The Oceana crew set off for their first dive operation at the Western Dry Rocks off the coast of Key West today at 9 a.m.
The diving conditions at this first location were far from ideal. Recent storms stirred up the water with sand and mud, leaving the divers with limited visibility of only three to nine feet. Support diver Soledad Esnaola described it as “like diving in milk.” The site was approximately 50 feet deep and a majority of the coral was covered in sediment. Despite the poor conditions, underwater videographer Enrique Talledo spotted a six foot green moray eel.
The second dive took place at the Western Sambo Reef, which offered much better visibility of approximately 25 feet. After diving in many different environments all around the world, Oceana’s divers found the reefs to be mostly dead or dying, with little biodiversity, very few fish and no invertebrate life. It was far from what they expected to see on a Caribbean reef. They did catch sight of a 10 inch yellow stingray, a three foot wide brain coral boulder, grey angel fish, yellowtail snapper, small sea fans and wrasse, small cigar shaped fish.
The operation ended late in the afternoon with New York based Spanish model Almudena Fernandez snorkeling for the first time ever. Almudena described the experience as “one of the most peaceful times of my life. I became lost in the moment. It all made sense; this is why we need to protect our oceans. They are so welcoming to us, yet we continue to abuse them.”
The remaining Oceana crew spent the day visiting Key West, doing phone interviews with local press, including Bill Becker at US1 Radio News Network and Gary Ellis at The Redbone Journal, and taking part in a local snorkeling trip to better understand what tourist’s experience on such expeditions. The science team was quick to find that almost the entire reef was dead or dying. They did identify a few species, including midnight parrot fish, French angel fish, grunts, Oregonian sea fans and elkhorn coral.
Lesson of the day – protect the oceans and their reefs. They are in trouble!
Here’s Oceana’s expedition leader and vice president for Europe Xavier Pastor (English and Spanish):