Mission Day: Sixteen, Seventeen and Eighteen

Each day starts at 6am.  Todd and I prepare the Fountain at the Granaway dock for morning pick-ups at the Greenback BnB and the Princess Hotel marina in Hamilton.  Then off through Hamilton Harbor, out past the cruise ship docks and north east up along the shoreline into St. George Harbor where the BEx is anchored for the evenings; a 1-hour transit.  8am we hop onto the BEx where we get breakfast, organize our equipment and prepare for a diver splash around 9:30a to 10am; remember, 5-6 hours underwater puts us up between 3p and 4p so we need to get an early start.  Once we exit the water from our dive and climb back on the Fountain, we motor back to harbor to transfer all our equipment and divers back onto the BEx which usually is back in St. George Harbor; we have done open ocean transfers but it is much more chaotic as 2 foot seas make it too dangerous to exit directly onto the BEx swim platform (seas are usually 3-5 feet, sometimes 6 and that is the breaking point for any operations).  Once the Fountain is unloaded from all the dive gear, we then spend until dinner cleaning and prepping gear for the next day.  Dinner over, we brief for the next day’s diving and then load up the evening pick-ups, transfer them back to Hamilton and Greenback and on to our cottage at Granaway where we clean the Fountain, put her on a mooring, swim or kayak to shore and walk up to our room; earliest we have made it back has been 8pm but average is 9am and latest was 10:30am!  We have now been doing this (6 August) for 16 days straight.  I am on dive 10, with 8 of them being 300 feet/90 meters and every dive has been impressive and fun…once underwater!

The Baseline Explorer – 150 feet

“What’s your motivation”? has been a common question that I am asked by the media on board.  There are several motivations but for me, number one, is the opportunity to rebreather dive on deep ocean walls and execute incredible underwater mission plans with the absolute best divers in the world.  Secondarily, providing the science samples for the great scientists that are on this ship and experiencing their appreciation and gratitude; our work is allowing them to work and be productive full time.  As a team we are very proud of our work.  I have included a couple images of some of the research being done aboard the BEx as a result of our dive missions; keep reading. 

Before I continue, I have to thank the incredible crews aboard the BEX.  Ships crew –  Captains Jeremy and Larry supported by deckhand Austin; sub crew – Shane, Randy, Robert, Kenny, Dave and TC; and I cannot forget our chefs, Scott and Greg.  These named individuals are working 12-14 hour days and without them, none of this would be possible.  Thanks!

So let’s talk about the actual “science” being conducted aboard the ship during this mission.  Video transects as I have explained in previous posts (fish diversity and bottom – benthic  – diversity) where the scientists can take our images, process them via computer and create a 3D video of high quality to study these elements of the Bermuda Rise.  Water, very in depth water sampling both on the ship and preserved in the refrigeration unit for transport back to Stanford where the complete analysis of these water samples will be conducted.  Genetic comparisons of deep water and shallow water corals; and cross comparisons with other corals globally. Algae is being documented for type and laid out on paper (see images) and pressed for visual representation and cataloguing as well as DNA analysis to see where It may have come from in looking at a global database or… whether it is a new species.  Finally, water environmental DNA analysis that can tell what “things” have been in the water; animals, plants, algae’s, micro-organisms, etc.  It is really cool.  There are two laboratories set-up on board and we are keeping the scientists very busy and bringing back some vitally needed samples.  What this will do is establish a 2016 baseline of data that can now be the analysis foundation for studies on into the future.  Those studies will determine whether or not conditions are improving or worsening.  I am proud to part of what is going on and what we are building with Project Baseline!

An actual algae sample pressed onto paper, catalogued and DNA tested


Another pressed algae image – merging of art and science

Coral specimen DNA analysis chart

How many corals can you identify?

So what has been happening since my last post?  Well:

    -> 2 August, Dredger King George Circus Show where no science was done but the submarines did 16 dives and we as divers did our transects and demonstrated our underwater abilities, interacted with the subs and put on a dog and pony show for VIP’s.  70 feet on the wrecksite of the Dredger King George!  What a waste of a day.  Oh well, the VIP’s sure enjoyed the day. 

      Pilot Kelvin (RT) and passenger: I took this
       image while interacting the submersible Nomad

      -> 3 August, we returned to Spittal and did another 2-mile dive from 300 feet / 90 meters into 20 feet / 6 meters.  This was Sue’s last day with us.  What an honor it was to dive with her again.  A highly skilled underwater research diver and a joy to have as my surface support buddy whilst the Red team was under.  We did 6 transects, collected 25 water samples, bagged 3 1-gallon Ziploc bags with algae and got about 20 pounds of coral samples.  339 feet / 104 meters (still have not reached GB 110) for 302 minutes…yep, 5 hours underwater.


      A selfie of Sue and myself working the back
      deck…hardhats and closed shoes required 

      -> 4 August, we supported the newly modified Red Team at the site North North East.  Why “newly modified”?  Because with Kevin and Graham gone, two new GUE divers from South Korea, Kyungsoo Kim (he likes to be called Jerry) and Su Eun Kim (Sue) streamed smoothly in to the 2 vacated positions and conducted 300 feet / 90 meter transects and collected several water samples. 

        That is it for this post.  I will be back in about 3 days time.  Weather is looking bad tomorrow, 7 August and worse for 8 August, but we will see if it keeps us divers on the surface!  Thanks for tuning in…