit to the whaling museum, we headed back to Fairhaven and stopped by the Quest, Eric and Lori’s boat. Eric explained to me about what his company, Quest Marine Sevices, does. They do a lot of testing scientific marine equipment for companies still in the process of developing and perfecting prototypes. After looking through some pictures of the dive expeditions that have also been done off the boat, we headed back to the house to have dinner and get some rest for the next day.

The Gauntlet

After several weekends of miserable weather and cancelled plans, the conditions were finally good enough to go diving (sort of). It was still a little rainy and choppy, but there was less wind predicted than usuall. So I headed up to Dave and Heather’s house in Beverly Mass. on Friday so that we could get up bright and early the following morning. Around 6 we made the short commute over to were they keep the Gauntlet docked in Salem. Heather went over the boat, opening things up and checking the oil in the engine. Next we brought all of their gear down into the boat and by 7 o’clock it was time to start loading all of the guest’s gear onto the boat. Since the target wreck for the morning was 190 feet deep everyone was diving steel doubles sith all sorts of stage bottles, which all had to be secured with bungee ropes so as not to move around and break things during the ride out to the wreck. Before the dive a mooring had to be prepared for the wreck since it did not already have one. I helped out with this by coiling a ton of rope into a bucket, which is actually not nearly as easy as it sounds, but I managed. One end of the rope had a bunch of milk cartons and such attached to it. The other end had some weight attached. After the hour long ride to the dive site the mooring was thrown in on top of the wreck and Dave and another diver went down to secure it to the wreck. After they returned, the divers began entering the water, which was sometimes quite a trick since the water was a little choppy. Everyone managed to get in and down though, and there was nothing to do but wait in the cabin with the heater until they started to emerge again. Then all the divers had to be helped to remove all their gear. This is tricky on a rocking boat with huge tanks strapped to your backs, I came to learn. Once all the divers were safely disassembled the journey back began as all napped or swapped diving stories. Back at the dock the unloading process began, just to reload again for the afternoon dive on the Chester Poling. I was to be diving this wreck so I hauled all my gear down the ramp to the boat. On this dive only myself, and three other people taking classes were on the boat with Dave and Heather as opposed to the morning’s ten person load. The ride out to the Poling was much shorter than the mornings commute, so once the wreck was spotted (this was easy since another boat was already there) we started suiting up. I can now don my drysuit in record time (like half an hour), but still lagged behind my budies who pulled on their wetsuits like jack rabbits. Eventually though, I was all geared up and ready to enter the water with Dave and my two other budies. After lumbering over to the platform and plunging into the water I swam over to the tag line. The current was moving extremely fast, so holding on was a bit difficult. We then had to haul ourselves over to the line down to the wreck. This was still a bit frightening since the boat was smacking the water in an intimidating fashion. However at a depth of about five feet the current vanished and it was smooth sailing. The water was murky and dark, but visibility wasn’t too bad, especially with a light. The wreck somewere around 75 feet of water and is a magnificent artificial reef, covered in wildlife. The wreck itself is spectacular too, and seems huge underwater. Once back on the boat, I made the hideous mistake of not asking for help with my zipper and learned a valuable lesson ; zippers and zip seals do not, in fact, get along. With a puncture wound in my wrist seal and no backup, a second dive was out for me. So instead I helped the other divers get back in the water and then at the end of their second dive, helped them unsuit and secure their tanks. At this point it was close to 5 o’clock and time to head home, tired and contented. At the dock I moved all my gear back into my car, said good-bye to Dave and Heather and began the long drive home.