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2007 Florida Keys Mission
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Mission Log Sept. 11, 2008

Sarah Fangman, Cruise Dive Master
Office of National Marine Sanctuaries

With coxswain Ben Nolan at the helm, coral scientists Kathy Morrow and Cory Walters look out to sea as they head over to Fort Jefferson for sunset. (Photo: George Garrett)

Let the surveys begin!  All the scientists have boarded, all the gear is loaded and everyone is ready to get in the warm, turquoise waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary!  After months of planning, we finally hit the water today, which is the best part of the process! 

This cruise involves returning to the same locations throughout the sanctuary that have been visited for the past twelve years.  Many of the scientists on board have been part of these surveys for several years, and many of us only see each other once a year, on board the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster.  It is a pleasure to reunite and revisit familiar reefs to find out how the reef has fared in the past year.

The ship was scheduled to depart the dock at 9:30 a.m., but we decided to get a jump on the action by boarding boats operated by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.  The science team loaded all our gear and survey equipment onto two sanctuary vessels.  Chad Stolka and Todd Hitchins graciously agreed to serve as our captains for the day, and they drove us out to the reef so we could get started while the ship was slowly steaming out to meet us.

Our goal today was first to complete quality control activities.   This involves all the survey divers visiting a 50 square meter area of Sand Key reef, which is about five miles away from Key West.  The divers identify all the corals within that area, measure them, and note any coral diseases they may observe.  The results should all be the same, since each diver is looking at the same area of the sea floor.  This exercise serves to make sure everyone’s data are comparable.

With that task complete, divers dispersed in teams of three to begin surveys.   We surveyed four stations at Sand Key before it was time to return to the ship.  Surveys on the first day are always a bit slow, as everyone is still getting used to the datasheets, the survey techniques and refreshing their memory of the coral species and diseases.  As the cruise continues, divers will get more efficient at their underwater tasks, and we’ll be able to complete more sites in a single day.

This evening we’ll head to the Tortugas, which are about 70 miles west of Key West, where we’ll survey for the next three days.  The Tortugas are a beautiful spot, and we’re all looking forward to diving there tomorrow!

Stations Surveyed to date: 4
Number of individual dives: 22

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