Bonded Pair

February 24, 2012

Some of you blog readers may remember last year my husband and I went with the New England Aquarium on a collecting trip to the Bahamas.  It is wonderful to see many of the fish we collected thriving in their new home and educating visitors.  Steve and I actually collected this exact pair of banded butterfly fish.  A fascinating fact about butterfly fish is they are monogamous, having a single partner or are a “bonded pair.”  When collecting any butterfly fish we had to collect both individuals of the pair and never separate them during the collecting and transportation process.  Other wise the butterfly fish would not thrive in their new home.  The romantic in me loves this idea of a bonded pair.  Especially since I have found the other half of my pair in my wonderful husband.

Here is a video of the pair we collected in their New England Aquarium home.  We nicknamed them, Sarah and Steve (note: this is not their official New England Aquarium name :) )

video: New England Aquarium, diver Chris

Some favorite images from our trip…ahhh…dreaming of warm tropical waters..

  Hope you all have a happy happy weekend!

The Bahamas are a well known and well traveled hot spot for many an American looking for warm weather, crystal blue waters and expansive skies, but the Bimini Islands are no Atlantis resort monstrosity.  A favorite spot of Ernest Hemingway and known for its big game fish, the Bimini islands are located just 60 miles due east of Miami and re some of the smallest islands that make up the over 700 island and cays of the Bahamas.

On our New England Aquarium Collecting trip, we spent most of our time out to sea, circling the Bimini Islands at various dive sites.  Although the evening before crossed back to Miami, we had some time to walk around North Bimini and follow some of the footsteps of Hemingway.  They island was very quite this time of year and the famous The Complete Angler Hotel (where Hemingway stayed during his time in North Bimini) had burned down 6 years ago but there were glimpses of island charm and 1930′s grandeur.

The King’s Highway, North Bimini

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Old front step of The Complete Angler Hotel

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A-Team

April 18, 2011

Our team of scientists and volunteers were amazing.  Everyone was so knowledgeable and hard working, and the vibe was laid back and fun.  I couldn’t have chosen better people with whom to share a boat for 8 days.

The Team

Our fearless leader, Barbara, New England Aquarium

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Diver Dan, New England Aquarium

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Calm, cool and collected, Deana, New England Aquarium

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Kate the great invertebrate expert, New England Aquarium

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Penguin girl and trip web expert, Andrea, New England Aquarium

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Lean, mean fish finding machine, Captain John, Shedd Aquarium

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Story teller extraordinaire, Captain Lou, Shedd Aquarium

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Long time trip volunteer, Dave (also known as Caesar)

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Fellow long time veteran volunteer, Don

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Volunteer power couple, Nichole and Chad

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Giant Ocean Tank Volunteer, Patty

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World’s best husband, SCUBA Steve

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and me, Sarah (photo taken by Patty)

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To say that our days aboard the Coral Reef II were busy is a massive understatement.  (I feel like I am still recovering.)  From dawn until dusk (and many days longer than that) we were diving, caring for the fish we collected and pretty much devouring any morsel of food placed in our paths.  The work was hard and the days were long, but the trip seemed to fly by, and before I knew it we were back at port in Miami saying our goodbyes.  Here is a little day-by-day of the adventure.  Hopefully it gives you a small taste of what it was like to find, collect and bring back some beautiful fish for the aquarium.

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Day 1: Heading out to sea

New England Aquarium staff, boat crew and us volunteers, all spent the previous night aboard the Coral Reef II at port in Miami, allowing us to push off in the early hours Friday morning, April 1, 2011.  We traveled an hour down river to reach the Atlantic Ocean and headed out to make our Gulf Stream crossing.

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Miami was gorgeous, and so quiet this early in the morning.

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As we pulled into Bimini we were escorted by a pod of dolphins playing the bow wake.  It was all too perfect.  (I was too busy squealing and jumping up and down to get any photos…I guess some things are better left in your own little memory.)  We cleared customs in North Bimini, and readied the ship for all the fish, which would soon be ours.

