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2010 Aquarius Mission - If Reefs could talk
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Aquarius 2010 Expedition Blog:
Oct. 12, 2010

By Steve Gittings, Chief Scientist
Office of National Marine Sanctuaries

inspecting the kayak
Bruckner Chase (center), his wife Michelle, and John Halas inspecting the kayak donated by Florida Bay Outfitters for the swim. (Photo: NOAA/ONMS)
On Friday, Bruckner Chase and his crack support team completed a remarkable multi-ecosystem journey through the Florida Keys sanctuary. He did a 7.5 mile, six hour swim that started over the Aquarius habitat on Conch Reef, crossed the shallow reef zones of Conch before heading north over seagrass beds to Ken Nedimyer's coral nursery, then northwest across Hawk Channel and the wreck of a barge lost during a 1906 storm, then WNW to his landing at Harry Harris Park in Tavernier. Strong currents and choppy, head-on seas left over from a strong front made the traverse much more difficult than expected, particularly in the first four miles. But the guy is for real. He busted through waves for hours and seemed to be enjoying it. But he didn't complain when our course changed and he was able to take the seas more from his right side.

During the trip, Bruckner was able to witness a host of water conditions, ranging from milky, turbid water strewn with floating sea grass blades to beautiful blue water that was making its way onto the outer reef after the storm that passed earlier in the week. Unlike his other swims, he was kind enough to stop at several spots to allow us to get underwater footage. He also stopped to talk with Ken Nedimyer, who graciously took a break from his work propagating corals to answer questions about his operation.

marathon swimmer
Bruckner Chase during the swim. (Photo: NOAA/ONMS)
Bruckner's wife, Michelle, swam with him for the first mile or so. She and Jason Pate were in a kayak most of the day, making sure Bruckner met his feeding and hydrating schedule, and guiding him along the predetermined track. They were taking their lead from Rob Bleser, owner of Quiescence Diving Services, who was using a GPS tracker to stay on course in the main support boat. Don Mooney was captain of the second support boat, which was provided by the Florida Keys sanctuary. He had taken Bruckner out the day before to test the conditions, and stayed with the swimmer all the way to shore on the day of the swim. Together, the three made a formidable fleet that was ready to respond to any problems, and kept Bruckner from drifting off track, even with the half knot current relentlessly fighting his progress.

Let me say what I took from this. For six hours, I watched a massive feat of endurance and commitment play out a few yards away. Bruckner's goal was to inspire people to think about their connections to the sea, and come to understand that the solutions to ocean problems are in the hands of committed people. Yet here I was, witnessing a truly rare achievement, and at one point, the view was over the top of a potato chip bag. At that moment, as that contrast and the guilt slowly sank it, a wave of doubt, oddly enough, washed over me like the thousand waves that Bruckner churned through on his way to shore. Doubt about me, and doubt about us - at least most of us. I questioned whether I, or the vast majority of us, could ever harbor such commitment and persistence and attain a comparable goal, and whether it would make any difference that this man was pushing himself far beyond what most of us will ever experience. For what good was all this effort? Could it really inspire the rest of us?

Who are we if we are not passionate about something? How can we change the world if we can't control ourselves? What can we learn about commitment from a guy like Bruckner Chase, and how can we turn that into something worthwhile?

All I can come up with is that we need to let people like this into our heads. Let them inspire us to demand more of ourselves. After that, what's left is to do something with it! Take that first step and commit to something you care about, then make meaningful contributions. You don't have to match a marathon swimmer. You just need to have the same level of commitment. I believe it's only then you earn the right to demand more of others so real change can happen.

Bruckner Chase

His Crack Support Team
On the water:
Michelle Evens-Chase - kayak and swim coordinator
Jason Pate - kayak and swim support
John Halas - organizer (Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary)
Chris Ostrom - organizer (Office of National Marine Sanctuaries)
Steve Gittings - organizer and video (ONMS)
Rob Bleser - boat captain, EMT (Quiescence Diving Services)
Don Mooney - boat captain (FKNMS)

On land:
Judy Halas - outreach, local media (Sanctuary Friends Foundation)
Vernon Smith - media (ONMS)
Karrie Carnes - media (FKNMS)

Sponsors and Supporters
National Marine Sanctuary Foundation
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Sanctuary Friends Foundation
Harry Harris Park
Quiescence Diving Services
Amoray Dive Resort
Florida Bay Outfitters

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