Below is a short video I shot last Friday following a maintenance/cleaning dive in the Atlantic Coral Reef exhibit at the National Aquarium:
Recently I took a week-long dive trip to Grand Bahama Island with my girls. While they made sand castles and lounged on the beach, I took advantage of two tanks a day, in 6 or 8 different spots along the reef. The diving off Grand Bahama is gorgeous. I imagine that the economic hit the Caribbean has taken since the hurricanes of ’04 and ’05 has probably provided some welcome relief for the coral reef in that area.
From the unique perspective of a dive boat half a mile offshore, you really get a feel for the slump in tourism that has come as a result of natural disaster and a global economic downturn. Incomplete construction projects dot the beach, where new tourist ventures seem to have been halted in mid-development. And where there is life on the sand, the industry is clearly not flourishing as it once was.
Cynical though it may sound, this is all good news for the tourist who prefers to avoid the crowd, and see the wildlife unspoilt.
Below is a video I shot from one of the last dives, “Shark Alley.” These Caribbean Reef Sharks are actually on their way to meet another group of divers that offers them food in exchange for photo ops. We just intercepted them along the way.
Special thanks to Aquatic Adventures of Alexandria, Virginia and the crew at Viva! Diving in Port Lucaya, Grand Bahama.
all photos © Jeff Nesmith
Abbott: Strange as it may seem, they give ball players nowadays very peculiar names.
Costello: Funny names?
Abbott: Nicknames, nicknames. Now, on the St. Louis team we have Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know is on third–
Costello: That’s what I want to find out. I want you to tell me the names of the fellows on the St. Louis team.
Abbott: I’m telling you. Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know is on third–
Costello: You know the fellows’ names?
Costello: Well, then who’s playing first?
Costello: I mean the fellow’s name on first base.
Costello: The fellow playin’ first base.
Costello: The guy on first base.
Abbott: Who is on first.
Costello: Well, what are you askin’ me for?
Abbott: I’m not asking you–I’m telling you. Who is on first.
Costello: I’m asking you–who’s on first?
Abbott: That’s the man’s name.
Costello: That’s who’s name?
Costello: When you pay off the first baseman every month, who gets the money?
Abbott: Every dollar of it. And why not, the man’s entitled to it.
Costello: Who is?
Costello: So who gets it?
Abbott: Why shouldn’t he? Sometimes his wife comes down and collects it.
Costello: Who’s wife?
Abbott: Yes. After all, the man earns it.
Costello: Who does?
Costello: Well, all I’m trying to find out is what’s the guy’s name on first base?
Abbott: Oh, no, no. What is on second base.
Costello: I’m not asking you who’s on second.
Abbott: Who’s on first!
Costello: St. Louis has a good outfield?
Abbott: Oh, absolutely.
Costello: The left fielder’s name?
Costello: I don’t know, I just thought I’d ask.
Abbott: Well, I just thought I’d tell you.
Costello: Then tell me who’s playing left field?
Abbott: Who’s playing first.
Costello: Stay out of the infield! The left fielder’s name?
Abbott: Oh, he’s center field.
Costello: Wait a minute. You got a pitcher on this team?
Abbott: Wouldn’t this be a fine team without a pitcher?
Costello: Tell me the pitcher’s name.
Costello: Now, when the guy at bat bunts the ball–me being a good catcher–I want to throw the guy out at first base, so I pick up the ball and throw it to who?
Abbott: Now, that’s he first thing you’ve said right.
Costello: I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT!
Abbott: Don’t get excited. Take it easy.
Costello: I throw the ball to first base, whoever it is grabs the ball, so the guy runs to second. Who picks up the ball and throws it to what. What throws it to I don’t know. I don’t know throws it back to tomorrow–a triple play.
Abbott: Yeah, it could be.
Costello: Another guy gets up and it’s a long ball to center.
Costello: Why? I don’t know. And I don’t care.
Abbott: What was that?
Costello: I said, I DON’T CARE!
Abbott: Oh, that’s our shortstop!
Volunteer divers at the National Aquarium perform a number of different tasks, both in the water and dry. On each of the four daily dives, the volunteers’ roles are divided up by the team captain depending on how many divers are there on a given day and what special needs the exhibits might have. There is always a “tender” who stays dry for at least two dives. (Since divers generally go straight to the Atlantic Coral Reef exhibit after finishing the Wings in the Water feeding, the same person will remain topside for both.) This person is the safety watch during the dive, and is responsible for calling the divers in, whether for emergency or non-emergency reasons. The dive tender usually brings the animals’ food from the prep room to the exhibits, maintains a safe, dry(ish) platform, interacts with visitors, and gives the topside presentation at Wings in the Water while the divers are entering the exhibit. The position is rotated every week, again depending on the needs of the team members and the Aquarium.
Wings in the Water:
In Wings in the Water, the divers themselves have different feeding responsibilities. Usually one or two divers will handle the “general feed.” This means taking a bucket with assorted squid, smelt, shrimp, etc. into the water to feed the cownose rays, smaller Southern stingrays and the large tarpon.
The “target feeder” will usually concentrate on the larger Southern stingrays, the roughtail rays, the pelagic ray and the butterfly ray. These animals tend to be a little pickier, and need to be fed more deliberately so they don’t lose out to the more assertive cownose rays—for a visual, imagine trying to feed a litter of 20 puppies from a small bag of chow… now do that in scuba gear.
The bullnose rays tend to eat like models and, in my short experience, really only go for shrimp. A single diver handles this feeding. One technique that seems to work with the bullnose rays is to remain motionless near the well of the exhibit and hold the food close to the floor and wait for them to come by. Plans to cover the top of this well are currently underway.
And then there’s Calypso. Calypso is the green sea turtle that lives in the Wings in the Water exhibit. She’s on a vegetarian diet of cauliflower, Romaine lettuce, brussel sprouts and other assorted salads. Another diver stays with Calypso, feeding her (very carefully) by hand, and trying to keep her from wandering off.
There is no less division of duties in the Atlantic Coral Reef exhibit. Here, two divers usually split the role of feeding Oscar and Felix, the green moray eels. These guys are big, and have the jaw power to deliver what my team captain described to me as a “career-ending” bite. So generally, one diver will scout out the eel with a flashlight (the morays tend to hide out in crevices in the reef) and the other will follow with a bag of squid and fish and a long pole from which the food is offered. You can never tell with these guys; sometimes they’re friendly and curious, and sometimes they just want to be left alone.
There is, of course, general feeding too. The larger reef fish are fed from buckets and the smaller fish eat a pureed mixture from squirt bottles. There are a few targeted fish as well. The porcupine fish eat from a separate bag of shrimp and shellfish. Another diver will be responsible for feeding the two stingrays that live in the ACR. The feeding technique is generally the same as in Wings in the Water, although these animals tend to stick to a smaller area in the tank.
Both of these exhibits require regular maintenance from time to time. Divers are often asked to take suction cups, scrub brushes and rags to clean the reef or the glass. Scooping gravel away from the filters in the well of Wings in the Water is a constant need.
Of course, one of the main responsibilities of the volunteer divers is to interact with and entertain the visitors on the other side of the glass. I’ve noticed that—at least with my dive crew—this is something that can be expected without asking.
all photos © Jeff Nesmith
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