Posted by: Saul Rosser
Our mission has ended after nine wonderful days underwater, and some exciting science! Today I am back at the operations center in Key Largo cleaning gear, shipping samples home, and saying goodbye to our friends at Aquarius Reef Base. We pulled down the last experiment yesterday at 8 AM, passed off the samples to our topside divers, and locked up Aquarius for decompression. After living and breathing at about 3 atmospheres absolute, deco lasts 14+ hours (about half of that while you sleep) so we woke up this morning and shuffled into our gear for a two-minute ascent to a lovely south Florida morning. And I don’t remember the sun being so bright!!!
Some random thoughts as I look back on the experience of a lifetime:
1) Science doesn’t happen in a vacuum; there is no way we could have accomplished everything we did without the phenomenal support of numerous people. Within Aquarius we had two fantastic habitat technicians, and on the final day an additional tender to bring us all through deco. In addition, the dozen operations personnel of Aquarius Reef Base provided constant topside chamber support during our dive excursions and base support for mission logistics. Their commitment started back in November 2010 when they first started prepping me for this mission, and continued through training right up until today as we break down our gear. In particular, there was significant overtime at the “11th hour” when our cargo finally arrived, a week late, to get us in the water without an impact to our science. We also owe our thanks to the extended Aquarius family throughout Key Largo who often sent treats down to the habitat so we never felt like we were missing a good meal! The Navy also provided first class medical oversight on a daily basis that kept us healthy and capable of diving 6 hours per day. Finally, I have to acknowledge our topside science team, from three different universities [U Mississippi, U Alabama & U Alabama-Birmingham] who spent their afternoons and evenings processing all the samples we collected during the mission, and often pulling together additional gear and such for the next days’ experiments.
2) Living underwater may be the greatest experience of my life, but the science that is generated in this unique laboratory is unprecedented. Watching some of our sample species for long periods of time provided new perspectives and information that I would never have guessed based on single dive “snap-shots” of their life histories. I have a renewed appreciation for the complexity of a coral reef ecosystem, and the species that live there.
3) I could totally study Goliath Groupers [a big concession from an avowed invertebrate biologist…]!!! I hate to superimpose my own pre-conceived behavior on a wild animal, but when we left today they were waiting on the back porch to say goodbye.
4) Coral reefs are facing increasing numbers of stressors (including ocean acidification), with increasing frequency, and they need our support to mitigate these problems so future generations can experience these ecosystems that we often take for granted. Marine scientists conduct important research focused on coral reef health at facilities including Aquarius, but the work needs the commitment and support of all people who use coral reefs for recreational and commercial aspects.
5) and the sun seems brighter than I remembered…