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2007 Florida Keys Mission
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Mission Log Sept. 16, 2009

Clare Wagstaff, Teacher At Sea

A cryptic scorpion fish (likely Scorpaena plumieri) posed for our cameras only briefly before it swam away. (Photo by Mike Henley)
We are well into the cruise now, with 133 dives logged and 36 different coral reef sites around the Florida Keys surveyed. As the days go by and each of the teams continue to collect more dives under their belts, as expected there is some fatigue starting to set in. So on a rotation basis, the divers are taking rest days to catch-up on sleep, emails and the oh-so-important, data entry.

As the non-diver on the trip, I perhaps have a different perspective on the research and diving. On varying days I have snorkeled above the each of the three different teams while they work below me. This gives me a very interesting perspective on how each group works. Some are extremely entertaining and their personalities are still obvious 30 ft underwater!

How many Caribbean Reef Squid (Sepioteuthis sepioidea) are really in this image? The answer is two - this photo was taken at nightnear the surface of the water and each squid has a reflected image. (Photo by Mike Henley)
Today, we are approximately 10 miles north of Key Largo, in the northern most reefs of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, at Carysfort reef. I am with Lauri MacLaughlin, Lonny Anderson, and Sarah Fangman and I’m not prepared for the natural beauty that springs out at me as boat draws up to the site. Visibly clear below the boat is what looks like a forest of Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata). The area is shallow and fantastic to snorkel in. Within seconds I am observing moray eels, lobsters and so many species of fish that I lose count very quickly. The Acropora palmata have created a microhabitat that supports this massive variety of wildlife. It was truly fantastic and it really hits home how important this research we are doing really is.

With another successful series of dives done for the day, the team relaxes on the bow of the ship to watch a beautiful sunset. As we do, three dolphins ride the bow wake created by the ship. As they breach the water they entertain us for the next 20 minutes as we cheer and clap at their acrobatics.

As the final few days are approaching, I am starting to feel a sense of disappointment that the trip it is coming to an end. This group of scientists have inspired me, opened my eyes and allowed me into their coral geek group – one I won’t ever leave! Thank you, all.

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