Sunday, October 30, 2011

Fish out of water

Can a fish survive for a week out of water? I'm about to find out. Apparently 4 days of snorkeling/diving last week caught up with me and now my left ear is keeping me on dry land until at least part way through this coming week. According to the doctor, I can't even go in the pool, let alone underwater to depth. I don't think she understands, although she realized my frustration because she compared me to her pediatric patients who she tells they can't go swimming at the beach in the middle of summer. Soo I've been getting my fill of pool time by going water running and using every ounce of self restraint to keep my head above water for just a few more days... almost there!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Orange Peacock!

Saturday, October 22: 3 dives at Troy Springs, Orange Grove, and Peacock Spring

Stop 1: Troy Springs

Harry and I started off the day at a hidden outdoor dive shop in Fort White then headed over to Troy Springs. There were a few divers just getting out of the water, so we had the whole spring to ourselves. The air temp was very chilly (about 45 degrees), so my new 7mm and hood were 100% necessary.
A beautiful (chilly) morning at Troy,
just before jumping in the water for the
first dive of the day.
Checking out the spring before the first dive in the morning.
  I have been excited to dive in Troy after snorkeling in it twice, and the dive was amazing, as I expected. The water was crystal clear (the overall color was not as green as it looks in the pictures, but there was quite a bit of algae) and the view looking up from the bottom (just barely 70 feet because the water level is so low) is breathtaking... the camera can't entirely capture how it really feels to be at the bottom of a 70' hole underwater looking up and seeing the tops of trees as close enough to touch:

Taken at ~20-30 feet below the surface.

Looking down at Harry...crystal clear :)

This is where we entered the water... there is a little sandy beach just above the water in this photo.

 We had a total dive time of 36 minutes exploring from the bottom up, making a spiral approach to the surface around the spring. Harry let me practice leading the dive, more training for my divemaster. We reviewed the hazards of the spring, including the dangerous entry into the water, depth (up to 80 feet), and overhead environment (at depth).
Me in Troy Spring :)

Orange Grove

Don't be fooled by the duck weed on the surface...
what lies below is a crystal clear sink with an amazing,
crystal blue cavern.
Next, we drove over to Orange Grove, which is a technically a sink, not a spring. This was very exciting because it was my first real guided cavern dive (besides Ginnie Cavern). SO AWESOME!! I didn't bring my camera on this dive because there was enough to focus on and take in without a camera. I had a reel (just in case) attached to my BC for the first time and didn't need extra things hanging off my BC that could potentially get caught or tangled.

In the picture on the right, you can see that the duck weed (which is actually not slimy, it's just like miniature leaves) moves aside when you jump in the water. From below the surface, the sun makes its way through the duckweed and adds a greenish tint and looks like you could get out of the water and walk on top. If you do your safety stop right below the exit, your bubbles move the weeds away and you can get out without getting covered! This is Reggie in the water waiting for his cave student:
No open water divers allowed!! I am not cave certified, but since I was with Harry (a cave instructor), I was allowed to safely enter the cavern portion of the sink. The difference between a cavern and a cave:
in a cavern, if you cover your light, you can always see the entrance. In this case, when we covered our lights at the farthest point we attained from the cavern entrance, you could see crystal clear blue light shining into the cavern. When cave diving, you need 3 sources of light, and in the cavern, the light coming in the cavern is your third source, so you carry a primary light and a backup. This dive was really cool too because there were quite a few catfish that were not shy at all and would swim right up to your light and hang out :)

On the right is a picture of the cave system extending from Orange Grove. According to Harry, you can actually swim ~1 mile underwater from Orange and end up popping up in the Peacock Spring!

Peacock Spring

From the surface, Peacock also doesn't look too exciting. But again, don't be fooled. Directly below the stairs is the entrance to a cavern and an extensive cave system (As seen in the picture on the right and the huge, crazy looking map below). We did a quick 15 minute dive to check out the spot (and avoid hypothermia... can't wait to dive dry!!). Amazing introduction to caverns, I'm hooked.

Further proves the point that you seriously don't want to enter the caves without proper training. Think you could navigate and come out without getting lost, stuck, or running out of air?! Pretty tricky...but awesome.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Some salty sea snorkeling

 After 3 days of a government motorboat course in Boynton Beach, FL and nonstop rain all week, a glimpse of sun was a happy sight at the end of the week. Sun obviously meant snorkeling, so after class on Thursday, I went over to Ocean Inlet Park for an evening snorkel. Air temperatures were pretty chilly (high 60s to low 70s) but the water must have been over 80 degrees. I had my 3mm on and got chilly after a while, but it wasn't bad. Should've brought my camera but left it back at the hotel, so no pictures from this little excursion but saw some beautiful tropical fish! No reef structure but around every big rock or bit of hard bottom throughout the sandy substrate, it was teeming with fish life. I noticed tons of juveniles (mainly grunts, surgeon fish, and blue tangs) and remembered how much I actually miss having the ocean nearby!
On my way home on Friday, I stopped by a dive shop to get a hood and ended up with a 7mm wetsuit and directions to the nearby Blue Heron bridge for some snorkeling. Apparently it's a great dive site around slack tide, but it was 4 hours before slack and I didn't have dive gear or a dive flag, so I mainly explored the swim area and shallow part of the bridge pilings:
 Looking in the water directly below where I am standing taking the picture above, I could barely make out huge starfish on the bottom:
 I took tons and tons of pictures of the starfish (I have a small obsession with echinoderms) but here is one of my favorites:
Oreaster reticulatus
Some other fish I saw around the sandy bottom/rocks:

Canthigaster rostrata


This cowfish was shy and kept turning away when
I tried to take a picture straight on.

