11.9.15 Day 2: Did That Just Happen? I Went Inside Aquarius!!! – Hillary

tus1 tus2 tus3 tus4 tus5I can think of only one word to sum up today: surreal. Never in my wildest dreams, did I think I would be entering a habitat that sits on the bottom of the ocean. Before I go on, let’s backtrack to the beginning of the day, which started out as most days on a boat start out- with engine problems! We almost made it to the end of the channel when the engine of our research vessel gave out. With a little bit of finesse and Macgyvering, we were able to get the boat back to the dock so that the Aquanauts/boat mechanics could fix the fuel injector. After about an hour, they got us back up and running. They split us teachers into two groups. Amy and Melissa would be entering the habitat from 10:30-11:30 to do Skype sessions 1 and 2, and Andrea and I would be entering the habitat from 1:30-2:30 to do Skype sessions 3 and 4. Since we were running late, the other two teachers had to get right into the water to do their Skypes. The science team went in and began to set up the equipment for the day. Melissa and I were not able to dive in the morning because we wouldn’t have enough bottom time to enter the habitat later on to do our Skype sessions. So unfortunately, I had to hang out on the boat all morning, on a gorgeous, sunny, almost flat, calm day. Poor me.

Despite the beautiful conditions, the amazing scenery, and the fact that we were allowed to snorkel (but NOT free dive- which took every ounce of self-control in my body to not dive down), time seemed to stand still. I was pretty sure that the clock on my phone stayed at 12:00 for three hours, because it seemed like 1:05 would never come around- the time when we could start gearing up to enter the water to take our first dive down to the Aquarius habitat. When the time warp passed, it was finally time to go and I was excited, to say the least. We got all of our gear on, but we were not allowed to wear a wetsuit since it takes too much time to take it off and on when you enter and exit the habitat. The time finally came to make our descent.

We swam straight down to the habitat, since we did not want to waste any time. Ideally, we want to spend 80 minutes or less from the time we leave the surface, to the time we return to the surface. The habitat is SO COOL! We entered through the wet porch. You have to basically swim underneath the habitat and then up into it. Once you stick your head up into the air, you can take your regulator out and talk. We took off our gear and left it on the platform. We rinsed off quickly to remove the salt so it doesn’t rust things in the habitat. We had sent dry clothes down in an air tight pot, so we changed and got ready for our Skype field trips. The first one we did was a little shaky because we were just getting used to it, but the second one was great! As the students were asking questions, I was pointing the camera towards the window, and that’s when it happened. Five massive spotted eagle rays swam by!!! The students began to shout and then Melissa and I began to shout and the dive team that was with us thought something horrible had happened! Of course they laughed when they realized that it was just our excitement about eagle rays! When we left the habitat, we did a quick swim around and we saw two more eagle rays!

Melissa and I had to sit out for the afternoon dive since we had just gone down to the habitat. While we were sitting on the boat, we saw the spotted eagle rays again so we hopped in to snorkel with them. They were magnificent. Once we got back to the dock, I sat in on the debriefing where we went over the day and made a plan for tomorrow. We had about an hour to shower, shove some food in our mouths and then return to the base where we met with Tom Potts, the director of Aquarius, to talk about the history of Aquarius. He gave us some great information. After that, the science team came back and we learned how to download and code the videos that had been recorded today. They showed us how to analyze the videos and how to record the data. I am not going to lie- it was overwhelming. My fish ID is pretty good, but I definitely do not know the family and genus of every herbivorous fish. We have to record every herbivorous fish that swims into the plot on the video and we have to record how many times it bites algae, what kind of bites it is taking, if any other fish are interacting with it, etc. It is definitely going to take some time to catch on, but I am sure we will be experts by the end of the week! All in all, today was one of the most amazing days of my life, and one I will surely never forget. I can’t wait to do it all again… is it tomorrow yet???

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