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Mission Blue: The Land of Oz

On the Survivors of the Spill expedition’s second attempt, we successfully deploy the Waitt Institute’s dual Deepworker sub in relatively shallow waters near the Florida coast. Moments after their safe return to the research vessel Brooks McCall, oceanographer and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Sylvia Earle and ecologist Thomas Shirley describe the green “blizzard of life” that enveloped them.
sylvia and tom in deepworker subSylvia Earle and Tom Shirley prepare to dive in the Deepworker sub.
By SYLVIA EARLE and THOMAS SHIRLEY
Earle: We saw lots of jelly: Jellyfish and jelly goo! It’s like marine snow. It really was like driving through a snowstorm.
Shirley: It was like driving through Jello!
Earle: A blizzard. A blizzard of life. Like minestrone.
Shirley: We turned off the lights on the bottom, and it didn’t make much of a difference, so we decided to leave the lights off to save power. We could see the bottom in a few places.
tom shirley before first diveTom Shirley grins before the first Deepworker dive.
Earle: We did see starfish, two starfish.
Shirley: We saw some sea stars. As Sylvia says, every roundtrip submarine dive is a success.
Earle: Yes! It was really a pleasure to try this new sub. I’ve tried Deepworkers before, and so has Tom. But this is the first time either of us has used a dual Deepworker.
Shirley: It’s nice diving with someone else. You can compare your observations. Both of us had an excellent field of view, though not excellent visibility necessarily in these conditions. We could confer on questions about things.
Sylvia could point out objects to me as they drifted by, drifted over, and focus the camera on things that I could see on my screen. She helped me guide the manipulator arm, because I couldn’t see that far, but she could see it through a screen while I was operating the controls.
deepworker sub after diveThe drenched Deepworker sub is hoisted from the Gulf of Mexico after its first dive of the expedition.
Earle: Yay team! We were down a couple of hours. The sub can go to 2,000 feet, but this was much shallower, a weather-enforced trial dive. I did not expect to see so much plankton. The water is truly green. We were in the Land of Oz–everything was green, from the top to the deepest place we went, which was not that deep, 100 feet. It was jelly all the way.
Shirley: “Pay no attention to the man in the other bubble.”
Earle: Exactly! We have photographs that will enable us to determine the species for the jellies, most of them one kind, although I think there may have been a second, smaller species that was less common.
Shirley: A comb jelly.
Earle: A comb jelly. Usually when you see one, you see a lot. This time I just saw the one. And a couple of little creatures known as arrow worms. Some little fish that were swimming with the jellies, but no fish otherwise.
tom shirley examines waterTom Shirley examines water sampled during the first dual Deepworker dive of the expedition.
Support for the Mission Blue Gulf of Mexico expedition is provided by the National Geographic Society, Google Inc., the Waitt Institute, and Hope Spots LLC. Follow along in context by clicking on the ship icon near Pensacola, Florida using Google Earth.
Read all Mission Blue expedition coverage here.
Photos by Ford Cochran