#79: What's Happening? - Myrtle Goes Green

It's only fitting that Myrtle is going green. She is in fact a green sea turtle! Actually, around here we call it living blue, and by consuming locally grown vegetables, that is just what we are doing. These Brussels sprouts that Myrtle is devouring in this video were indeed obtained through a CSA (community supported agriculture) in Massachusetts.

There are many reasons why buying local produce is good, but the best reason is because much less fuel is consumed to get the vegetables from the farmer to the consumer. Less gasoline used means fewer carbon emissions and therefore a healthier environment. Another way for you to live blue.

Enjoy your Brussels sprouts on Christmas Eve, Myrtle!


Find out how Chris is living blue by reading his live blue profile! You'll also find lots more folks, from radio producers to writers to Bruins hockey players, who are taking a stand for our oceans. Are you? Consider adding your own live blue profile!


Fall Collecting Trip: Guest Blogger - Bill Murphy

Hi I'm Bill Murphy, the Senior Aquarist in charge of The Northern Waters Gallery at the New England Aquarium (you may remember Bill from previous posts). I'm in charge of animals like American lobsters, flounders, lumpfish and of course the giant Pacific octopus. So as you can imagine, I'm used to dealing with cold water animals.

Bill and an Octopus mural in Alice Town, Bimini

Now I've been sent on a trip to the Bahamas to help collect animals for the Aquarium and I'm a bit out of my temperature element. But I have always loved the tropics and I have always loved diving so this trip has been a dream of mine since I started working at the Aquarium over five years ago. Finally my time has come and I am more than ready to head down south and dive in the beautiful waters around Bimini.

Just one week prior to this trip, I was leading a collecting trip up north in Eastport, Maine with five other staff members to collect a variety of North East animals for the Aquarium. Now I've gone from the eastern most city in the US all the way down to the tropical waters of Bimini and the change couldn't have been greater. Plus, with the colder weather coming it was a welcome change to make the summer last just a little bit longer.

Sarah Taylor (our trip leader), Dave Wedge, Emily Milinazzo and myself headed down to Miami to get on board the R/V Coral Reef II (our new home away from home) early so we could get the boat cleaned and set up for all of our gear, participants and our soon to be collected animals. We spent three long days cleaning, bleaching, scrubbing, and sewing nets to get this trip ready to go.

I volunteered to be the 4th crew member on board the boat (apart from the two captains and our steward), which required extra training and safety courses given by some really cheesy videos but also by our amazing captains. The video training taught me basic safety, and basic boating hazards. The captains pointed out all my normal duties plus what my duties would be during an emergency specific for this vessel.
AB Bill fetching a mooring line (photo courtesy of Jim Duffey)

Once we left Miami early on Friday morning we crossed the Gulf Stream and made our way into Bimini where we all got our first glimpse of the paradise we would be diving in for the next week. Words nor pictures can describe how amazing the water looks after being up in the New England waters just days before. We began diving immediately after getting cleared by customs and our adventures began!

Before every dive the captains gave us a chalk talk to describe what the dive site looked like and what we may find there to collect. Every time I went in I couldn't believe how incredible the water looked and how many fish I could see. Every single person on the trip was so excited to be there and took our collecting very seriously. This wasn't a pleasure cruise but a trip with a purpose and everyone took that seriously while having a lot of fun.

Another thing we all took to heart was also being careful handling the fish, being careful to avoid touch the coral and maintaining the beauty of the dive sites we visited. Part of our mission here is to collect animals but also to educate people about the reef and the health of the reef and ecosystem and all the divers were very aware of that which made for an even better trip.

Dave, Bill and Scott (photo courtesy of Sarah Taylor)

There are sooooo many memories from this trip that it seems impossible to even begin to write them all down. There are a few memories that stick out in my mind - like collecting a spotted moray eel with Dave, Scott and Michael. This was a first for me and even though we found out that the spotted moray wasn't on our list (and therefore had to be released) it was amazing to see it and collect it. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise because on the next dive I returned the eel to the same rock that we collected it from, and while I was swimming back to the boat I saw a porcupine fish! I was able to collect it and bring it back to the boat which was a big score for the trip.

Another great moment for me happened on one of our night dives where we collected some squirrel fish and cardinal fish. During that dive were blessed with seeing a cuttlefish - my first time ever seeing one in the wild! We also saw two squid which were attracted by Scott's dive light, they got spooked and inked right in front of him.