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Ship shape and ready for some fish

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Gear, check

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Collecting bags, check

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Fish?…Not yet

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The prospect of having to go down there and actually catch some fish began to feel little daunting.  We had so many empty wells and such a long list of fish.  How was I ever going to collect all those little guys?  As a recreational diver, you adhere strictly to the law of “do not touch” and now I had nets in hand and a collecting bag at my hip…here fishy, fishy.

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Day 2: Dive, dive, dive!

With two dives under our belt and a few slippery dicks (yes that is an actual fish name) in the holding tanks, we literally dove into day 2 with a vengeance.  The team completed five dives that day, including a gorgeous afternoon and night dive at the wreck of the Sapona.

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“Chalk talks” before each dive, prepared us for the site and what fish we may encounter.  Presumable this name came about when chalkboards were used and the name stuck.  Plus, “whiteboard talk” doesn’t really have that same ring to it.

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Some of us were novice at fish collecting, but thanks to the experienced New England Aquarium staff and veteran volunteers, by day 2 we were rolling.

How to catch a tropical fish: (Warning: This next step-by-step, makes it seem deceptively easy.  Those little fish are smart, and they seem to know which one you are going after.)

1.     Surround the targeted fish and approach slowly

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2.     Enclose it between two nets

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3.     Carefully place the fish in your collecting bag.  That is one good looking glass eyed snapper!

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More fish coming aboard!

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We record the fish as they came aboard, to later submit into the computer with their scientific names.  This aided us in keeping an up to day list of what fish we had collected to then later submit to U.S. Fishing and Wildlife.

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Sunset on the Sapona as we ate some dinner and waited for the night dive

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Day 3: What is a seine?

After a late night diving we were up and at it again early the next day.  We started the morning with a beach seine.  This is a netting technique used target needlefish and barracuda.  With the net stretching over 100 feet, it took the whole crew to accomplish this task.

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Barbara directing the group

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Deana on the “float side”

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Steve and Don hard at work

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The labor-intensive task was well worth our efforts as we collected three barracuda and many needlefish.

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We folded up the net and headed back to the boat for some more diving.  No rest for us divers when there are fish to be had.

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Day 4: High seas

Day 4 began with some rough seas that proved to be somewhat of a challenge to work around.

Steve and Patty clinging to the barrel line during their safety stop, amid a strong current

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After our morning dives a storm rolled in, but thankfully our skilled captains found us a safe cove at Gun Cay.

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As the storm rolled out and the seas settled, we prepared for our night dive.

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Day 5 & 6: Round ‘em up

By day 5 our list of fish began to dwindle leaving some particular species in which to target.

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First up was the copper sweeper round up.  I do not have any photos of this, as it was quite an event involving the whole team. Acting as a human SCUBA screen Nichole, Don and myself blocked a cave exit in order to keep the copper sweepers contained, as Captain Lou and Barbara scooped in with their nets.  The rest of the team transferred the fish underwater to two huge bags, until we had collected 30 copper sweepers.  30 minutes later we were done.   Go team!

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Next up was the sponge round up.  Now these animals (yes a sponge is actually an animal, the part we think of as “sponge” is their skeleton) may not be particularly challenging to collect, but distinguishing which species is which was quite difficult.  Thank goodness we had invertebrate expert Kate Hudec on the scene. (Queue CSI Miami music)

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Day 6 began with some cushion stars.  A team of six of us, donned our snorkel gear, headed to a grassy sandbar, and rounded up some beautiful specimens.

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With small mouth grunt and tomtates still on our list we headed to another cavernous spot to gather some grunts.

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Another successful day complete, although perhaps breathing all that compressed air was starting to get to us.

All hail Caesar/Dave

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Day 7: Count ‘em up

With our crossing back to Miami scheduled for the evening, preparations for the fish began bright and early.  A complete list of our fish had to be e-mailed to U.S. Fish and Wildlife first thing in the morning, and fresh Bahamian ocean water had to be collected in multiple barrels for fish shipment.  We did have time for a little recreational diving and some reef surveying.  Splashing in the water without collecting bags, gear and nets for the first time in a week was an odd feeling.  “You mean we are just going down to LOOK at fish?”

Andrea working on a reef survey

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No longer needed, our nets were tucked away.

