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Patagonian Corals Expedition 2013: When It Rains, It Pours

When it rains, it pours. As I look out over the fjord this evening, i'm reminded that I haven't spent much of today dry. Photo by Laura Grange.

When it rains, it pours. As I look out over the fjord this evening, i’m reminded that I haven’t spent much of today dry. Photo by Laura Grange.

“When it rains, it pours”. Where does that saying come from? It seemed like a particularly appropriate title for this post. Today has been one of those days on expedition when a sense of humor is a MUST, as is patience, ingenuity and a whole ‘lotta luck!

Laura Grange, hauling more luggage than our total weight combined, plus a whole lot more! Photo by Rhian Waller

Laura Grange, hauling more luggage than our total weight combined, plus a lot more! Photo by Rhian Waller

We arrived in Puerto Montt mid afternoon Tuesday, spent the night there and on Wednesday morning were picked up from our hotel and started the long drive/ferry/boat ride to the Huinay Scientific Field Station – our collaborators on this project. We arrived late at night with a cold wind and sprinkling of rain and quickly unpacked all the dive gear, ready for our check-out dive in the morning – this is the  important dive where we get to test all the gear we’ve brought down with us to make sure nothing went awry in transit, right off of the stations dock.

A stark reminder of why doing ecological work in the fjords is so important right now. Large salmon farms are encroaching, causing major impacts to the fjord and the animals that live there. Photo by Rhian Waller.

A stark reminder during our journey of why doing ecological work in the fjords is so important right now. Large salmon farms are encroaching, causing major impacts to the fjord and the animals that live there. Photo by Rhian Waller.

And so this morning, smooth as clockwork, myself, Laura and Ulu (station technician) don our dive gear and head down to the water. The sun even made an appearance and all looked well.

I pulled on my hood and mask, set my headlamp and jumped into the water. Within seconds it was obvious something was wrong. Within a minute it was obvious something was VERY wrong. I was getting wet, very wet, so wet my suit was starting to weigh me down in the water. Quickly taking off my weight belt and handing it up to Ulu, I was out of the water again in less than 3 minutes, and the problem was very obvious once back on the dock. I’d hit a nail on the way into the water, and it tore an enormous hole in my drysuit leg.

A small nail can ruin a whole expedition. A hole this size in a drysuit is hard to field repair, and drysuits are so expensive, bringing spares is rare. Photo by Rhian Waller.

A small nail can ruin a whole expedition. A hole this size in a drysuit is hard to field repair, and drysuits are so expensive, bringing spares is rare. Photo by Rhian Waller.

The water temperature here in the fjords hovers in the high 40′s, so a drysuit is a must. And a drysuit needs to hold air to work, which my favorite suit now doesn’t.

The station we are working in luckily has lots of scientists going through, and has accumulated a variety of suits over the years, so after stripping out of my completely sodden undergarments, I tried on a suit we thought might work .

Drysuits are come in a whole lot of sizes and no two are the same. Some are even custom cut. Though we managed to wedge me into a drysuit that worked (sort of), getting me out was a challenge. Photo by Vreni Haussermann.

Drysuits come in a whole lot of sizes and no two are the same. Some are even custom cut. Though we managed to wedge me into a drysuit that worked (sort of), getting me out was a challenge. Photo by Vreni Haussermann.

The rest of the day has been a real mixture of getting more wet, trying on more suits, and some really beautiful diving. Lets just say it was “third time lucky” on finding a suit that stayed dry for me (THANK YOU VRENI!). Crisis averted, though I’m still warming up from the day’s experience.

On our check-out dive (third try), Laura Grange checks out a settlement plate. These plates were put out as part of an experiment by other researchers at the station, to look at see whether corals will recruit to the area. Photo by Rhian Waller.

On our check-out dive (third try), Laura Grange checks out a settlement plate. These plates were put out as part of an experiment by other researchers at the station, to look at see whether corals will recruit to the area. Photo by Rhian Waller.

It’s important with days like today to take stock of the expedition, see the pluses and keep on going – we’re here to do good science, and that is the primary mission. Busting a suit could have happened at any time to anyone, I was lucky there was one at the station I can use (and stay dry!) – that wouldn’t happen in too many other situations.

The other pluses are, that after the frantic re-gearing, we had two GREAT dives  - our check out dive off the dock was beautiful – lots of crabs and sea stars and tons of baby urchins littered the seafloor. We even looked in on another experiment going on at the station.

An overhang containing more Desmophyllum dianthus that i'd ever seen before this time last year. Still as jaw dropping as when I saw it for the first time. Photo by Rhian Waller.

An overhang containing more of the usually deep-sea coral Desmophyllum than i’d ever seen before this time last year. Still as jaw dropping as when I saw it for the first time. Photo by Rhian Waller.

And then the climax of the day. Because of all the suit issues and not really knowing if the suit I was wearing (third one) would stay dry, rather than go to one of my sample sites (far away and important to get right first time) we went to a site close by to check out some corals in a fantastic overhang.

This is a site being monitored by our collaborators, as it sits close to several salmon farms and the diversity of organisms may well be changing. The sight of these (usually) deep-sea corals instantly made me forget about all the wet and the cold I’d experienced today – still as awe inspiring to me as the first dive I ever did here, just over a year ago.

Tomorrow we head to one of our sample sites, Lilliguape, to collect loggers, samples and to take more photographs of the area. As they say…tomorrow is another day!

Field repairs of drysuits are hard and time consuming...and given the size of the hole, unlikely to work in this case. But given how much more comfortable it is to dive in your own, well fitting, suit, I just had to try.... Photo by Laura Grange.

Field repairs of drysuits are hard and time consuming…and given the size of the hole, unlikely to work in this case. But given how much more comfortable it is to dive in your own, well fitting, suit, I just had to try…. Photo by Laura Grange.

 

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