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Voyage back to Curacao


The Voyage Home to Curacao

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Voyage back to Curacao


The Voyage Home to Curacao

Back Home on Curacao!

The Chapman Expedition Crew experienced a rather uneventful 3 day voyage from Dominica to Curacao.

We largely rested during the passage but of course we also made our own fun by fishing, playing music, salsa dancing, and cooking (with edits from our Chef Augusto!).

However, the highlight was a chance encounter with what we believe was a Bryde’s Whale!  At the first sighting, whistle’s traveled around the R/V Chapman like a wild fire!  The crew started pouring out of the galley, salon and bunks towards the back deck!  Then moving up towards the bow for a better view.

This magnificent creature put on a show for nearly an hour travelling between the bow and the stern… at one point even turning to look at the amazement in the eyes of the Crew!

Relive our experience by watching this small video clip! 

Enjoy!

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Day 42


Dominica Expedition Summary

Day 42

Day 42


Dominica Expedition Summary

Day 42

Our 42 day ‪#‎dominicaexpedition2016‬ has officially come to an end... 

It has been an amazing experience and our Chapman Expedition Crew would like to officially thank the wonderful people of Dominica for welcoming us to your beautiful nature island!!

The primary areas of Deep Reef Exploration included;

  • Roseau Harbour
  • Prince Rupert Bay South (Picard)
  • Prince Rupert Bay North (Portsmouth)
  • Douglas Bay
  • Toucari
  • Capuchin

Here are a few quick exploration statistics:

  • Average Exploration Dive = 4 Hours
  • Total Exploration Dives (as of 31/3/2016) = 31
  • Total Underwater Exploration Hours = 124 hours
  • Total Exploratory Area Covered = 24 sq. miles
  • Max 2 miles off the coastline

Biodiversity Survey Results

  • At least 9 potentially new species of fishes and crustaceans were discovered in Dominica after only 20 submersible dives.
  • Many species await exact identification by experts at various Natural History Museums and Research Institutions in the United States and the Netherlands.
  • All information and specimens collected in Dominica will be available to researchers globally.

Special thanks to:

  • The many Scientists from the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History & Wageningen University
  • The Government of Dominica and Dominica Fisheries Division
  • The many wonderful people of Dominica that we met & assisted our Crew during the Expedition

Great Team Work and our hard working crews of Substation Curacao & the R/V Chapman made this Expedition an amazing success!!

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Days 40-41


Hawksbill Turtle
March 30-31 (
Days 40-41)

Days 40-41


Hawksbill Turtle
March 30-31 (
Days 40-41)

It was a wonderful experience to see a majestic hawksbill sea turtle feeding at 180ft near Portsmouth, Dominica the other day. The hawksbill is one of three species of turtle that nest here on the island. Hawksbills, Green Turtles, and Leatherbacks will all visit the shore to lay eggs throughout nesting season, which varies from March to October depending on the species.

Sadly, all three of these turtle species are considered endangered; these populations are declining globally, largely due to human activities. According to conservation groups, habitat destruction, over-exploitation, poaching, and unintended capture in fishing gear are the main causes of their decline. Climate change also impacts turtle populations as the temperature of the nest site affects the sex of hatchlings.

Fortunately, Dominica law protects nesting females, and as “The Nature Island” they have dedicated organizations and volunteers that monitor and protect the turtles and sensitive nesting sites. To learn more about turtle conservation and where to view nest sites in Dominica, check out Dominica’s Sea Turtle Conservation Organization (DomSeTCO) and activities at Rosalie Bay beach.

We hope you enjoy the clip  below of this three-foot hawksbill turtle that hardly noticed the sub approach as it fed on sponges in the sand. 

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Days 38-39


Atlantic Torpedo Ray
March 28-29 (
Days 38-39)

Days 38-39


Atlantic Torpedo Ray
March 28-29 (
Days 38-39)

Today we have a video clip of a beautiful electric ray we found at 600ft while exploring Dominica's northwestern coast. A special thanks to our expert colleagues at the Smithsonian Institution, who have identified this as the Atlantic Torpedo Ray (Torpedo nobiliana); we use their phenomenal resource Guide to the Shorefishes of the Greater Caribbean often on this expedition. 

These rays are benthopelagic animals, meaning they typically live and feed on or above the soft bottom of the sea floor, and adults can be found in the open ocean. Although this particular species of ray is found on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, it typically lives at depths of 165 to 2,600ft, so it is still a special sighting for us. This bottom feeder can also generate up to 220 volts of electricity to defend itself from predators and stun prey. Electric shocks produced from the special organs in their disc allow them to catch fishes like flatfish and mullet, as well as crustaceans. Even though it packs a powerful "punch" it is a very graceful animal to watch.

