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.
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Aquarium divers go on several daily dives to care for the animals in the Giant Ocean Tank (GOT) as well as lead expeditions to the Bahamas.