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

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