Bill and trip leader Sarah collecting on the wreck of the Sapona (photo courtesy of Scott Bobek)

Diving on the wreck
Sapona (I love wreck diving), collecting copper sweepers with Capt. Lou, collecting grunts with Capt. John, everything was just amazing! After hearing so many stories from people that have gone before me and come back smiling and boasting of their trip, I have finally experienced it for myself and can say that they were right but this trip was by far the best trip in history...or maybe I'm just bias!

- Bill

Fall Collecting Trip #13: The Keys

Once the boat was cleaned, and our bags re-packed, the staff piled into a car and started our mini road-trip to the Florida Keys! We did some pleasure diving, but there were two main reasons for visiting the archipelago – to visit a fellow diver and REEF headquarters.

Our first excursion was to visit Forrest Young who owns Dynasty Marine; a company that specializes in Technical Diving and Specimen Collection for public and personal aquariums. When we arrived at his Marathon, Florida headquarters, Forrest was just finishing assembling his military-grade rebreather. In normal open circuit SCUBA diving, compressed air flows from the tank through a regulator where the pressure is reduced to a breathable level. The diver breathes through their mouth and exhales "used" air out into the water in the form of bubbles that stream up to the surface. The rebreather, a James Bond-esque piece of equipment, is able to recycle the air you breathe. This means that divers can remain at depth for a longer period of time without adding extra tanks. It also eliminates bubbles which can be helpful when collecting fish that scare easily.

Forrest Young assembling his rebreather.

Watching Forrest assemble this amazing rig was a very cool experience. He was nonchalantly holding a conversation with us, all the while sort of idly working on this extremely sensitive piece of technology. Once he was finished, we got to tour the Dynasty Marine holding facility. There were tropical fish of all shapes and sizes, including some bonnet head sharks destined for the new touch tank going in at the New England Aquarium (coming in 2011!).

Holding tanks at Dynasty Marine

Sarah, Bill, Dave and Forrest checking out the bonnethead sharks.

A juvenile bonnethead shark (a potential new resident of the Shark & Ray Touch Tank opening in 2011)

We were all thoroughly impressed with their transportation truck which was not only capable of safely transporting sharks up to six feet long, but also had sleeping quarters for two in the front of the box. Forrest explained that they transport animals all over the country, sometimes in trips as long as 72-hours without stopping (as we know from pack day, there is a limited amount of time that you can have animals in transit). With the bunks, their staff can sleep in shifts - they even installed windows in the back so the staff member who is not sleeping can have a view of the trip!

Sarah and Bill check out the transport tanks (sleeping quarters are all the way forward)

We also spent some time visiting REEF headquarters in Key Largo. Sarah got more information about their census surveys in hopes of doing them with teens on the next SEA TURTLE trip (read about this past year's trip here). We also learned about REEF's efforts to educate the locals about the rising problem with lionfish in the waters off the coast of Florida and the Caribbean.

One thing I really loved about travelling with like-minded science folk is that, even when we weren't necessarily working, people spotted amazing animals/artifacts everywhere. We saw little barracuda, sergeant majors and brown chromis off the docks at the marina near our hotel, and Dave found some fossilized coral heads on the beach. Although Dave is a senior aquarist, he actually went to school for geology and was majorly excited about these fossils. He showed us how the hard calcium carbonate skeletons were preserved and how in some cases you could almost look back in time and see the growth of the coral head over what may have been hundreds or even thousands of years; polyps stacked on polyps, staked on more polyps.

Dave "geologizing" (aka showing Bill the fossilized coral heads at the beach)

Closeup of fossilized coral polyps

Fossilized brain coral

This has been a truly amazing experience for me from start to finish. I am looking forward to getting back to the Aquarium with a renewed passion for the Aquarium's mission and my role in it. Make sure to stop by the aquarium to see all of the amazing creatures in their new home in the not-too-distant future!

- Emily

The staff, crew and participants of the Fall 2010 Collecting Trip


Fall Collecting Trip: Guest Blogger - Dave Wedge

Although the anticipation of the start of the 2010 Bahamas collecting trip was killing me, there was a wee bit of pressure on me to stay healthy. My last collecting trip just 2-weeks ago, to the southern Bay of Fundy, was interrupted by the necessity to drive me to the Machias Medical Center in Down East Maine for a few staples in my head. What turned into a 3 hour nuisance for Bill Murphy and myself in rural Maine would have been a major ordeal in the Bahamas. If I pulled another stunt like that on board the R/V Coral Reef II, I would have dragged everyone along for a day-long excursion to a medical center in Alice Town, North Bimini--including Bill again.

