Islands in the Stream Expedition
South Atlantic Bight Mission
Savannah Scarp Leg
Sept. 6-9, 2001
Aboard the R/V Seward Johnson II and Submersible Clelia

Dr. Leslie Sautter
Dept. of Geology and Environmental Geosciences
College of Charleston

Saturday, Sept. 8 - 2200 hrs
This morning I asked my cabin-mate, Venetia (our resident Educator, from Oatland Environmental Education Center, near Savannah), to wake me up if George needed me for anything special. I hadn't slept well and yesterday morning Venetia and I were dutifully up at 0600 hrs for our watch to find not a soul on deck! Ten minutes after she'd left - just as I was drifting off to sleep again -- she burst into our cabin and said, "They need you now -- you're going on the first dive!"
I'd been scheduled for the Sunday morning dive, so I was quite surprised! It turned out that Saturday's sub pilot, Tim Askew is the heaviest of the 3 pilots, and the two observers (Drs. Reed Bohne and Henry Ansley from Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary) who were scheduled to go on the dive were also large men, equating to a weight overload! So Michael Jordan (the "TV Guy" from Savannah who was documenting our voyage) and I were rousted from our bunks, briefed for 5 minutes (seriously brief!), and told to take one last visit to the 'head,' or restroom (PB4U Go)! There was no time to think, plan, or even consider fear - I was in a daze of adrenaline-fueled excitement and disbelief. I was about to descend more than 200 ft to the unknown seafloor!
I climbed the ladder to the open hatch and entered the sub (Fig. 20), then positioned myself in the starboard front "seat" - a poorly cushioned ledge - within the observation bubble (Fig. 21). Michael sat with his little video cam behind me, and Tim, our pilot, sat to my left. As soon as we were settled, Tim instructed us on how to get back to the surface if anything happened to him while we were on the bottom - an eye-opener of the potential danger. He did a quick run-through of the procedure for the launch and dive, tested the sub's giant mechanical arm (which consists of a two-fingered grasping claw, a vacuum device and a sediment scooper), and showed me how to operate the all-important video cameras mounted externally on our port "bow."
With all my new colleagues cheering us on, we were lifted from the deck (Fig. 22) by the enormous A-frame. I made a little sign that read "NO LEAKS!" and held it against the window for them to see (Fig. 23). and were very gently lowered to the sea surface. With a little jerk and loud foosh, we were released from the ship's grasp and made a splashdown into the water, bubbles and froth filling our view (Fig. 24). Everything was quiet and peaceful as we gently started to descend in a slow and steady freefall. As I looked up at the sky -- viewed through the water's surface -- and watched it grow blurry and dim, I thought simply that this must be something like how it feels to drown; yet there was not an ounce of fear - only peace - in my bones. Peace and awe.
I focussed my gaze on the material floating just outside the bubble and was absolutely thrilled to see a living pteropod "flying" with its "wing-foot" toward me (Fig. 25) as if to wave hello. What a wonderful greeting to this undersea world - a good omen! I have seen hundreds of pteropod shells in my sediment traps and deep-sea samples over my 20-year career, but have never seen the graceful and beautiful living organism.
It only took a few minutes to descend the 210 ft to the seafloor. We watched the natural light fade progressively and felt the temperature begin to drop to a more comfortable degree. The water was a light greenish-brown and the sub's lights showed an amazing "snowstorm" of tiny marine snow particles - silt-sized suspended sediments, plankton, and organic debris. Visibility was still only about 20 ft, but that would prove to be just fine.
The seafloor then came into our view and the Clelia completed the descent and rested her sleds on the sandy floor. A few sponges and "corkscrew" octacorals were nearby, and several amberjacks - large fish who are notoriously attracted to subs - (Fig. 26) circled around us and peeked at the curious yellow metal beast that was visiting their quiet home.
After communicating with the ship we turned on our sonar (Fig. 27) and headed for our first waypoint - a small blip on the fathometer traces that indicated a possible rocky outcrop. As we glided across the seafloor, hovering just a few feet above it, we became accustomed to our surroundings and settled in for the "3 hour tour." At first, all we saw was a nearly featureless sandy bottom. There were no ripples to indicate continuous currents affecting the bottom. We stopped briefly to suck-up (vacuum) some sediments (Fig. 28) to get a feel for their consistency and thickness. A hard pavement - probably limestone - lay like a rock mattress just 10-15 cm below the sediment blanket. We got a nice "sucker sample" but knew that box coring would be impossible there.
We motored for a few hundred feet and began to see little "fuzzy" areas on the seabed (Fig. 29). These were invertebrate-coated rocky rubble areas. No rock was without a dense community of attached organisms. When the first rocky outcrop ledge came into view (Fig. 30). I caught my breath. My eyes were open wide, jaw dropped, and I was literally on the edge of my seat. "I am seeing this. I am here." I had to remind myself that this was not the Discovery Channel!
The small rocky outcrop reefs were each completely covered with encrusting and sessile invertebrates: bryozoa, sponges, and possibly some coral. Fish swarmed in and around each reef (Fig. 31). Gag grouper (Fig. 32), scamp, tattlers, two-spot cardinals, yellow-tail reef fish, wrasses of several varieties, triggerfish (Fig. 33), angels and butterfly fish (Fig. 34). Most of the reefs had 20-30 cubbyus - small-to-medium black fish that never seemed to stray from the rocks (Fig. 35). Apparently they are nocturnal and wander at night in search of food. On one reef we found a huge oyster toadfish hiding under the rocky ledge (Fig. 36). We tried to stun it with a drug called rotenone so we could collect him, but it only made him happy and silly, and he eluded us. We captured him on film instead, which suited me fine. We settled on collecting two cubbyus. George Sedberry had never caught a cubbyu in his fish traps before, so I was glad to take him a gift since he'd brought me a rock from the previous day's dive.
