3-legged turtle swims past
Stuck in tropical storm
Boating past small island
I'm once again on the island of Utila conducting research with Operation Wallacea. I'm leading a team of four students 3D mapping the coral reefs here and retrieving 3D printed artificial reefs we placed last year. Our studies will help reveal how how reef structure, or architectural complexity, affects marine communities. My upcoming papers and thesis will be on the topic! Stay tuned!
I'll also be talking at Somerville College in Oxford as part of their "Will Power Lunch" on May 21st.
... and again at Somerville College, on May 23, as part of a series on emotional well-being in research and fieldwork. Please message if you'd like more details.
I'm currently on Utila, an island off Honduras, collecting data. I'm working with Operation Wallacea and two other graduate students from Oxford. Regular updates are on my Instagram and our expedition Facebook page, "Thinking Deep."
Right to left that's Dom, Jack and me, the Oxford underwater research team.
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.
Grace is an MIT ocean engineer, aquanaut, and scientist with Cousteau's Mission 31. She's currently a PhD student at University of Oxford and scientist for the Pisces VI deep sea submarine.