Onward and Downward!

Follow along with Sylvia Earle as she explores the depths of Isla Coiba Marine Park. Don’t miss any part of the adventure- also check out March 7, 2012 ‘s blog post written by fellow oceans enthusiast and expedition participant, Jenifer Austin Foulkes.

Coiba Expedition: March 8, 2012

By Jenifer Austin Foulkes

Today, the wind picked up making the waters quite choppy. The Sea Hunter delayed heading out to Hannibal bank but once there was able to achieve one spectacular survey, despite the weather.

Biff Bermingham diving at the Cathedral. Photo: Kip Evans

STRI Director Biff Bermingham and Sylvia Earle led the rest of the Mission Blue team on two dives today. “Washing Machine” was the name of the first site and was a set of submerged rock peaks off Isla Jicaron. Before we descended, we saw what looked to be 6 recreational fishing vessels within the park.

As we descended into the deep, Philippe rang a bell of sorts by clanging a whistle to get our attention. When I looked up from the spiny lobster that I was trying to photograph in a crevice, I was greeted by a huge passing school of jacks circling the rocks in the deep. Every rock surface was covered with life- hard corals, gorgonians, sponges and coralline algae.

Sylvia described a jewel box of coral on the rocks.  Brittlestars wrapped their arms around long gorgonian needles in a commensal relationship. She photographed a yellow Commerson’s frogfish with such character in his face.

On returning to the dive boat, our local dive expert Kevin said with chagrin that all of the life that we saw today was in pale comparison to what massive schools existed only a few years ago.

The second dive was called the cathedral, a shallow undersea rock pinnacle close to the most western tip of Panama. When we arrived, large swells moved in from the open ocean. It was late in the day and darkening with strong currents. Kip and Biff saw a nurse shark. A tapestry of life emerged from the rocks- red, green and brown algae, white flower like gorgonians, hard and soft corals, sea urchins, and bright orange sponges.

A strikingly yellow Frog Fish. Photo: Kip Evans

Kip saw three large white tip sharks curled up together under a ledge including a Mommy shark ready to give birth. She slipped out from the crevice where the other sharks rested. Here is this mother shark bringing her baby into a world that’s a wasteland relative to what once was.

As Al Gore notes, the Chinese symbol for crisis is also a symbol for opportunity. This is humanity’s opportunity: enforce Coiba!


Changing Planet

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