Fortunately we all managed to stay healthy and, except for some skin left on the lower cabin ladder and the need for some decongestants, I can say with certainty everyone had an amazing trip.

I had no doubt that this trip would be amazing, but I didn't predict it would turn into one of the most rewarding professional experiences of my life. It started with three days of busting our butts: getting the holding tanks and filtration system ready for animal, and the boat ready for our guests. [Learn what it takes to get the boat ready by reading this post and checking out this post.]

Dave prepping the holding tanks of the R/V Coral Reef

The work then morphed into the cyclic routines of life on the Coral Reef II as we dived our faces off in one amazing coral habitat after another, then stuffed our faces with Orvis's great cooking. Capt. John provided the entertainment and Capt. Lou was the backbone of the ship that kept us all working together.

The trip then culminated in the 4-hour madness and frenzy of pack day starting at 2 am (yes 2 am!) and this was after a friendly meeting with customs officials at 11:30pm the night before. Needless to say we were all a bit sleep deprived but everyone stepped up to the tasks they were given and I couldn't be more impressed with the work that was done on this entire trip.

Oh, and did I mention we collected an amazing array of animals that I can't wait to bring back to the visitors of the New England Aquarium. 56 shipping boxes worth to be exact, the largest shipment in recent history. Thanks Scott, Suzanne, Sarah-O, Jill, Mike and Mariah -- great job!

Dave Wedge (photo courtesy of Sarah Taylor)

Highlights for me include the 100-foot seining tow we did in Cassiopeia infested water where we collected 2 juvenile barracuda and 11 needled fish. Needlefish are extremely delicate and we managed to deliver 11 healthy animals back to Boston, well done team! On one dive, Bill and I also managed to wrangle a 5-foot spotted moray eel out of its cave and bring it back to the ship (even though we were quite sure Sarah told us, "no spotted moray!"). Bill gracefully delivered it back to its cave the next dive.

Sam and I redeemed ourselves soon after by collecting a small 16-inch golden tail moray in the bowels of the cement ship wreck The Sapona. To top it all though was the cuttle fish we encountered. What an amazing creature to watch in its natural habitat. Outstanding! There were also two squid that tried to out-do their cephelopoduskin cousin by inking Scott in the face. This was one hell of a night dive despite getting lost on Bimini road.

Dave and Captain Lou

And of course working with the great people and friends I got to spend seven days living with on board the R/V Coral Reef II. I have no reservation in saying that anyone who considers themselves a SCUBA enthusiast should find the resources to take part in this trip in the future. It is an amazing opportunity to apply your hobby in a spectacular location, while working and learning to collect on a very cool research vessel.

All this while helping to bring a fraction of the world of the Bahamian ecosystem back to Boston, to teach our students and amaze our guests, it doesn't get any better than that. See you soon Capts. John and Lou, I miss you already.

- Dave


Fall Collecting Trip: Guest Blogger - Jim Duffey

I haven't been this tired since my thesis in architecture school. Pretty much everyone was goofy with exhaustion by the time we had the fish and inverts packed on Friday morning, but the iron-women and men of the Aquarium staff (Sarah, Murph, Wedge and Emily) along with the inexhaustible Scott Bobek still found the energy to make the drive to the airport to hand off the 58 boxes of critters. All-in-all, a fantastic trip with an absolutely fantastic group of people.

Since my last blog I have logged another 10 dives over 3 days--not bad for 50+ management type. I was able to make all 22 dives of the trip! It would have only been 21 if it hadn't been for Dave Wedge. Each dive, one person stays on board to act as a safety observer. It was my turn yesterday during the Sapona dive, but Dave was kind enough to come back (with a moray eel in tow) only after a half hour and relieve me so that I could get in the water. After the short swim to the boat I was able to meet up with Sam Benton and her dive buddies. In fairly short order Sam and I were able to catch two yellowhead wrasse super males (something our collection was missing) with help of an unfortunate crab that one them was preoccupied with eating. If I didn't mention it before, Sam is an AWESOME collector!

Other highlights of the past 3 days of diving included a copper sweeper round up with Captain Lou, 2 more grunt round ups--one with Captain John using a seine net which was a complete team effort. The final collecting dive was at a site called 3 Sisters (it was our 3rd dive at this site in 2 days--nice and shallow and a lot of bottom time). Our instructions from Sarah were to pick up anything interesting. On the edge of the main search area I spotted a small fish diving into a conk shell--I put the shell in my bag and out popped a little, funny looking fish so I transferred it to my catch bag. When I caught up with Bill a bit further on and signaled to him about keeping it or not, he gave me a thumbs up and an OK sign. I finished off the dive by chasing a couple of juvenile gray angels unsuccessfully and bagging one nice glasseye sweeper.