I spy with my little eyes a fish... can you find him?!
 Some other interesting reef inhabitants...

Another Oreaster reticulatus with a juvenile Haemulon flivolineatum in the background and a little Liopropoma eukrines on the left.

Some Abedefduf saxatilis and juvenile Haemulon flivolineatum.

This school of hundreds of fish swam around me for a few minutes and engulfed me in its school :)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

In the hood

Looking up at our bubbles headed to the surface. I actually took this picture last
 Saturday when the vis wasn't as clear as it was this weekend.
4 awesome dives today out at 40 Fathom with Mick's rescue diver class. In the morning, they guys took turns leading dives and teaching skills at the 40 foot platform while Mick and I made their lives difficult as he unstrapped their tanks, pretended to be confused, swam away, went too deep, and tried to kneel upside down on the platform. I "got lost and died" at the end of the first dive to simulate a rescue scenario. After a quick lunch break and my lips turning sufficiently more blue than they were after the first 2 dives, I borrowed a hood and put my gloves on and was much much happier in the afternoon... a hooded vest is definitely next on my diving wish list and I'll probably pick one up this week. The water is around 70 degrees, but when you're in all day, it definitely gets chilly.

During the first afternoon dive, the guys demonstrated 2 more skills underwater and we learned how to do "forward roll" entries. Aka basically doing a front flip entry off the dock in full SCUBA gear. Way more fun than a normal stride entry! During the last dive, we practiced controlled buoyant ascents and assisted ascents then I got to lead the group over to the motorcycle :) Another awesome Saturday at 40 Fathom... learning so much every dive and still working on my Divemaster. Loving every minute of it!

 Thanks to Harry for these pictures!
Gearing up in the afternoon... much warmer in the hood!!
Mick and me walking up the ramp
at the end of the day :)

Monday, October 10, 2011

154 Minutes

Columbus Day Weekend weather
above water: rainy and dreary and "cold" (70 degrees... it feels chilly after 100+ degree August temperatures).
underwater: it's wet anyway, so who cares (oh and it's 73 degrees.. warmer than the air)

The motorcycle... suspended at ~38 feet.
 Aka the rainy weather didn't keep me inside. I joined the CDA Instructor classes on Saturday and Sunday to act as a student and start working on my Divemaster certification and spent a total of 154 minutes underwater. On Saturday, I did 4 dives with Mick's group, each about 30 minutes long. My camera arrived from MA and I finally got to take some pictures!!! Each dive, 2 different students led, giving a briefing above water and then leading in the water. I learned a lot about how to brief people on the hazards of a particular area, tell them about the location, give them the dive plan, and lead them around safely underwater. I am excited to start practicing this in the weekends to come :)
The water temperature all weekend was 73 degrees (surface and bottom). On Saturday, we explored the "creature cave" (with the Stop sign and big spider), the wreckage of a nose-dived plane, the suspended motorcycle, and the sea biscuit fossils. On Sunday, I spent the better part of the day practicing skills with Reggie's Instructor class as they gave basic skill presentations then went on a fun dive to the bullseye platform at 120'. After diving, I got to try on some drysuits... got quite chilly after a few hours in the water and excited to give the drysuits a try even though when I left my giant black "asteroid suit" up north, I swore I'd never wear one again. I guess I just can't resist super flattering black suits (or any other expensive gear...).

Riding the motorcycle :)

Sea biscuit fossils (~30 million years old!!).

Sea biscuit wedged in place (for 30 million years...). So cool!

Stop sign at the creature cave... it got kind of silty after we all swam around it for a while.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Back on dry land!!

After a two and a half week adventure out on the Gulf of Mexico aboard the Holiday Chouest (a 250' research vessel), I am finally back on dry land. I got to see 3 new states (Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana) and also see parts of the Gulf of Mexico that have yet to be explored. The point of our trip was to investigate the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on mesophotic reef communities (~60-100 meters deep). We sent an ROV down equipped with video cameras, digital cameras, HD cameras, boxes for collecting specimens, and coring devices.

The ROV headed down over the side of the Holiday.

The 9 million dollar machine served us well as we recorded video and collected coral/invert samples 24/7 for the 2 weeks we were at sea. It was a long and trying voyage, working 12 hours a day in 6-hour shifts (I was on the 6-12 and 1800-2400 shift), meaning it was impossible to get more than 4 hours of sleep at a time. But working on little to no sleep only made us stronger and being able to focus and watch fish on a TV screen when your eyes are threatening to close is pretty tough but awesome at the same time. It was totally worth it, as I met some really cool people and saw some amazing fish. The sunrises and sunsets were also absolutely beautiful and even the best pictures do not do them justice. I will certainly miss the friends I made onboard, the late night hyena-like laughter at silly things that are only funny when you've had 3 hours of sleep, and the entertaining stories told by the crew members, but I am also excited to be back on land where (ironically) I can be in the water. Being surrounded by the ocean and not being able to go in was pretty hard... although having a view into the water through the ROV was pretty amazing :) Check out my pictures if you want to have a look for yourself: FLouisi-issi-bama

Sunrise on the helipad :)

Oh AND we stopped in New Orleans on the way back.... this is me standing by the Mississippi River and being VERY happy to be wearing a dress as opposed to the pants, hard hat, and steel toed boots I couldn't take off for 2 weeks. Definitely would love to make it back to New Orleans again soon, it's such an amazing city!