Gulf of Mexico 2012

Song for the Ocean

By Tara Smithee, Mapping Intern - University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
April 2, 2012

Sunrise in the Northern Gulf of Mexico from the Okeanos Explorer deck.

Sunrise in the Northern Gulf of Mexico from the Okeanos Explorer deck. Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Gulf of Mexico Expedition 2012. Download larger version (jpg, 6.4 MB).

Working at sea has been both an incredible personal and professional experience for me. The Okeanos Explorer is filled with amazingly skilled and passionate people who have had such incredible experiences during their lives, from diving a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) on the Titanic, to filming in Antarctica, swimming with dolphins, and SCUBA diving with sharks.

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Video footage captured by the Little Hercules remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and Seirios camera platform during the April 18 ROV dive from NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer during the Gulf of Mexico Expedition 2012. The dive was conducted at a site located south of the Biloxi Dome, where sonar data acquired by the ship in 2011 suggested relatively strong indicators of gas seeps in the water column. During the dive, we located and ground truthed the source of the gas seeps seen in the sonar data and explored new seafloor habitats. Video courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Gulf of Mexico Expedition 2012. Download (mp4, 213.5 MB).

The ROV team has used Little Hercules and Serios to film vibrant deep-water communities of corals, anemone, invertebrates, fish, and sponges that have rarely if ever been seen alive. My own small experience here inspires me to continue to explore, to discover, to ask difficult questions, and to interact with people across the world.

Okeanos Explorer starboard breezeway: Evening at dock in Tampa, Florida.

Image of an underwater river feature on the seafloor in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. Colors indicate depth. Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Gulf of Mexico Expedition 2012. Download larger version (jpg, 393 KB).

As an intern, I stood for three weeks as a mapping watch stander, learning to use the software for mapping the seafloor with the Okeanos Explorer’s multibeam sonar. With one pass over an area, we can generate a high-resolution map of the underlying seafloor five kilometers wide or more. This is such an important tool that will further illuminate marine geology, ocean water flow, and many other aspects of ocean research.

I am so excited to see the future, and I hope the discoveries of the Okeanos Explorer will inspire further conservation of important marine resources and unique biological areas. I am occasionally inclined towards poetry, so I have offered a summation of my interaction with and hopes for the sea; click on the image below to read "Song of the Sea."

Song of the Sea

by Tara Smithee

                        And the oceans, oh! They’re splendid too
                        Greens and grays and deepest blue
                        With moods that swing like summer squalls
                        Echoed in waves and seabird calls
                        The mild mare and plunging stallion
                        Have saved or sunken sloop and galleon
                        All ships that choose to dare across
                        Face the eerie risk of loss

                        But what joy to sail across those waves!
                        Under swaths of stars and past seaside caves
                        With weeks of time when land is so far
                        It can only be tracked using sextant and star
                        And nights when black waves glitter with light
                        Small creatures that flash and fly out of sight

                        With the undulation of the sea
                        What a journey it must be
                        For single drip of water clear
                        To venture to the blue frontier
                        And sink down to the darkest deep
                        Where glowing squid and fishes sleep
                        Where smoky vents on ocean floor
                        Spew heated plume from Earthen core
                        And deepest canyons ever grown
                        Hide creatures strange and so unknown
                        They’ve only just been seen alive
                        So dark, so deep they like to dive
                        Fewer folk have seen this place
                        Then walked the moon in outer space

                        The mysteries the ocean holds
                        Enchanting to the young and old
                        From vibrant shrimp to noble whale
                        They weave an endless, complex tale
                        A perfect web, a set design
                        A billion, billion things align
                        To bring you tuna fish and rye
                        Sushi, or a crab cake fry

                        And when a piece is taken out
                        A species lost or tossed about
                        A thread of high-hung tapestry
                        Unravels from the edge, you see
                        These tattered holes can ill support
                        The rest of linked marine cohort
                        And then the web begins to fade
                        The manta rays and clams of jade
                        Distorted till you cannot tell
                        What was there before it fell
                        Or how the silk threads used to be
                        ‘Ere lost to all eternity

                        So mankind must retreat a pace
                        With honest heart and humble face
                        To let go of the fishing pole
                        The daily catch, the quota goal
                        And set aside great swaths of sea
                        As rare and wild sanctuary
                        Where reef can build without the fear
                        Of heavy trawler dragging gear
                        And fish as rare as buffalo
                        Can have a safer place to grow

                        Yet polluted water has no bound
                        It circulates the world round
                        So globally, we must dictate
                        A plan for ocean’s long term fate
                        Then hold the seas boldly before
                        Dollar bills or political war
                        For through all time on earth the sea
                        Supports each life from worm to tree

                        Well I’ve seen reefs that soon will fade
                        The manta rays and clams of jade
                        The sharks that wait for swinging tide
                        And octopi that like to hide
                        The magic that the ocean holds
                        Worth more than all the world’s gold
                        Is set into your hands tonight
                        Take care of it and hold it tight
                        And one day your young child may see
                        All the ocean has shown to me