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We checked on the fish, made some last recordings.

D.O. meter, used to check the percent of oxygen in the water

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Then began the Gulf Stream crossing back to Miami that evening.

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Day 8: Move ‘em out

Day 8 started at 4 am, long before any thought of the sun rising, but we had a lot of work to complete and the fish had to be at the airport at 10:30 am.

Porcupine fish ready for shipment.  See you in Boston!

It was an exhilarating and exhausting 8 days, and the people aboard the trip made it all the more special.  So it was with tired bodies in need of a nice long shower that we all said our goodbyes.  The only thought preventing our parting ways from being so sad, was the promise of getting to see all the fish we worked so hard to collect, soon on exhibit in their new home at the New England Aquarium.

Thank you to all.  It was the trip of a lifetime.

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Our collecting trip has come to a close, and as I sit at my computer downloading my 500+ photos and avoiding my stinky bag of laundry, I am reveling in the post trip haze of exhaustion, exhilaration and nostalgia.  My husband and I were asked to volunteer for the 2011 Bahamas colleting trip, back in November 2010 and have been waiting in eager anticipation for this adventure, like a 6-year-old on Christmas Eve.  Let me tell you, the trip was everything and more.  It was the adventure of a lifetime or perhaps now an annual adventure, as we had such an amazing time.  To help give you blog readers a little peek into our 10-day adventure, I wanted to share with you a little photo journal of what life out to sea on a New England Aquarium trip is like.  First up, life on a boat

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Life on the Coral Reef II

The Coral Reef II research vessel was our home, work place and transportation for the week at sea.  While the quarters could feel a little tight, she served us well.

The Coal Reef II

She was yar alright.  Well, maybe not “yar” but she got the job done.

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The deck

Where we prepped for dives, housed the fish we collected, and relaxed as we motored from one site to the next.

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The bridge

Captain’s quarters, wheelhouse, and zodiac boats for shore trips

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The Salon

Where we ate, relaxed and studied our fish identifications.

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The engine room

Loud and hot, this room powered us through some high seas.

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Below deck- Our cabins

I slept like a baby in these little bunks, and believe it or not, they felt like a luxury after a long day of diving.

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Up next: day-by-day account of our adventure, and how we actually collected those little fish.  P.S. Fish are WAY smarter than I had ever thought.

Bahamas Bound

March 31, 2011

I leave today for an eight day trip to the Bahamas.  Not just any trip, but a research and collecting trip with the New England Aquarium!  To say that I am excited about this trip is the understatement of the year.  As a little girl I dreamed of becoming a Marine Biologist (that or an artist.)  So much so that my parents even sent me to SCUBA camp in the Florida Keys at the age of 15.  I have been diving ever since and love every minute I get to breath some compressed air.   Lucky for me, as an adult I get to play at being both a marine biologist and an artists!  (Well the artist thing is not so much playing, as really trying to making a living now.)  For the past 4 years or so I have been volunteering at aquariums.  First, at the Georgia Aquarium, where as a volunteer diver I swam with beluga whales, hammerheads and whale sharks.  Now at the New England Aquarium, where I hand feed majestic sea turtles, take care of the Giant Ocean Tank, and will soon be diving.

I firmly believe in the mission of aquariums, to provide research and eduction to the public about our oceans and the animals who inhabit them.  Conservation v. Preservation if you will.  After all, a child who visits an aquarium on a field trip, may fall in love with a penguin or stand in awe at the sight of a narley toothed shark.  That child may one day become a marine biologist, or the very least want to protect the amazing creatures in our oceans and the world in which they live.

So I am off to help the New England Aquarium collect fish for their Bahamian reef exhibit.  We litteraly have a shopping list of the fish we need to collect and bring back.  I also plan on taking a bajillian photos and videos in the hopes of creating a little film or photo journal explaining why aquariums have collecting trips and their importance.  So wish me luck.

Oh, and I cannot promise that I will able to update this blog while I am out to sea.  We will be living on a research vessel and the satellite internet connection is not guaranteed.  Check out previous trip photos and blogs here and here.

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Till then here are photos from some of my previous dive trips.  Now, with camera and net in hand…off I go!

 

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