Back on the boat I found out that the funny looking, little fish was a redlipped blenny, on our list and only one collected. This was definitely a case of being lucky rather than good, but I will certainly take it.

Before I end I want to thank my superiors at the Aquarium for giving me this opportunity and thank the Aquarium staff (Sarah, Bill, Dave and Emily) for their companionship, support and extraordinary effort. I also want to thank all the guest divers--they were all truly great people--and especially Captains John and Lou and our Chef (and my roomate) Orvis (we ate very, very well!). I am truly grateful for this life changing experience!



Fall Collecting Trip #12: Pack Day!

Today was the infamous Pack Day (read Tim's account from a previous trip) – when we prepare all of the animals that we collected for their journey to Boston. It is a delicate study in time management; the animals must be packed and ready in time for their flight, but there is a limited amount of time that they can remain in their shipping containers. This requires everyone – staff, participants, even the captains – to work as team towards this common goal.

To that end, everyone had a very specific job. Sarah had gone over our duties before we went to sleep last night, which is good because the alarm went off at 2AM and we hit the ground running. There was a team of people assembling shipping boxes, a team to put the liner bags into the boxes and then the Styrofoam crates into the bags. Another team filled the Styrofoam crates with more bags and filled those bags with water. All the while there was a team re-collecting fish, with someone placing them delicately into the water-filled bags.

Scott with assembled boxes (photo courtesy of Sam Benton)

Mariah assembling Styrofoam crates and bags (photo courtesy of Sam Benton)

Suzanne and Bill re-collecting fish (photo courtesy of Scott Bobek)

From there, the filled and fished bags are passed to a team that identified what was in the bag, saturated the water using an oxygen gun and closed the bags to be watertight for shipping. I was on a team of runners. My main job was to keep track of what was in each box, and pass that information to the team that closed the boxes for shipping and created the labels (which had to be itemized), but we also had to make sure that everyone had what they needed to do their jobs efficiently. Most of the time this meant re-loading the rubber band tool used to seal the shipping bags and loading each box with an ice pack.

Micheal and Captain John assembling boxes for shipping (photo courtesy of Sam Benton)

Organized chaos (photo courtesy of Sam Benton)

The packing table, left to right: Dave identifies fish, Sarah oxygenates and packs, Emily labeling, Jim adding ice packs and sealing shipping bags (photo courtesy of Sam Benton)

Sarah and Captain Lou oxygenate water bags using the coiled hoses (photo courtesy of Sam Benton)

We worked like a well-oiled machine! Not only was everyone super efficient and great at their specific jobs, but everyone had a great attitude for the entire 6-hour fish packing marathon!

As participants headed back to their bunks, the staff (Sarah, Dave, Bill and I) accompanied by Scott -- who volunteered to keep helping -- loaded the 56 newly packed boxes of precious cargo into a truck, drove over to the airport and unloaded them on the other side. The entire process ran as smoothly as we could have ever imagined. The fish made their flight and, I found out upon waking up later in the day, made it safely to Boston where another team was waiting to unpack and care for the newest additions to the Aquarium’s collection (read about unpacking from a previous year).

This has been an amazing experience for me – but it’s not over quite yet. We have a couple of days in the boatyard to clean and pack our gear, but then the staff is heading to the Florida Keys to visit a couple of the Aquarium’s affiliates including the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) headquarters (remember the surveys that people were filling out on a previous dive?).

More to come!

-- Emily


Fall Collecting Trip #11: Last Dives of the Trip

Well, here it is, the last day of the Fall 2010 Collecting Trip. I can't believe it is already over -- it seems like we just got here! We dove twice today, both pleasure dives (as opposed to working/collecting dives). Participants and staff alike took time to... well, take their time! Some people filled out census surveys on what they saw (learn more here), others took pictures, and some just dove and took it all in.

Sarah filling out a REEF survey

Sam enjoying the descend!

It is tough to summarize such an amazing week in words, so here are some of my favorite pictures from the last dives:

Queen triggerfish (center)

A goldentail moray peeking out from its home

A grouper with large isopod attached under the eye.