We found an octopus in his small rocky den (Fig. 37), with mollusk shells littered all around it. Two gray triggerfish hovered above him. We saw arrow crabs, and a few single fish including a snowy grouper, a large red snapper, and a barracuda! Good thing Tim is a fisherman, as he knew a lot more fish names than did I!
On the sediment plains we saw garden eels pop back into their burrow dens with our approach. Feathery tubeworms were common sediment inhabitants during the second half of the dive. They were also very retractable and shy. In some areas there were tens of these in our view (Fig. 38). Among them lived purple and orange starfish. We scooped up a starfish and two tubes (Fig. 39), along with the surrounding sediment. We "caught" 6 samples of sediment from various locations throughout our dive.
Using the giant mechanical arm we tried to lift one of the very few loose rocks ("rocky rubble"), but it was too heavy. This was my BIG one that got away! However, we were able to pinch off a small end of it which we named "Chip" (Fig. 40). We also tried our "arm" at taking a box core sample (Fig. 41), having found sediment that was a little thicker than elsewhere, But, when the mechanical arm twisted the handle that closes the core doors, the entire core rotated in the sediment. We got some sediment, but they were very disturbed, defeating the purpose of the box core technique.
The last third of the expedition we did not find many outcrops, but roamed across the nearly barren, flat plain of seafloor, encountering and following a skate for a few minutes (Fig. 42), finding a huge hermit crab (Fig. 43), and watching the feather-duster tube worms quickly disappear into their sandy homes. We turned the camera on ourselves for a "Hi, Mom!" shot (Fig. 44).
When it was time to leave we slowly lifted off the seafloor and soon saw the brightness increase. It really did seem like we were ascending toward Heaven. Michael switched places with Tim - not an easy task! - and filmed our surfacing. We bobbed at the sea surface and slowly moved toward the ship (Fig. 45).
Positioning ourselves at the ship's stern, we could see the two big screws (propellers) before us. We seemed very close, but did not worry. Then one of the crew dove in to attach the sub's "leash" (Fig. 46). We discovered that we'd been fooled by the water's magnification and refraction of light. The diver was about 50 ft away from us! He swam towards the sub and attached the towline and, eventually, made the A-frame connection.
Very quickly we were re-secured to our mother ship (Fig.47) and hoisted upward, dripping, into the air, with a terrific view of the SJII. How exciting to return from such a successful dive! It only took a few minutes to settle us on the deck, take a few welcome-home photos (Fig. 48), open the hatch and climb out, with smiles HUGE on our faces.
We eagerly examined our treasures collected from the deep, including the starfish (Fig. 49), a fossil keyhole urchin (like a sand dollar) (Fig. 50), a huge lion's paw scallop shell (just one half) with a small community of dead horn corals attached (Fig. 51), and the invertebrate-encrusted "Chip". Somehow all these items returned to the surface intact! Chip was covered with all sorts of critters (Fig. 52). It was a beautiful specimen that enthralled the biologists.
The cameras and colleagues crowded around us to hear our tales and see our interesting samples. My adrenaline was pumping and I felt light-headed. Sitting all folded up, knees to chest, for three hours hadn't bothered me a bit. I was starving, though, and had to use the restroom!
During the afternoon we were busy documenting our dive and bagged all the great sediment samples. These samples are going to be gorgeous under a microscope. For dinner, we grilled steaks and fresh tuna on the fantail (stern) deck, celebrating our day's success (Fig. 53). That evening the sun made a magnificent show on the steel gray horizon. Red sky at night, sailor's delight Well said.
We stayed up late, working hard and getting punchy in the lab as we annotated the dive tapes. We got some excellent footage on the dive. What a treasure to have the entire experience on videotape, including views of us in the submersible on the seafloor.
During the night the two guys from the Beaufort NOAA lab made beam trawls of the seafloor. On the first one they caught a small hand-sized octopus and a wonderful little 4" seahorse. I held the seahorse in my hand and he wrapped his tail around my finger, and he simultaneously stole my heart. So we immediately set up a mini aquarium in one of the collection bins and added my small rock, Chip, that had a soft coral "tree" attached. The seahorse quickly secured his tail around the coral and rested. John Brooks, the videographer on board, took half an hour of incredible close-up film of the seahorse and feather-duster tube worms on Chip. These tube worms would slowly venture from their homes and open their "feathers" in a beautiful display, then POP! back in when startled. We soon added the octopus to the aquarium and allowed them all to cohabitate for a while (Fig. 54).
What an incredible adventure it was - an incredible journey that has only just begun. I'm glad to know that I'll be returning to the Seward Johnson II in a couple short weeks for another leg of this expedition - the Charleston Bump leg. I hope to dive again to even greater depths. This has been an incredible trip and I am grateful that Dr. George Sedberry and NOAA gave me this opportunity. "Awesome" is the best descriptor of my experience. Truly awesome. (Fig. 55).

Fig. 20

Fig. 21

Fig. 22

Fig. 23 (video)

Fig. 24

Fig. 25

Fig. 26

Fig. 27

Fig. 28

Fig. 29

Fig. 30

Fig. 31

Fig. 32

Fig. 33

Fig. 34

Fig. 35

Fig. 36

Fig. 37 (video)

Fig. 38

Fig. 39

Fig. 40 (video)

Fig. 41

Fig. 42

Fig. 43

Fig. 44

Fig. 45

Fig. 46

Fig. 47

Fig. 48

Fig. 49

Fig. 50

Fig. 51

Fig. 52

Fig. 53

Fig. 54

Fig. 55