From the Ledge: Leg 2 Recap

Photo: A panoramic view of Nitrox scuba dive operations at the Ammen Rock dive site on Cashes Ledge, taken from the bridge of the RV Connecticut on June 3, 2016. Divers Brian Skerry and Steve De Neef are returning to the zodiac dive tender after photographing in the remarkable kelp forest. Orange buoys mark the dive sites. Liz Kintzing is on deck to dive next (left foreground) while Dive Safety Officer Jeff Godfrey oversees the dive operations. The swell in background is due to ship movement while the photo was taken.

Underwater photographers Brian Skerry, Steve De Neef and Luis Lamar, scientists Jon Witman and Fiona Beltram and Dive Safety Officers Elizabeth Kintzing and Jeff Godfrey returned late Sunday night, June 5, 2016, from the second expedition to Cashes Ledge, this time aboard the RV Connecticut.

The team photographed the luxuriant kelp forest on Ammen Rock, along with the abundant fish – cod, pollock and cunner – and myriad invertebrates living on the surface of the mountain peak and within the forest.

Jon and Liz repeated their surveys of kelp and fish populations, finding dense Saccharina kelp (see image below) growing more than 5 meters in height, reaching astounding standing stock biomasses up to 7.0 kg per square meter at 15 meters depth.

The window of good weather enabled the team to dive consecutively for 2.5 days – the longest stretch of diveable days at Cashes Ledge in recent years!

Photos:

Fiona Beltram of the Witman Lab holds up a long strand of Saccharina kelp from Cashes Ledge. Photo by Allison Lorenc, taken May 27, 2016.
Fiona Beltram of the Witman Lab gets help measuring a long strand of Saccharina kelp from Cashes Ledge. Photo by Allison Lorenc, taken May 27, 2016.
Divers Jon Witman and Liz Kintzing stepping off the stern of the RV CT to dive at Ammen Rock on June 4, 2016. Orange buoy in background is their target to swim to as it marks the dive site. Lu Lamar (at right) prepares a Remotely Operated Vehicle to dive.
Divers Jon Witman and Liz Kintzing step off the stern of the RV CT to dive at Ammen Rock on June 4, 2016. The orange buoy in background is their target to swim to, as it marks the dive site. Lu Lamar (right) prepares a Remotely Operated Vehicle to dive.

 

 

From the Ledge: Leg 1 Complete

This is the third in my series of reports from this year’s expedition to Cashes Ledge with Brian Skerry and Brown University biologist Jon Witman. Follow the expedition on Twitter for regular updates!

If you were following along with us on Twitter this weekend, you may have seen that we had to cut short our weekend expedition to Cashes Ledge. After a brilliant, sunny day on Saturday, we woke up to stormy seas and high winds Sunday morning. Due to the unexpected turn in weather, the captain of the ship quickly made the decision to pull anchor and head back to Boston in the early morning.

We slowly made our way out of the storm and the seas began to calm, and we arrived in Boston around 6:30pm. Time certainly seemed to move more slowly when the team wasn’t in and out of the water all day, but the travel day on the boat gave the team the opportunity to review its work from the previous diving days.

The photography team – Brian Skerry and Steve DeNeef – looked through their many pictures and video of the breathtaking and diverse wildlife at Cashes Ledge, and Dr. Jon Witman and his assistant Fiona began to analyze data. I also had the opportunity to interview Brian, Jon, and Steve on video about the trip and why Cashes Ledge deserves to be permanently protected as a marine national monument.

Even though we had to end the trip early, we’re excited that this was only Leg 1 of the expedition. The team hopes to head back out to Cashes Ledge via the R/V Connecticut very soon. It looks like poor weather may delay their departure this week, and although I won’t be on board this time, we will continue to keep you updated on the their status and progress.

We’re looking forward to what else the team will be able to capture during Leg 2!

 

From the Ledge: Saturday, May 28

This is the second in my series of reports from this year’s expedition to Cashes Ledge with Brian Skerry and Brown University biologist Jon Witman. Follow the expedition on Twitter for regular updates!

What a special place to be. The fog cleared yesterday, and after our own dinner, as the sun set behind the clouds, we sat on the bow watching whales lunge feed on schools of herring. When the herring balls, moving as one unit, came close enough to the ship, you could see each individual fish swimming just below the surface. At night, the sky was filled with stars, as you would expect I guess being 100 miles from land.

Strong winds and larger waves had been predicted for today, but we’ve been lucky to have calm seas and a bright, warm sun.

The team reported that the visibility was better than yesterday, giving a milky blue look underwater. One diver said the absence of current made it feel like “hydrotherapy” – even though the water was still only 49°F.

On the first dive of the day, Dr. Jon Witman placed two GoPro cameras on Ammen Rock, one on top of a knoll and the other in a gulley, to take video of the fish swimming by. He collected the cameras on the second dive and will bring them back to his lab for analysis.

Brian Skerry described to us the scenery that he tried to capture with his photographs: gold kelp with a soft amber-colored algae bottom, a wolfish slithering into the kelp just near the bottom of the anchor line, and a photo-shy red cod.

