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November 2023    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 49, No. 11   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Rocio del Mar, Midriff Islands, Mexico

serving science in the Sea of Cortez

from the November, 2023 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

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Dear Fellow Diver,

Ever since the Rocio del Mar made its maiden voyage exploring the Sea of Cortez in 2009, it has been on my bucket list, so I was delighted to be invited to join a group of photographers and biologists on a scientific expedition to the Midriff Islands. The trip was organized by digital nomads and citizen scientists Carlos and Allison Estape, major contributors to the fish identification page hosted by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI). The expedition included six male and two female marine biologists from seven scientific and educational institutions in Mexico and the U.S., 11 passionate photographers, and a fish-spotting spouse.

Regular twin cabin on Rocio del MarThe Midriff Islands, 55 islands, islets, and pinnacles in the northcentral Sea of Cortez, rise from the sea floor with swirling colors of volcanic rock, reminding me of Death Valley. The underwater topography was similar, mostly rocky slopes tumbling to a cobblestone bottom 30 to 100 feet deep. The expedition's goal was to catalog as many fish species as possible through photography and collection. The STRI would use our photos to extend the known range of some species and hopefully get images of fish never photographed in their natural habitats. While some fish would be collected for DNA samples and fin counts, they wanted photographs of the fish in their natural environment before they were preserved and the colors faded.

To do our daily work, we made two 90-minute dives and one 75-minute dive (265 minutes), giving the biologists more time between dives to process specimens and the photographers more time to recharge batteries and look at photos. We started at depth and worked our way up, sometimes to the surface, to photograph Cortez clingfishes and worm blennies that looked more like tiny eels than blennies....

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