13 - Rubble Dreams
October 20, 2006
By Andy Collins,
NOAA, NOS, NWHIMNM -
Education and Outreach Specialist
There is something extremely peaceful about scuba diving
along a stretch of sand and rubble, moving at less than a snails pace,
hole in the surface, every tiny piece of algae or sponge,
with only the sound of my breathing. It is a sort of trance state, a
the ocean’s bottom, and the bounty of life that covers every centimeter
of rubble, or the tiny burrows in the sand.
An ascidian (red/brown) and a sponge (orange). Photo: Andy Collins
our dive today I probably covered an area equivalent to an average bathroom.
Most of the time I was laying on the sand bottom
at tiny coral rubble mounds. I hardly looked up. I paid
no attention to the fish. I listened only to my rhythmic
breathing and I carefully inspected
every surface. I had no idea of what I was looking at most
of the time, I can’t even place most of the organisms in the right categories,
but this expedition, and the people that specialize in seeing the tiny,
the weird and the well camouflaged, have opened my eyes to a strange world
that I all but passed by before. It is like the difference between flying
over the continental U.S. in an airplane and seeing the large features – the
Grand Canyon, a city, a large farm – and actually driving or hiking
through those areas and seeing the communities, the rows
of corn, and stopping to have a cup of coffee at a small
town cafe. Most of my previous
dives I was flying high, looking at the fish, the corals,
all the large features. There was an entire world I was passing
An ascidian (blue) with symbiotic algae, and a red algae growing on a dead coral branch. Photo: Andy Collins
When I stopped
to smell the algae, I saw tiny sponges in vibrant orange and yellow,
an iridescent blue sea squirt with embedded
green algae, a fibrous red algae growing like a vine
upon the oval sections of a larger green algae. On one branch of dead
coral the size of my
thumb I saw at least five different organisms all competing
for a tiny bit of space. The layers of life appeared endless, and I
knew that what
I was seeing were only the organisms that caught my eye,
the colorful and the obvious. From what I have been seeing in the ship’s
wet lab I know that there were so many other organisms camouflaged to
immobile, waiting for my shadow to leave, or the appropriate
prey to cross their path. In the lab I have seen tiny crabs indiscernible
rocks, translucent shrimp barely visible, and predatory
flatworms like an old, dried leaf. I have also seen the shrimp, crabs,
worms and unpronounceable critters that live their lives
embedded in the porous reef matrix itself, never coming to the surface.
to the next mound inches away, I continue my meditation,
and train my mind to see what has evolved over millions of years to
not be seen.
*All images and information from French Frigate Shoals are provided
courtesy of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument,
Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, the Northwestern Hawaiian
Islands State Marine Refuge, and NOAA's Pacific Islands Fisheries
Science Center in accordance with permit numbers NWHIMNM-2006-015,
2006-01, 2006-017, and DLNR.NWHI06R021 and associated amendments.
on one of the following areas to follow the expedition.
activities of the ship: what research is being done that
day, what the weather is like, what's for dinner, etc.
or semi-daily personal journal entries by the particpants
in the expedition. These journals do not necessarily reflect
the positions of any of the agencies connected with this
Interviews with expedition participants, scientists,
vessel crew, educators, etc.
Highlights or special information such as interesting
discoveries or related research.