Just before lunch, Dr. Witman gave the group a science lesson about the internal waves found at Cashes Ledge, which are what make the ecosystem so productive. The waves, which give the surface water a slick appearance, create what he calls a “food elevator,” delivering layers of concentrated phytoplankton to the deeper waters multiple times a day. Seabirds feed and minke whales dive into the layers.

The most exciting part of the day was when two minke whales swam through the dive site just as the team was surfacing! They then stayed in the area to feed on the plentiful plankton at Ammen Rock.

It’s late in the afternoon, but the camera team is about to head out for their third dive. Dr. Witman has collected his data for this site and will dive again tomorrow.

Dive 1: 50 minutes, average depth 32 feet, max depth 43 feet
Dive 2: 48 minutes, average depth 38 feet, max depth 51 feet
Water temperature: 49°F

From the Ledge: Friday, May 27

This is the first report from this year’s expedition to Cashes Ledge with Brian Skerry and Brown University biologist Jon Witman. I’m accompanying the team and reporting from Cashes. Follow the expedition on Twitter for regular updates!

After departing Boston, MA, around 2pm yesterday, our research vessel slowly made its way to Cashes Ledge, arriving in the early dawn.

Let me just say, you don’t have to go below the waves to know that Cashes Ledge is full of life. We spent the morning watching humpback whales feed on schools of fish, while seabirds circled and dived from above. All day the whales continued to surface, so close to the ship that we could hear their spout from on deck.

The waters were fairly calm today and the team was able to complete two dives, the first around 10am and the second around 2pm. The fog rolled in just as the second dive began and has stayed with us. The visibility underwater was low, but the team saw plenty of fish – mainly cod, pollock, and cunner. After the first dive, Brian Skerry reported that the kelp is healthy, thick, and lush, and Dr. Jon Witman described it as “very luxurious.”

Fiona-Kelp-CashesExpedition2016While the team was underwater, I assisted Dr. Witman’s undergraduate assistant Fiona Beltram as she measured the kelp samples collected by the scientists from Ammen Rock. Among the kelp, we found beautiful sea stars, baby brittle stars, horse mussels, and encrusting bryozoans. Don’t worry, all the samples are being returned to the sea.

As Jon and Fiona finish measuring their kelp samples, the rest of the team is relaxing (some napping) after a busy first day.

Dive 1: 48 minutes, average depth 34 feet, max depth 46 feet
Dive 2: 44 minutes, average depth 40 feet, max depth 46 feet
Water temperature: 49°F

 

 

Dive in on Cashes Ledge 3.0!

We are excited to announce that we have embarked upon a dive expedition this week, exploring the crown jewel of New England’s ocean – Cashes Ledge! We can’t wait to report to you from one of our most treasured special places, accompanied by our friend and partner, Brian Skerry, and Cashes Ledge expert scientist Dr. Jon Witman.

Unlike in years past, our research vessel, provided and operated by the Waitt Foundation, will take the 100-mile trip out to Cashes Ledge from Portsmouth, NH, and will remain at sea through May 30. During this time period, our talented team of scientists, photojournalists, and cinematographers will take full advantage of every opportunity to explore and document this place. Additionally, I will be highlighting the expedition live from the boat via social media! Be sure to follow Conservation Law Foundation and New England Ocean Odyssey on Facebook and Twitter to receive live updates.

On previous expeditions, National Geographic photographer Brian Skerry has captured breathtaking images of the kelp forest and marine wildlife at Cashes Ledge, and we are on the edge of our seats to see what critters he will come in contact with this time.

We are even more excited to share the expedition with Conservation Law Foundation and New England Ocean Odyssey followers, so that you can dive in with us to see the beauty of Cashes Ledge as well!

About Cashes Ledge

Cashes Ledge is an underwater mountain range in the heart of the Gulf of Maine. Its tallest peak, Ammen Rock, rises to within 40 feet of the surface. The strong currents and internal waves along the ledge mix nutrient- and oxygen-rich water producing a biodiversity hotspot right in New England’s backyard. Atop the ledge you’ll find the deepest and largest cold water kelp forest along the Atlantic seaboard. The unique ecological conditions found at Cashes Ledge draw in a rich diversity of marine species ranging from bottom-dwelling sea stars, sea anemones, and purple sponges to fish like cod, wolfish, and bluefin tuna to endangered North Atlantic right whales.

Campaign to Protect New England’s Ocean Treasures

Cashes Ledge is a truly unique area in New England’s ocean. It’s a refuge habitat for some of our most valuable and iconic species; it’s an underwater laboratory that scientists can use to better understand the effects of climate change; and it’s greatly vulnerable to human and ecological threats. For these reasons, Cashes Ledge deserves to be permanently protected as a Marine National Monument. In addition to following our dive expedition, be sure to follow our campaign to Protect New England’s Ocean Treasures.

Note: As always, trips to Cashes Ledge are weather dependent. We’ll be updating frequently, so be sure to check back in often!