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Sylvia Earle Revisits Hawaii’s Deep Frontier

National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Sylvia Earle just completed three of the four days of Pisces submersible time in Hawaiian waters, funded by a National Geographic Society grant awarded in July. Another dive is planned for early September.

Oceanographer-explorer Sylvia Earle, a former chief scientist of NOAA, wrote an article in the May 1980 issue of National Geographic Magazine, about her exploration of the ocean deep in a Jim suit, which allowed her to explore the seafloor at 1,250 feet and ascend without decompression. She was the first to wear Jim for open-sea exploration.
Oceanographer-explorer Sylvia Earle, a former chief scientist of NOAA, wrote an article in the May 1980 issue of National Geographic Magazine, about her exploration of the ocean deep in a Jim suit, which allowed her to explore the seafloor at 1,250 feet and ascend without decompression. She was the first to wear Jim for open-sea exploration. Her exploration of the deep reefs in Hawaii 37 years ago was also funded by the National Geographic Society.

“The research goals included working with deep coral and fish experts Dr. Frank Parrish and Dr. Richard Pyle to explore and document deep reefs in Hawaii with special reference to a site near Oahu at Makapu’u, where I used the Jim diving suit for a National Geographic project in 1979,” Earle said in an email.

“I was fascinated by the bioluminescent bamboo corals (Lepidisis olapa) that pulse with rings of blue light when touched. I wrote about the experience in the 1980 NGS book, “Exploring the Deep Frontier,” and for National Geographic Magazine in a May 1980 article [alongside]. Returning to the site 37 years later and finding the forests of bamboo coral flourishing, along with stands of pink, gold and black coral, was exciting and cause for hope!”

Earle was retracing her dive in Hawaii last week in part for the National Geographic film “Blue Centennial” by a team headed by Bob Nixon. The documentary includes teenagers who are part of the narrative that features present and future “blue parks” that complement the current mostly terrestrial U.S. National Parks, she explained.

Pisces V being launched.
Pisces V being launched.
Photographs by Taylor Griffith
Photographs by Taylor Griffith

DOER Marine (Deep Ocean Exploration and Research), a marine technology company established by Earle, is the program manger for the NGS grant, with Earle as the chief scientist. Coral specialist Frank Parrish, a biologist with NOAA Fisheries Service, Honolulu Laboratory, and Richard Pyle, the highly acclaimed deep sea biologist based at the Bishop Museum in Hawaii, are science collaborators.

Photo by Liz Taylor/DOER Marine
Photo by Liz Taylor/DOER Marine

“The objective was for Dr. Earle to return to the same area where she worked on a record-setting dive in 1979 using a Jim suit to see how the area had changed over time. Samples were collected at several sites (like the one in the photo alongside) as were some experiments with the corals,” said Liz Taylor, President of DOER Marine, also in an email. The project is called: “Exploration of Deep Water Biota with Pisces Submersibles near Oahu and Molokai, Hawaii.”

Hope Spots

“In ‘Blue Centennial,’ Dr. Earle is traveling to a number of  ‘hope spots’ with a group of young explorers and also engaging with regional kids along the way,” Taylor said. “The goal is to build the case for greater marine protection.”

 

Morgan Griffith and Finn Kennedy chat before the dive.
Photo above: Morgan Griffith (left) and Finn Kennedy chat before the dive. They were among five students who participated in dives with Sylvia Earle and other scientists.
Finn Kennedy and Sylvia Earle.
Finn Kennedy and Sylvia Earle. Photographs by Taylor Griffith.

Morgan Griffith, a high school biology intern, got a huge boost being able to work alongside Dr. Parrish for a few days, Taylor added. Morgan and other students got to dive in the submersibles with Parrish, Earle and Pyle. Some of this likely to be featured in the Blue Centennial film.

Sylvia Earle. Photograph by Taylor Griffith.
Sylvia Earle. Photograph by Taylor Griffith.

A central part of the story is the vital importance of the Pisces subs and the deep water ROV based at the Hawaiian Undersea Research Center (HURL).

The head of HURL is Terry Kerby, pilot of the Pisces subs since 1979. His colleague is Max Cramer, deep coral scientist and pilot of the Pisces 4 sub for more than a decade. Both are based at HURL at the University of Hawaii. The ROVs are highly specialized scientific vehicles that are vital to the success of marine projects.

The two submersible pilots are key players in the expedition and critical experts in exploring and documenting the nature of the deep sea throughout the Pacific, but especially in Hawaiian waters, Earle said.

“Submersibles are a critical tool that provide the only way for us to directly observe the ocean far below and far longer than scuba diving allows,” Taylor added. “The five kids that had an opportunity to dive hundreds of meters below the surface came away changed for the better. We need to preserve such opportunities to pair scientists like Sylvia Earle and Frank Parrish with students, artists, musicians and others and share their stories broadly.”

Photograph by Taylor Griffith.
Photograph by Taylor Griffith

Sylvia Earle will publish updates about the project on Ocean Voices.

12418031_10153900711084116_8462971761216697621_nDavid Braun is director of outreach with the digital and social media team illuminating the National Geographic Society’s explorer, science, and education programs.

He edits National Geographic Voices, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society’s mission and major initiatives. Contributors include grantees and Society partners, as well as universities, foundations, interest groups, and individuals dedicated to a sustainable world. More than 50,000 readers have participated in 10,000 conversations.

Braun also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship

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Comments

  1. Rebecca Martin
    United States
    August 22, 10:31 am

    Amazing return to the deep in Hawaii, and so wonderful to be educating and inspiring the next generation of explorers!