Saturday, November 22, 2014

Bahamas 2014: Preparing the Boat / Miami Weather

Aquarium divers have just returned from a trip to the Bahamas to collect fish destined for the Giant Ocean Tank. Over the next couple posts, they'll share pictures and information about interesting fish and explain what it takes to transport fish from the Bahamas to Boston. Today's post about prepararing for the big trip comes from Jackie.

Tuesday, November 14th, was a day of preparation. I spent most of the day pulling together the last of my gear that I would need for living on a boat and diving for the next 15 days. The majority of the gear, including all of our scuba gear, had already been shipped to Miami in two 55-gallon barrels. Today I was picking up loose things that I had forgotten to put in the barrels, like dive gloves, plastic bags to capture small shrimp and larval fish and an extra BCD in case one of ours fails. I spent the rest of the night at home packing my clothes and personal gear.

The next day, I went in to work first to put everything together, then made my way to the airport with my duffle bag, a YSI (a device to measure dissolved oxygen in water packed in a James Bond style pelican case) and my fishing rods sticking out of my backpack.

On Wednesday November 15th, our plan was to meet at the airport at 9. Because of the expense and fragile nature of the YSI, it had to be taken as a carry-on, and so did my fishing rods. We had a little bit of trouble fitting our stuff into the overhead luggage bins, but made it to Miami with all of our stuff intact, and a lot of interesting comments from people about how weird it is to take fishing rods on a plane.

We made it to Merrill Stevens Shipyard in Miami and got aboard the Coral Reef II just in time for a soaking rainstorm that began to flood through the doors in the shipyard.

Our home for the next week or so

The southern Florida skies opened up just after we arrived

We spent the rest of the evening getting settled into our cabins and unpacking the barrels of gear.

The main deck salon.  Our cabins are below decks.

On the next day, Thursday, November 16th, we began the real work of getting the system ready for fish. After a quick breakfast, we started up the system, which was actually already filled with water from a previous collecting trip by the Albuquerque Aquarium, but had to be broken down and set up again because we had heard that the fish collected on that trip had broken out with a very contagious parasite upon their arrival in Albuquerque, and the parasite could be living in the system water. We started up the pumps and ran the system, them dumped a bleach bomb into all of the tanks. We let the bleachey water run through the system all day and all night, and in the meanwhile we turned our attention to “The Shed.”

The shed is a giant steel railroad car type container in the shipyard where all of our gear for collecting trips is stored. The shed is packed FULL with things like sump pumps, hoses, nets, catch bags, barrels, transport bags, plumbing pieces and screen lids for tanks. The gear in the shed also belongs to three different aquariums, who each have slightly different ways of doing things and slightly different types of gear.  We spent most of the day sorting through this, finding gear that we need for our trip, putting these things on the boat and finding a safe place to keep them while the boat is underway. What started as a monumental mess, ended up being a fairly organized and usable stash of gear on the boat. Feeling very accomplished, we went out to dinner.

Pulling gear out of "the shed"

After a quick breakfast on Friday, November 17, we added sodium thiosulfate to the system to neutralize the bleach, then after letting it run for a while, we emptied the system. It was important to remove all of the water from the system, so after we drained it as low as the pumps could take it, we got in with buckets and a shop vac.

Even trip leaders get wet and dirty
Taking advantage of the Florida sun while on the clock

The next day, Saturday, November 18, we spent the morning making some last minute creature-comfort preparations for our trip participants and shopping for groceries for dinner. Chris and I made a run to the hardware store for some last minute things like WD-40, teflon tape and zip ties, and then we went to a bait shop for some shrimp and fish to feed to the fish we would be collecting. I also picked up some last minute things like fishing weights that I would need for some of the fish we planned to collect by hook and line fishing. We began welcoming our trip participants on the boat at noon and by suppertime almost everyone who would be staying with us for the next 9 days had arrived.

A quick selfie showing how fun these trips can be (left to right: Sherrie, Jackie, Chris)

Off to the Bahamas in the morning!

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