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2007 Florida Keys Mission
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Mission Log Sept. 12, 2009

Scott Donahue, Chief Scientist
Office of National Marine Sanctuaries

Sunset behind Loggerhead Key looking out from Fort Jefferson. (Photo: George Garrett)

Today was another awesome day in paradise!  When you have the historic Fort Jefferson and Loggerhead Key Lighthouse as your backdrop, it’s hard to think anything we do today would be considered work.  All of our work today occurred inside the Dry Tortugas National Park, and inside their Research Natural Area.  Most of our survey stations were in close proximity to Loggerhead Key and included the special area called “Little Africa.”  This coral reef feature can be seen in the water just north of the lighthouse if you look at any aerial image of Loggerhead Key (e.g., Google Earth)...it looks just like its namesake continent.  This whole area is just teaming with beautiful coral formations, marine life, and some pretty big fish.  My team encountered a hogfish that was probably 15 lbs, and a Mutton snapper that was even bigger!  Although our research is primary focused on coral demography and disease prevalence, we enjoy seeing all the fauna that depend on this ecosystem to survive.  One thing is for sure, that we couldn’t do all of this work without the support of this ship, and her crew.  The ship operates 24 hours a day during our cruise, and this compliments our science team’s schedule.

So what does a typical science day on the ship entail?  Most of us are up at 6:30 a.m., ready to eat by 7 a.m.  Our morning meeting is at 7:30 a.m., then we load our small boats and get ready to launch at 8 a.m.  Each team usually surveys two stations, then comes back to the ship for lunch by 11:30.  After lunch, we exchange our empty scuba cylinders from the morning’s dives with full ones for the afternoon dives.  Our small boats launch again at 1 p.m. so each team can survey two more stations.  After these dives, the small boats return to the ship around 4:30 p.m.  After we are finished rinsing all our dive gear with fresh water, we quickly shower so we can get dinner before our serving line closes at 5:30 p.m.  At 7:30 p.m., we have our nightly meeting to plan the next day’s dives, then each of us works on something until about 11 p.m.  For example, tonight I am writing the blog, while other scientists are entering survey data into our computers, and Sarah Fangman (our cruise dive master) enters dive logs.  

In summary, our science crew is working from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day of the cruise, and generally we each spend about five to six of those hours underwater. Ultimately, we get about two hours during the day to eat, shower, and otherwise catch our breaths.  At least we can sleep for a few hours before the next day starts!  Man, I love my job.

Number of stations surveyed to date: 11
Number of individual dives: 50


Fort Jefferson just before sunset. (Photo: George Garrett)

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