The last two months my research team at Oxford and I have been exploring mesophotic reefs using Hollis Prism 2 rebreathers. More information in this blog post -- "Diving Deeper and Longer to Study Never Before Seen Coral Reefs" and our Facebook page -- "Thinking Deep."
REBREATHER TRAINING: BEYOND TRADITIONAL SCUBA
The past weeks I've been learning to rebreather dive with two other Oxford PhD students. The rebreathers allow us to study reefs below traditional SCUBA depth limits (up to 120m/400ft). They also scare away fewer fish than traditional SCUBA because they don't produce bubbles. The concept is that on a rebreather you're essentially breathing the same breath over and over; when you exhale CO2 is removed and oxygen added. The only caveat is that the units are more mechanically complex than normal SCUBA rigs and therefore require more training and skill.
A LITTLE REBREATHER HISTORY
Rebreather technology has been around more than a decade, but they are only recently becoming more widely used and accepted in the scientific and recreational diving communities. Statistically, diving a rebreather is more dangerous than diving SCUBA. Accidents are all linked to user error, however, apart from a few truly freak accidents. If a diver is well trained, thoroughly inspects and maintains her unit, and follows a conservative dive plan, the rebreather diving is extremely safe and greatly benefits research. They allow us to dive to greater depths for longer periods of time and without bubbles that disturb marine life.
WHAT & WHERE
One of the research questions we are looking into is how deep reefs may (or may not be) sheltering some corals from the effects of climate change and fishing. More on that question in this PBS article.
We are training off the island of Utila, which is the site of my dive buddies' (Dom and Jack's) PhD experiments. They have a close relationship with the dive center here as they help run a program for marine biology students here on the summers. The reefs here are fairly healthy and can be reached without expensive boat trips, which is somewhat rare and helps keep research costs low. To top it off, Utila is a gorgeous Caribbean island!
The pictures with captions in the slide show below illustrate some of our adventures so far, including learning to use the Google Street "Ocean" View camera.
For those in the DC area... I'll be speaking at Walt Whitman High School next Tuesday and anyone is welcome to attend. Thank you MIT Club of Washington for organizing! Information below.
Next week I'll be temporarily leaving the comfort of Oxford for an exciting round of adventures. It starts in New Orleans, for the Underwater Interventions conference sponsored by the Marine Technology Society, where I'm giving talks on the ultra-slow motion underwater camera from Mission 31 and the stereo-camera system for monitoring fish from NOAA. From there, a friend and I will road trip through the alligator-infested swamps of Louisiana for a few days before flying to Washington DC to see family and move the exhibit of ultra-slow motion underwater photography from MIT to its next stop, The Potomac School in McLean, VA. I'll then rendezvous with our Oxford research team in Miami, where fellow aquanaut Adam Zenone has kindly been accepting our shipments of research equipment, before heading to Utila, Honduras, where we'll spend four weeks training on rebreathers and flying the openROV over mesophotic coral reefs. From Hon I'll go to the Red Sea to reunite with some of the Mission 31 crew. And finally, back to the comfort of Oxford!
Many thanks to Stuart Young, founder of Illustration Station, for creating this illustration during my TEDx Talk last weekend! The video of the talk will be up on the TED website in a month or so.