Highlights from Dominica expedition 2016

We have returned from our 6 week trip from Dominica. You may have read and kept up with us over these past weeks through our social media and Chapman Expeditions page. 

In case you've missed it, here are some highlights from the trip.

These are some cool creatures we came across exploring the unknown depths of Dominica. You can find more information about these invertebrates at the Chapman Expeditions page

Dominica Expedition with Substation Curacao & R/V Chapman

R/V Chapman and submarine Curasub to set out on expedition to Dominica

WILLEMSTAD (February 11, 2016) – On Friday February 19, 2016 the Curacao owned, based and operated Research Vessel and submarine tender RV Chapman will leave the harbor of Willemstad and start out for the island of Dominica, in the Eastern Caribbean. The 137ft long Chapman will be carrying a total of 17 crew members and passengers.  Also on board will be the Curasub, the 5 person submersible operated by Substation Curacao.  As in any responsible operation, the ship will be carrying auxiliary boats; at least 3 will be carried along during the passage to Dominica. 

The reason for the at least month long expedition to Dominica, led by Curacao Sea Aquarium director Adrian “Dutch” Schrier, is twofold. On the one hand, the trip to Dominica has been designed around a large group of marine scientists.  They will be using the Curasub to explore the deep reefs off Dominica, from 200 feet to 1000 feet, in search of new species.  The secondary reason is that Substation Curacao and STIMACUR, the foundation for Marine Archaeology Curaçao, have teamed up.  These entities will be venturing into the deep reefs off the northwestern coast of Dominica to document and map known deep water anchorage sites and possible archeological findings.

In order to conduct this marine research about a dozen scientists of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History will be flying to Dominica mid-March. They will be accommodated in the staterooms on board the Chapman. For those passengers preferring lodgings on shore, comfortable cottages will be available.

For this group of scientists this will not be their first encounter with the Chapman and the Curasub, as these entities have a long standing scientific relationship dating back to 2011. This partnership has so far yielded over 35 new species of fish, sponges and invertebrates, not to mention the highly successful Deep Reef Observation Program (DROP) launched to explore marine life and monitor changes on deep reefs in the southern Caribbean.

Documenting and mapping of deep reef locations where archeological artifacts and even old shipwrecks might be present, will take place at the request of the island government of Dominica. The authorities have over the last couple of years built up a close working relationship with STIMACUR and especially their leader Mr.  François van der Hoeven. Partnering with each other in a joint Marine Archeological Expedition, the Dominican government, RV Chapman, Substation Curacao and STIMACUR are now hoping to discover historical nautical sites and uncover century’s old ships that went down as a result of fierce tropical storms and hurricanes or perished hundreds of years ago during naval battles and attacks by pirates.

For setting the Curasub, as well as all the auxiliary vessels overboard, the Chapman is equipped with a 110 ton Fassi crane and onboard camera equipment able to document all goings on in and on the ship. To facilitate the research work on board the research vessel, Dutch Schrier furthermore had the research vessel outfitted with air-conditioned wet and dry labs. In the spacious and comfortable lounge a state of the art audio/visual system will guarantee that all aboard will be able to fully enjoy the videos and pictures of the day’s archeological and scientific endeavors because all submarine trips will be recorded via constant high definition cameras and this film material will be used to create a documentation of all exploratory work on Dominica.

Apart from lauded marine biologists and scientists from the Smithsonian Institution, the Chapman will additionally receive visiting researchers from Dutch universities, like the University of Wageningen, and other scientific institutes. These researchers have been doing deep sea studies with the Chapman and the Curasub in Curaçao and Bonaire and would like to compare the deep reef situation in Curaçao and Bonaire waters with those in the Dominica waters.

The trip to Dominica is expected to take about 2.5 to 3 days. So leaving the harbor of Curacao on the 19th would set the research ship to reach the southwest part of the island and its capital Roseau around the 22nd of February, where the ship initially dock at the Fisheries Dock before continuing on northbound to Prince Rupert Bay around the 26th. Dominica dignitaries have already announced that they are very much looking forward to the arrival of the Chapman, the Curasub and their subsequent crews.

Fabien Cousteau visiting

We have many special guests visiting and diving with us but last week we had a very special guest that arrived on the island. Fabien Cousteau is grandson of famed oceanographic explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau and son of Jean-Michel Cousteau. 

He had the the opportunity to be part of Chata's sustainability conference introducing the Ocean Ecopark in Curacao.

The Ocean Ecopark project is based on the installation of a deep seawater pipeline to a depth of approximately 1000m.  Cold deep seawater at approximately 4-6C will then be brought to the surface and can be used for a multitude of processes.  Initially it will be used to replace the A/C systems of the airport and the large buildings in the airport area by cooling directly using the deep seawater.  The deep seawater will also be used in combination with warm surface water (using the temperature differential) for production of electricity using OTEC technology.  

Together with Fabien and Diego Acevedo (from the Ocean Ecopark project) we descended to 500ft with the Curasub. It was the perfect way to show them both what conditions we have at these depths in Curacao. 

Not to forget a student from Radulphus college, Danzelle-Mae, who won this trip with us and these gentlemen in the sub. Because she had the best grades in biology, of her class, she had the privilege to experience our underwater world.

These projects & cooperation's are of great importance to the island and elsewhere. We hope to bring you more soon. 

Not just scientists.....

So far most of our blog posts have been about our work together with scientists and marine biologists. 

But since our start (in 2010) we've had more than just these guys coming over and keeping us busy for hours underwater. We've had many passengers that have experienced our deep water expeditions to 1,000ft at the Curacao Sea Aquarium. Making it the number one experience in Curacao and the entire Caribbean. 

