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

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