Right now I'm sitting out the day's fourth dive to try to give some blisters a chance to heal. I'm 90% sure that I won't get a hard time for this, but it's tough to tell. Last night we traveled east for about nine hours until we reached the Berry Islands, where we'll collect for a few more days.
I realized today that I had forgotten to mention another great and important aquarist innovation—the catch bag:
If you can't tell, it's a Tupperware container with flaps sown into the lid (so hands can go in but fish don't come out), and the bottom has been cut off and connected to a plastic and mesh net. Everybody dives with one of these clipped onto them:
Deb with her catch bag
If you do manage to get a fish into one of your hand nets, you quickly reach in with one hand and try to gently get a hold of the fish without its being able to wriggle out (and without spiking your thumb too badly on its dorsal spines). Then, you transfer the fish to your catch bag, where it'll travel with you for the rest of the dive. Sherrie is so good at collecting that whenever she swims by, it looks like she's traveling around with a little Aquarium attached to her.
Fish, like us, can't just shoot up to the surface immediately, because the pressure differences can be hard on them—so at the end of everybody's dive, before coming to the surface, they place their catch bags into a barrel that's hanging off the boat about ten feet above the bottom. Then, the barrel is brought up five feet every ten minutes to give the fish a chance to acclimate, until it finally comes all the way out:
John with the decompression barrel
Once the fish are up, everybody springs into action. Sherrie can ID all of the fish species by sight, which is amazing, so she identifies them as they come up and tells the rest of us where to put them on the boat.
We also have the task of keeping the fish healthy and comfortable while they're on board, and some of them are there for weeks at a time. Thankfully they have lots of comfortable places to stay.
Some of the ship's holding wells
In addition to the fish, we're also collecting some invertebrates on the trip. On today's first dive, I had the luck of stumbling upon Deb's favorite critter, a banded coral shrimp.
I think she was excited. More tomorrow.
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