Daily Log Report for
7 May 1997

Submitted by Richard Pyle


This morning we loaded the boat and headed out the same spot that we dived at yesterday. This time, Pat Colin joined us on the deep dive with his home-made, closed-circuit, electronically-controlled mixed-gas rebreather (aka, the "Science Lung II"). Pat's a very interesting guy. He's been diving since the days of wooden tanks and iron men. He experimented with open-circuit trimix in the early 1970's to explore coral reefs at depths beyond those accessible with conventional scuba. Inspired by Walter Starck's "Electrolung" (the first functional electronically-controlled closed-circuit rebreather), he also at that time began building his own rebreathers. In fact, Pat is sort-of the "Godfather" of coral-reef Twilight Zone exploration. He has published more papers discussing organisms of this region than any other single author (mostly from work with research submersibles in the Caribbean and Marshall Islands). Now, Pat and his wife Lori Bell Colin are explorers in a different but related field. They run the Coral Reef Research Foundation in Palau (and are our very gracious hosts for this expedition), which primarily focuses on collecting soft-bodied marine organisms for extraction of medically important biomolecules (i.e., potential wonder-drugs from the sea), for the National Cancer Institute.

About three years ago, a boat sank not far from where we have been conducting our dives these past couple of days. This boat contained a lot of very valuable scientific and photographic equipment, including an Arriflex 16-mm movie camera sealed inside an underwater housing; a (then experimental) digital Betacam, also in an underwater housing; an ROV; and an assortment of othe expensive goodies. The day after the boat went down, Pat made a dive along the drop-off where the boat had tumbled down the reef. Below 200 feet, he saw what he thought was a set of double scuba tanks, but on closer inspection, turned out to be a life raft. Based on where the fuel from the boat was coming to the surface, Pat calculated that it was probably in excess of 1,000 deep.

Keeping all this in mind, while in pursuit of new species, we always kept our eyes open for "debris" that might have fallen out of the boat as it tumbled down the reef. In yesterday's dive log report, I neglected to mention that, at the end of my dive, when I began my ascent past 300 feet, I came across a large box, perched right on the edge of a drop to a black abyss, that looked for all the world like a case that a photographer would put a camera and underwater housing in. It was encrusted with an assortment of marine life, but I could make out several multi-colored stickers on the case (you know...the kind that photographers like to put on their camera cases...). I tried to pick the object up, but immediately came to two very obvious conclusions: the case had no handles on it, and it was much too heavy for me to bring up. Throughout the decompression, I desperately wanted to tell Ken (the camera-geek among us fish-nerds) about this find, but decided the drama would be enhanced after we were on the boat, where there would be no barriers to communication.

After we completed our decompression, and climbed into the boat, I waited for just the right moment to say "Oh, by the way, Ken, at the end of the dive, at 300 feet, I came across this big box that, for all the world, looked like a camera case." After Ken directed a few explicatives in my direction, and nearly threw me off the boat (believing that I was being less than truthful), a large grin came across his face.

You probably can guess what was at the forefront of our minds during this morning's descent, following the "bread crumbs" of my own debris which I had intentionally left during yesterday's ascent, to ensure that we would be able to find the treasure chest once again. Pat and I were the first on the scene, and when Pat saw the box, he made a rocking motion with his hands, which I immediately interpreted as "don't move it or it might fall off the drop-off into the abyss". Needless to say, Ken went straight for the box to attempt to assess its contents. Ken's brain was repeating over and over, "Betacam -- it's gotta be the Betacam. Maybe it's the Arriflex. Nope, I think think it's the Betacam." Desperate for an answer, he started rubbing off the marine life so he could read the stickers. "S. PEARSONS" was what Ken read on one of them, and his mind scrolled through the different rental houses for expensive underwater camera equipment. "No wait", he thought..."it says '6 PERSONS', not 'S. PEARSONS'...it must be a 6-person Betacam! Wow, I've never heard of a 6-person Betacam....this must be REALLY expensive equipment!" But then the helium, and it's amazing ability to allow clarity of thought on deep dives, started to kick in. Reluctantly, Ken forced himself to acknowledge that this box contained neither a Digital Betacam, nor an Arriflex 16-mm camera, but instead was, in fact, the same life raft that Pat had seen 3 years earlier. After scooping some cool new fishes (see below), we decided to lash a rope around the box and haul it to the surface.

No, it wasn't an expensive camera in a housing; it was a near-worthless life-raft. To add insult to injury, it reeked of hydrogen sulfide, no-doubt a result of the anoxic water inside the case. It wasn't a total loss, however: there were all sorts of interesting critters attached to the case, some of which might eventually prove to be new species. Hauling this incredibly heavy, smelly, worthless object into the boat, I inadvertently tugged on the "painter" line (which, when pulled, inflates the raft ballistically, shedding it's plastic case). Had I tugged a wee bit harder, we would have spent this entire evening scrubbing our bodies in a futile attempt to rid ourselves of the smell of rotten eggs. Pat, of course, was thoroughly amused with our antics.

Me and Ken, at the end of the day, with our recovered booty..

Dive Number 1 of 1
Divers: Richard Pyle, John Earle, Ken Corben, Pat Colin

Solid line indicates depth, dashes ("-") indicate
decompression ceilings, bar ("|") represents cleared to surface.
Max. Depth: 301 feet (92 meters) Time: 1:06pm Duration: 2 hr, 24 min
Location: Augulpelu Reef; E side of reef; "D2" (07 16.41' N, 134 31.44' E).
Marine Life: I collected one of the deepwater Bodianus; two different species of damselfish, (one was the same as yerterday, and the other a different species); one Cirrhilabrus wrasse, and a small goby. John collected another one of the yellowish damselfish, a specimen of the same Cirrhilabrus, and a species of Pseudanthias. John also collected a small scorpion fish. Pat collected a variety of sponges and other invertebreates; in particular a large (6-8") benthic ctenophore, apparently of the genus Lyrocteis. John and I each saw several species of Liopropoma and an assortment of gobies and small (tiny) wrasses, but we were unable to collect any of these.
Remarks: The habitat included a sheer wall from 220 to a shelf at 300 feet, then a very dark drop-off below the shelf. On either end of the shelf were numerous small caves with a wide variety of fishes in them. We staged a 90 c.f. Nitrox-32 cylinder at 110 feet, and we took a cylinder filled with trimix to the shelf at the working depth. We all thought the site was an excellent place to establish a more permanent transect line, leaving bailout cylinders for removal at the end of the expedition. Tomorrow the film crew arrives; John, Pat and I plan a morning dive while Ken takes a day off, and we will have an organizational meeting with the film crew tomorrow afternoon.

Disclaimer: Several aspects of the dive profile(s) illustrated above deviate from conventional wisdom regarding appropriate decompression procedures. The dives referred to on these web pages are of an experimental nature, and all persons involved with these dives are fully cognizant of the associated risks. The decompression practices followed on these dives are derived from published information, in conjunction with the many years of extensive experience of the divers involved. These practices have not been tested under controlled conditions, and may not work equally well for all divers. Kids, don't try this at home!!

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