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2007 Florida Keys Mission
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Mission Log Sept. 15, 2009

Mike Henley

Can you spot the small fish hanging out on this small Boulder Brain Coral (Colpophyllia natans)? It's on the left side, with it's head pointing towards the bottom of the image. (Photo by Mike Henley)
Tuesday, September 19th found the NOAA ship Nancy Foster south of Key West. Josh, Kathy, Clare and I hit the waves on the small boat "NF02" diving (Clare snorkeling) at Rock Key. Specifically, we surveyed stations RK01, RK02 and RK03. The first dive had such poor visibility that at the surface we could not even see the bottom, which was only 30 feet down. However, the coral diversity was higher than some other sites with Sunray Lettuce Corals (Helioseris cucullata) and Ten-ray Star Corals (Madracis decactis) corals in the arc. There were even several coral recruits of various species! Finally, at our safety stop, a very small remora investigated us for a few minutes as it seemed to contemplate latching on for a ride, all while Kathy recalled her incident in Belize of a remora “as big as she was” sticking itself to her.

The visibility at our second stop was somewhat better, and Clare was able to snorkel around for some time. Before we could start the arc, I had another run-in with my nemesis – the line reel. I must have some… allergy… to this relatively simple piece of equipment, because when it becomes tangled, I seem to lack the ability to actually untangle it myself. After struggling for several minutes and burning air, Josh came to my rescue and, with ease, defeated my Goliath.

At this site we passed over a few paling colonies of Mountainous Star Coral (Montastraea faveolata) and another that had some patches of bleaching. Also inside the arc was a small patch of the threatened Staghorn Coral (Acropora cervicornis). Unfortunately, I think this small patch was suffering from a white disease, most likely white band disease (WBD).

Nancy Foster scholar Kathy Morrow measures a Mountaious Star Coral (Montastraea faveolata) inside the survey arc, which is the white line visable top, left in image. (Photo by Mike Henley)
The third site of the day could be summed up in three ways – snorkel, party boats, and moon jellies. This site was shallow enough to merit snorkeling in lieu of diving, and on the way to the site while passing a party barge loaded with snorkeling tourists, Josh, Kathy and I reminisced about various, humorous times when a curious citizen strayed too close to the survey site and/or surveyor, inadvertently (or often purposefully) interfering with the work being done. Being a relict Elkhorn Coral (Acropora palmata) reef, this site was virtually devoid of any coral coverage, save a few small colonies; we literally zipped across this transect in a few minutes. Near the end of the arc, Kathy found a moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) wrapped around her neck, even stinging inside her ear! This very minor incident added to a bit of excitement back on the Foster, and upon arrival at the main deck, she doused her head in vinegar to help alleviate the mild stings. In the end, she was perfectly fine, save a few tiny stings.

I had the afternoon off from diving and took time to enjoy the absolutely perfect conditions topside. The waters off Key West were as smooth as glass, so much so that it was difficult to tell that the Foster was even moving. I enjoyed a few hours observing hundreds of moon jellies slowly drift by and schools of flying fish dart past the ship.

Stations Surveyed to date: 31
Number of individual dives: 115

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