This is the last week of our cruise, so check back in with us tomorrow for more stories, photos, and videos from Dominica!

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Day 37


Sea Shells of Dominica
March 27 (
Day 37)

Day 37


Sea Shells of Dominica
March 27 (
Day 37)

SEA Shells of Dominica

Like most Caribbean nations during the time of colonization, sea shells played an important role.  Construction stones had to be cut and shaped by hand. Men had to dive to the bottom of the sea to collect coral or sea shells needed to mix and boil lime to create mortar for the construction of buildings.

Due to this history and many other factors, sea shells have become a very important symbol today for many Caribbean Island nations. Dominica even immortalized them in a stamp collection issued on July 19th, 1990 as seen above.

However, many of these shells that have been documented and photographed over time were collected inside of what we know today as recreational dive limits (less than 130 feet), or even washed up onto the numerous beaches that surround this beautiful nature island.

Today, Chapman Expeditions has the opportunity to provide you with an insight to a deep sea Dominica collection of 10 different shells… shells that were discovered well beyond the light zone and down to 1000 ft.

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Day 36


Hydrothermal Vents
March 26 (
Day 36)

Day 36


Hydrothermal Vents
March 26 (
Day 36)

Dominica is well known for its volcanic activity.  In fact, 9 of the sixteen Caribbean active volcanos are located on Dominica!

In addition there have been two steam explosions (phreatic activity) in the Valley of Desolation in 1880 and 1997. Frequent seismic swarms and vigorous and widespread geothermal activity today characterize the island. In fact it is the most worrying of all the Caribbean volcanic areas and there is a general feeling that it (like Montserrat pre-1995) is long overdue for an eruption. Scientists are predicting that there will be at least one major eruption within the next 100 years. 

Other interesting geothermal activity around Dominica include many Sulphur Springs, a Boiling Lake, and even a Champagne Reef!

Yesterday we decided to explore an area in the south of Prince Rupert Bay near Picard.  On previous dives we have witnessed underwater sulphur trails on the seafloor recognized by the yellowish gray tinge.

What we discovered yesterday however left us feeling a little like opening presents on Christmas morning!  Hydrothermal vents at 715ft to 770ft with branching stylaster corals, rough tongue fishes and anemones.  However the activity around these vents were limited, possibly due to the depth and the increased temperatures.

Many questions were raised after this dive.  It is our hope by forwarding our photographic and video evidence to leading geologists and hydrologists that some of our questions may be answered.

Watch the following video clip of this truly amazing exploratory dive to 1000ft!

 

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Day 35


Discover Dominica - The Maroons (Part 3 of 3)

March 25 (Day 35)

Day 35


Discover Dominica - The Maroons (Part 3 of 3)

March 25 (Day 35)

EXPLORE DOMINICA - PART 3 OF 3

The Maroons

When slaves were brought in from Africa in great numbers in the 17th Century to work on the sugarcane plantations, soon the first of them were able to escape from the surrounding islands, mainly Guadeloupe and Martinique, to Dominica.

They were welcomed by the Kalinago people because they had a common enemy.

Called Maroons, they eventually lived in villages high up in the mountains out of reach of European raiding parties. By adapting to the Kalinago way of living from the land and their own knowledge from living in the forests of tropical Africa they could live a reasonable comfortable live with a few hundred of their people.

When Dominica was colonized by the English their good lives were over. The English actively chased the Maroons (not the Kalinago) and brought them back into slavery one by one. One of the problems for the English was that plantation slaves could easily join the Maroons in the mountains, which they did. Encouraged by the Maroons the slaves revolted several times.

In the early 19th Century the last great slave uprising took place but was violently cut down by the English. The Maroon villages were burned and they who were not killed were returned into slavery.

The abolition of slavery on August 1, 1834 gave the slaves their freedom but it took another century before they could take their equal place in society.  In many respects the independence of Dominica on November 3rd, 1978 was the real emancipation date for the descendants of the slaves.

Cascading nearly 300 feet, Middleham Falls, located in the Morne Tois Pitons National Park, provides a memorable experience.  The Morne Tois Pitons National Park is the general position of the Maroon camps and their Chiefs (Goree Greg, Cicero, Mabouva and Balla) between 1763 and 1834 based on colonial reports during this time. Source: Negre Mawon – The Fighting Maroons of Dominica, by Lennox Honychurch.

