Saturday, September 13, 2008

The First Day of Exploration

The monsoon weather cleared magnificently on Friday, September 12, to open blue skies. Even though the wind was still up a bit we charted a small 24 foot "panga," which is an open skiff with an outboard and canvas cover, headed to sea for our first look at the marine life of the area and the El Bajo seamount. I went with expedition members Alan Dynner and Jeff Gale.

It took an hour and a half as we pounded our way on waves and wind 25 miles out to sea to the seamount and made our first SCUBA dives down to its submerged summit. Our guide was a Cuban born local expert diver named Alfredo Barroso. As the waves slapped against the side of our boat and the hot sun bore down from the sky, we hoisted our heavy SCUBA tanks on our backs, grabbed our cameras and splashed into the water.

The ocean was warm, 85 degrees, and I could see the rocky summit of El Bajo 90 feet below. We drifted down to the sea floor and saw patches of orange coral, several dozen green moray eels poking their open jaws from cracks in the rock and small schooling multicolored fish everywhere. I recommend this PDF report for more details about seamounts, corals and deep sea fishes.

The water was clear, I could easily see 70-80 feet, and above us the narrow outline of our boat. With SCUBA tanks, you can only dive safely to 100 feet or so. But the ocean is so much deeper. With the sun streaming down, I gently kicked and floated out over the sedge of the summit of El Bajo and looked down into the dark abyss, the area, up to 1500 feet down, that we would soon have access to with the DEEPSEE SUBMARINE.

As our tanks emptied of air, we had to surface all too soon. I wanted to stay underwater longer but at that depth, we could only stay about 40 minutes. Because this was a relatively deep dive, our next dive had to be shallow, so we zipped across the now calmer ocean to an island called Isla Espiritu Santo to study, film and photograph more of the marine life of the area.

On this dive we stayed shallower than 30 feet. We found lovely fishes here, but also a colony of sea lions. The large males kept their distance and I could hear the grunts underwater, which I took to mean stay away, which we did. But the smaller females and pups swam over to us, circling and blowing bubbles in what appeared to be a gesture of playful spirits and curiosity toward us divers.

ARGOS arrives today and we will begin submarine dives on Sunday. In the meantime, here's a slide show of what we've seen so far.

-Gregory Stone


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