Colors of the reef (photo courtesy of Sam Benton)

The view from a cavern - notice the parrotfish silhouette in the top left!
(photo courtesy of Sam Benton)

Mariah and Sam (photo courtesy of Sarah Taylor)

Bridled goby in a shell (photo courtesy of Sarah Taylor)

Lionfish (photo courtesy of Sarah Taylor)

Flamingo tongue snail

Sarah and Bill with their REEF surveys

A pair of banded cleaner shrimp

As we make the crossing home, I am a mix of emotions. Mostly I feel exceptionally grateful and lucky to have been able to go on this trip. I have learned so much from everyone, and forged strong friendships. But with the lights of Miami growing in the distance, I can't help feeling a little sad that the week is over.

Once we get into the dock tonight (around 11pm) we will go through customs, do a little prep-work for the morning and then hopefully catch a little sleep -- our alarms are set for 2 a.m. for PACK DAY tomorrow! Stay Tuned!

-- Emily


Fall Collecting Trip #10: Wreck Diving

Today was our last full day in the Bahamas, as well as our last collecting dives. Tomorrow we will need to begin preparing the fish for transportation to Boston, a process that will take almost a full 24-hour period.

The wreck of the Sapona (photo courtesy of Bill Murphy)

Our first dive of the day was at the wreck of the Sapona. The Sapona was built out of concrete around 1910 when traditional building supplies were scarce. It ran aground in 1926 and has been sitting in about 15’ of water off the coast of Bimini since then and has become a thriving artificial reef.

Bill entering the wreck of the Sapona

Once we entered the wreck we all came up to the surface to look around – it is amazing from the inside, sort of like a rusty cathedral with reinforcement bars jutting out all over the place.

Scott and Dave at the surface, inside the wreck

The R/V Coral Reef II as seen from the wreck of the Sapona (photo courtesy of Mariah Shore)

A quick check-in with all of the divers and we went back down. The most noticeable thing about the wreck is the sound; hundreds – perhaps thousands of snapping shrimp like the noisiest bowl of Rice Crispies you have ever heard.

A Diadema sea urchin in the rubble

Sergeant majors come and go

A southern stingray near the bottom of the hull

I am not sure if it was because we were so shallow, but it seemed like this site was especially busy with life. Huge schools of sergeant majors and grunts, as well as needlefish and two different types of stingrays.

A christmastree worm on coral

Yellow stingray

School of grunts

Needlefish near the surface

Collection on this dive was very successful; Sam and Dave caught a goldentail moray, and Sarah, Bill, Scott and Suzanne caught an adorable pair of balloonfish!

Tomorrow is our last day in the Bahamas, and it’s a little bittersweet. We will do a couple of dives (sans collecting) in the morning, and then we make the crossing back to Miami.



Fall Collecting Trip #9: Yee-haargh!

We got up bright and early again today for a grunt roundup! Basically, we find a large school of grunts and five of us surround it and move in slowly. The grunts form a tighter and tighter ball until suddenly they explode outward – and hopefully our nets are there to catch some of them. We usually end up with one or two people having one or two grunts in their nets – on one especially successful swipe I ended up with SIX grunts in my bag. In an amazing show of team spirit, everyone gathered around me kneeling on the sandy bottom to help hold open collection bags, and even stabilize me when the surge picked up.

A school of grunts

Later, a group of participants headed to a rocky outcropping to collect terrestrial hermit crabs for Randi, a scientist at the Aquarium working with hermit crab shell selection. There are about a hundred of them and they are easy keeps – just a little cap full of water and a dollop of peanut butter!

Hey, what's in the bucket?

Terrestrial hermit crabs

I did another invertebrate dive later in the day, but as I was in search of small crawly things I spotted a barred hamlet – one of the fish that is high on our wish list. I did not have any nets, just my poker stick (for getting into small holes) which I used to bang on my tank to hopefully get someone’s attention. Divers started turning towards me seamlessly in all directions taking their positions. I pointed at the hamlet – I swear you could almost hear the Ride of the Valkyries as divers and nets came together like a well choreographed dance.

Jim Duffey and Dave Wedge move in

What teamwork!

I was struck with just how well we all work as a team. It is really a testament to the character of the staff and participants on this trip – everyone is so friendly and willing to work together, there is not a feeling of competition but of camaraderie. When the barrel comes up with our catch from the dive, everyone gathers around like kids on Christmas waiting to see what we got. No fish or invertebrate is too small for commendation.

Speaking of size – we see cool critters of all shapes and sizes on these dives. This last one we saw a giant barracuda on the way back to the boat, and I spotted a pea-sized juvenile trunkfish hiding in his hole! He’s the little yellow blorp with brown spots.

Dave and a Barracuda

A tiny juvenile trunkfish in its hole

Tomorrow is the last day of collecting – I can't believe it, the trip has flown by!

-- Emily