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2010 Aquarius Mission - If Reefs could talk
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Aquarius 2010 Expedition Blog:
Oct. 17, 2010

By James Lindholm
Founder and Director
Institute for Applied Marine Ecology

Dive! Dive! Dive! We are back in action at Aquarius after a brief hiatus due to Hurricane Paula. We were already excited to be down here, but we are even more so now given our brief two-day hiatus at the end of last week. Jessica Watson (who is a graduate student working at the IfAME and my dive buddy for this mission) and I hit the water at 8 a.m. We were ready to go earlier, but there was insufficient light to do our work, so we stood by for the morning light to come.

James at the waystation
James at the waystation. Click here for a larger image. (Photo: NOAA)
Once in the water, we headed out the "line highway" to the Northeast Waystation. The line highway is a series of lines mounted on the reef in multiple directions around Aquarius. Since as saturation divers we cannot go to the surface to solve any problems that may arise, we have to be able to find our way back to Aquarius quickly under any circumstances. The lines of the line highway have small plastic arrows (designed for cave diving) attached to them that point the way back to Aquarius. We can even find our way back in the dark or without our masks (as we had to demonstrate during training)!

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Spotted goatfish. Click here for a larger image. (Photo: NOAA)
We filled our tanks at the waystation, checked in with Aquarius, and then began our research. We are studying group foraging in coral reef fishes, and the implications for biological diversity on coral reefs. We know that fish eat each other, and that they compete with one another. But they also work together, and that working together allows more species to coexist on the reef (see attached photo of group foraging).

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James collecting data and wearing his red cap honoring acques Cousteau. Click here for a larger image. (Photo: NOAA)
Our approach involves the conduct of 50 meter transects. Jessica and I swim a transect together using our reels to measure out 50 meters. We each survey 5 m on either side of the transect line, noting each of the fish species we see as well as any group foraging we observe. Though Aquarius is a very cool example of cutting edge technology, out in the water we rely on the simple combination of pencils and a dive slate to get our work done (see attached photo of diver collecting data). True, we use cool water proof paper to record our data. But overall our approach is very straightforward and easy to implement. Which gives us the flexibility to collect data and still get back to Aquarius to participate in live web broadcasts. Note...today we wore our Red Caps while collecting data to honor the legacy of Jacques Cousteau.

Today we linked to the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California. Students and members of the public watched our program and asked us questions in real time. I was pleased to see one of my former CSUMB students on hand to ask a question. These broadcasts are a central to our goal for this mission. The conduct of science is important. But it is equally important that the results of our science be provided to the world in a manner that is accessible to everyone. Only through an informed society can the many challenges we face in the marine environment be addressed in any substantive way.

As darkness came to the reef and to Aquarius, any viewers on the live web cam would have seen Jessica and me sitting at the table transcribing our notes from the day's research. With our notes copied, we hit the rack early so we would be ready to do it all over again tomorrow.

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