But since we've opened we've also had very special guests that dropped in and took a plunge into the deep with the Curasub. 
One of them was Andre Kuipers. He is a Dutch Physician/ Astronaut and he became the second Dutch citizen to have been in space. He stayed for 11 days.

We've had the English soul singer, Joss Stone in our sub. Joss Stone is multi Grammy winner who preformed at the Curacao North Sea Jazz. She was invited by Substation Curacao to experience our unique trips. 

Other special guests were also Jack Hanna, who's a zookeeper and became famous for his live TV shows with animals and did appearances at Johnny Carson,   David Letterman and Maury Povich.

And these were not the only special guests that have passed by Substation Curacao.
Check out our pictures of none other than James Cameron! He sat in the sub, right before it was shipped to Curaçao. 
Jeff Corwin, Phillipe Cousteau, Dominique Serafini & two soap actors from Brazil also experienced our our trips to the deep reef. 

In search of new discoveries with Smithsonian Institution

So we're back from a trip again with the entire crew plus our good friends from the Smithsonian Institution. This time we went to Playa Forti and Jeremi for a couple of days all together. Both locations we've been before.

The first day we stayed at Playa Forti with the ship. We immediately launched the platform and right after our submersible. Once everything is in place the passengers get ready to board. There's always a plan before we go on each dive but once underwater it always takes us on a different course. We see unexpected fishes that we didn't know were there or discover different structures that we've seen before. 

We have just begun to understand our oceans and deep reefs in Curacao. On each dive we learn and see new stuff we've never seen before. The reef structures at Jeremi and Playa Forti are completely different from what we've seen at Curacao Sea Aquarium. The reefs here are less steep and different growth of corals  & sponges. Some fish that you hardly see on the South-East side you encounter here in abundance. 

When the Curasub is back it has collected the specimens that were necessary for these scientists. For them the job actually starts when we bring up these specimens. These pictures will give you an idea as to what's involved for maintaining these. For fish it's a different process than for shells. The latter are carefully selected one-by-one and set apart. After that they are handed over to the experts for further research by photographing them and preservation. 

Watch this cool clip on Youtube of how the R/V Chapman was anchored at the Jeremi: 

What are ARMS?

ARMS (Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures) are like condos for a reef’s “hidden biodiversity” --  the small invertebrates and algae that grow, burrow and hide in the cracks and crevices of reefs. In the last few years, more than 500 identical ARMS have been deployed in shallow reefs around the world for a year at a time providing a standard method to quantify and monitor biodiversity of organisms and help monitor impacts of ocean warming and ocean acidification.

But ARMS have never been deployed in deep reefs – until now, that is. Extending ARMS to deep reefs will allow comparison across depth, helping answer questions of what role these deep reefs might play in the survival of shallow reefs.

However, setting out and retrieving ARMS is trickier in the deep, beyond the reach of SCUBA and human hands. Deploying and retrieving them using just a sub’s robotic arms and tools takes creative problem solving and many design iterations.

The overall design of the deep reef ARMS has to remain untouched so that results can be compared with their shallow counterparts. For deep-water deployment, each ARMS has to be attached to the sub in a way that the robotic arm can easily lift it off the sub. With a hook, some string, a pruner-like attachment and a claw, each structure was removed and positioned successfully.

This is tricky enough when done by a SCUBA diver. How will a sub do this? Stainless steel brackets were attached to the base of each deep-reef ARMS, and a compressible edge and push latches to the rim of each crate. 

The ARMS are made up of 9 gray PVC plates. The team places the structures on the seafloor at various depths along a transect line and leaves them. Then after a year or two they are retrieved, and go through intensive processing at the surface to see how many different species have found a home there!

Find the complete story here

The story about the cups

So what's the story about these cups? 
You might have seen this before on our Facebook page or heard from others that we ask each one of our passengers to create their own cup. 
They can be as creative as they want and make it however they want.

So what then? Well, we attach them on the outside of the sub and take them with us on their dive. The idea is to show our passengers the immense depths we can reach and the pressure at those depths. Once we're back from the dive and surface the result is amazing!
The size is reduced from a coffee cup to a smaller sized (tequila) cup. 

Most of our passengers make these as a present for someone, their own souvenir or even as a Christmas ornament. 

Every since we started with this project we've seen some very creative and astonishing cups which we wanted to share with you. Check out the before- and after pictures. 

What is project DROP?

What is DROP?

Deep Reef Observation Project (DROP) is the name of the project under which the Smithsonian Institution has been conducting research in Curaçao since they started in 2010. The great collaboration between Substation Curaçao and the Institution has led to an on-going project named as such.

Over the course of these years researchers from the Smithsonian have been active in several areas such as the ARMS (Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures) project, been measuring water temperatures at different depths, researching (new) fish species, sponges, crabs and more. More about this can be found on this page.

DROP is a multidisciplinary Smithsonian project exploring the diversity of tropical deep reefs off the coast of Curaçao in the southern Caribbean. Deep reefs are natural extensions of shallow water reefs. But because they lie beyond SCUBA diving depths, deep reefs are underexplored ecosystems worldwide.

DROP is a 2011 and 2012 Smithsonian Grand Challenge Award project funded in part by the Consortium for Understanding and Sustaining a Biodiverse Planet, National Geographic’s Committee for Research and Exploration, and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

Collecting with the submersible has been one of their main means of ‘transportation’. Although they’ve been using submersibles for many years, it offers them not only a mans of transportation but also the excellent weather conditions that the island of Curacao offers them.

This has finally caught the attention of many other scientists around the world and which also led to the Prime Minister of Curaçao, Ivar Asjes, to have visited the Institution in Washington.