I’ve finally done my first science dive after taking up the post of expedition manager at the beginning of October, and it was fantastic! The boat (along with Marcellin, the boat driver) took me, two staff members and four volunteers out to a site that we haven’t dived very much. I was the ‘boat marshal’ for the first dive. This means sitting on the boat, taking GPS readings (with a depth sounder) periodically while the divers are under, and of course being the first point of contact for them in case of any problems. For safety reasons, each diving group carries an SMB (surface marker buoy – basically, an inflatable attached to a string which they hold onto whilst underwater) which floats on the surface while they’re diving.
There were two groups on this dive so they had two SMBs altogether. Of course, on the surface, you have no idea of the topography and life underneath you so it’s quite surreal seeing two yellow inflatable balloons dance around on the sea seemingly randomly, coming together and meeting up for a while, and then going off in opposite directions again. As well as taking the GPS points, I spent my time wisely – looking on the horizon, trying not to feel seasick, and also doing short stints of meditation. It was so peaceful. All divers came up safely (phew) and after a surface interval, during which I felt very seasick, it was time for the second dive.
This was in a similar spot, but one where the scientists seemed to think had some good reef. And they were right. It did. There was some really big coral colonies, and quite good diversity of coral species. It’s the best dive site I’ve seen since diving here, and we got to see a turtle too, swimming away from us speedily. After a bit of a swim around during which I wrote down the names of all the fish I saw and recognised it was time for the ‘science’. My buddy (who has only been diving for three weeks!) and I laid out a transect (a badly behaved tape measure), tying it to a rock at one end, and swimming out with it for 20 metres, tying it up again at the other end. We then had to give the fish a couple of minutes to settle down, and my buddy’s job was to count them along the 20 metres, while my job was to swim along the tape for ten metres and write down the name of what was living underneath it every 20cm. It’s the first ‘proper’ one of these that I’ve done on this expedition (though actually I’ve done it before with Operation Wallacea, and for the marine conservation society), and I really enjoyed it.
There were quite a few different varieties of coral along the tape, as well as some algae and soft coral. We got to have a bit more of a swim after this, admiring the coral, fish and invertebrates, and then surfaced after our allotted dive time. I always love diving, but I especially like diving sites with good coral coverage and plenty of fish to look at. On top of that, I just really enjoy the gathering of data so I’m pretty happy today and it’s good to finally feel useful underwater. Hopefully I’ll get many more dives like that before the year is up.