Spring Collecting Trip #1: Getting Settled

The last 36 hours have been so busy that I think we all feel a little bit strange about the mini-break we're taking. People are still half-looking around for things to do even as they're sitting and chatting with each other. We're at a shipyard in Miami, on board the Research Vessel Coral Reef II, and right now the only people on the boat are the four Aquarium employees: John, the Aquarium's dive safety officer; Caitlin, a biologist with the Aquarium's penguin colony; Sherrie, a senior aquarist for the Aquarium's Giant Ocean Tank; and me. Tomorrow, the rest of the participants will arrive, and today the four of us have been getting the boat ready to embark on a 10-day trip to the Bahamas to collect fish for the Aquarium's exhibits.

Our home for the next two weeks

Sherrie, the expedition leader, is the kind of person that really makes you want to work hard to make sure that everything runs smoothly. We had a huge amount of work to do today, and everyone approached it with the kind of enthusiasm that a kid might put into helping his older cousin do some really mystical task, like working on a motorcycle. The boat is equipped with pens to hold all of the fish and invertebrates that we'll collect, and the 12 hours of cleaning and hauling equipment and fixing plumbing that we did today didn't really feel like work at all. Even yesterday at the airport, although it was discouraging and a little stressful when our flight to Miami was delayed for 2 and then 4 and then 6 hours, it was fun just to be able to pass the time together. Sherrie has done a number of these trips, and she mentioned that one great thing about them is getting to spend time with people with whom you may have worked for years, but haven't had a lot of opportunities to actually get to know. I think we've all enjoyed that so far.

Expedition leader Sherrie practices decision-making skills during an airport delay

John and Caitlin listen attentively as Sherrie lays down the law

John emerges from checking equipment in the lazaret

Everyone is tired, but looking forward to tomorrow when the participants will arrive and we'll start preparing for the collecting to begin. On such a unique and exciting trip, it's easy to get caught up in one's own experiences and momentarily lose track of the fact that we have a long list of animals to collect--and catching fish with hand nets can be very difficult (learn about fish collecting by reading this conversation between Aquarium president Bud Ris and diver Sarah Taylor during a previous collecting trip). There is a definite art to the practice, and I'm excited to watch some of the more experienced fish-catchers really get into their elements. The boat is so quiet right now that it's hard to imagine its eventually being full of people and animals, but soon that'll be the case. More to come tomorrow--for now, I need to investigate the chatter and pizza smells coming from the kitchen.

- Tim

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