Friday, October 18, 2013

Fiji 2013 | A pony for my birthday

For the past several years, the New England Aquarium has participated in a joint expedition to Fiji, along with the Monterey Bay Aquarium and other conservation-minded groups and individuals. The last expedition took place in Spring 2012Today's post about the joint aquarium Fiji expedition comes from Lauren Kennedy. Photos by Keith Ellenbogen.

It’s October 10, 2013. It is my 24th birthday and it is half way through my first experience on the Nai’a. Coming into this trip with only 12 dives under my weight belt I was a diving newbie, with no experience in tropical water and only dreams of seeing seahorses. The days blur together here, but just two days ago I got to see my favorite marine animal in its natural habitat.

 Variant 1, sand substrate camouflage (Hippocampus pontohi) (Photo: K. Ellenbogen)

The beautiful colors, shapes and dances of seahorses are so intriguing, but with my few dives having been in Northern California I had never seen one outside of trips to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
The morning of October 8 I headed out for a dive on the site called Kansas with our boat captain Jonathan and Steve Webster who were both interested in seeing the “small stuff.” The Gorgonian pygmy seahorse is the epitome of the small stuff, but was the goal of the dive for me. Jonathan knew exactly where to go, and only a few minutes into the dive he was stopped by a sea fan pointing to a small dark spec hovering right above the sand.

Variant 2, gorgoian camouflage (Hippocampus pontohi) (Photo: K. Ellenbogen)
 Variant 3, hydroid camouflage (Hippocampus pontohi) (Photo: K. Ellenbogen)

Being a new diver I still have no idea what I am looking at half the time, and even with the compensation of my young eyes (as my birthday has reminded me on this trip) I struggled to focus in on what Jonathan was pointing to. But the minute I recognized that little round belly, long snout and the pulsating fins, I knew exactly what I was looking at and was absolutely trilled! Despite its size, of up to only 3 cm, the pygmy seahorse holds on tight against the ride of the current and blends in perfectly with its surroundings to survive in the vast ocean.

Lauren Kennedy sporting some special Happy Birthday flair (Photo: K. Ellenbogen)

What more could a girl want for her birthday than a dive with her favorite animal?

Stay tuned to this blog to follow the team as they dive to collect data on the health of the coral reefspick up trash where they find it, check in with the villagers to see how some conservation initiatives are faring and further develop connections with the people that live on these beautiful Pacific islands.  

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