 

Video courtesy of Willem Mouissie

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Day 34


Discover Dominica - Fort Shirley, Portsmouth (Part 2 of 3)

March 24 (Day 34)
 

Day 34


Discover Dominica - Fort Shirley, Portsmouth (Part 2 of 3)

March 24 (Day 34)
 

Explore Dominica – Part 2 of 3

Fort Shirley, Portsmouth

Colonization by the English and the founding of Portsmouth as the capital.

It lasted until the second half of the 18th Century before Dominica was finally colonized by a European nation. The English conquered part of Dominica and with a small exception stayed in power until the island became independent on November 3rd, 1978.

They founded Portsmouth in Prince Rupert Bay as the capital next to the Indian River. A square street plan was laid out that is still in use today.  A small Fort was built on the peninsula on the north side of the bay. This Fort was gradually enlarged and got the name Fort Shirley. Now it is a beautifully restored landmark.

Within twenty years the occupants of Portsmouth knew that it was an unhealthy place to live. What they did not understand at that time was that the swamp on the peninsula next to town was a breading place for mosquitos that carried malaria.   At the end of the 18th Century the capital was moved to the much healthier town of Roseau. Portsmouth lost its importance and became the small secondary town of Dominica.

The peninsula not only consists of the swamp but also of two steep hills called the Cabrits; the goats. The center of Fort Shirley is situated between the two Cabrits.

 

Video courtesy of Willem Mouissie

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Day 33


Discover Dominica - Kalinago Territory (part 1 of 3) 
March 23 (
Day 33)

Day 33


Discover Dominica - Kalinago Territory (part 1 of 3) 
March 23 (
Day 33)

Explore Dominica – Part 1 of 3

Kalinago Territory, Dominica

History is very important to remember... so our Expedition Team went to explore & learn what transpired on land in order to appreciate what happened at sea!

Before the advent/coming of the Europeans, indigenous people (later called “Indians” by the Europeans) lived on Dominica. People speaking the Arawak language came out of South America. In their tree trunk canoes they island hopped up the chain of islands in the Eastern Caribbean. After they had settled on the islands up to Puerto Rico they lead a relative peaceful existence. Many years later a “warlike” group of South American “Indians” made the same trip; they are now popularly known as “Caribs”. They conquered the Arawaks on many islands and were still at it when the Europeans came.

These were the people the Europeans met on Dominica. They called themselves Kalinago.

The Spaniards visited Dominica early on in the 16th Century.  Prince Rupert Bay was the biggest and best bay to anchor in relative safety. There they found ample fresh water ashore running in streams from the mountains. The main source was what is now known as the Indian River.  Here they met the Kalinago people and soon they were trading with them.  The Kalinago could provide them with all kind of food products including fruits and fish.

However the moment the Spanish tried to colonize the island, the Kalinago resisted in such a fierce way that the Spanish decided to leave Dominica alone.

During the 16th & 17th Century, Prince Rupert Bay became the watering hole for all nations including pirates.

These visitors did not always live peacefully together, they quarreled amongst themselves and with the Kalinago. There was even a sea battle in the bay between two groups of pirates and hurricanes wrecked many ships.  A well-known wreck location is in the southern part of the bay. A collection of small cannons were taken out of the sea years ago and placed on a wall in the garden of a house. Unfortunately they were not preserved and are falling apart. 

The French and the English both tried to conquer the Kalinago. When they failed they decided together that the island should stay neutral. This lasted to well into the 18th Century.

French individuals did however establish farms on the island with the permission of the Kalinago. The Frenchmen settled mostly at the south eastern part of the island opposite Martinique. The local French patois was so wide spread that it is still used today on Dominica. Most places still carry their French or patois names.

So… Explore and Discover Dominica for yourself!  The beauty of this nature island is both above and below the waterline!

By François van der Hoeven, Secretary STIMACUR

Foundation for Maritime Archaeology Curaçao (STIMACUR)

Video courtesy of Willem Mouissie

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Days 31-32


Exploring the Unknown! 
March 21-22 (
Days 31-32)

Days 31-32


Exploring the Unknown! 
March 21-22 (
Days 31-32)

Yesterday was truly a day for exploring the unknown!!  Why you ask?!  The answer is simple… the Curasub & R/V Chapman crews made preparations to venture into the unknown & beyond the furthest point north of Dominica.  The Topside Crew towed the Curasub approximately 2 km away from the mooring near Toucari to an area northwest of Capuchin on a heading of 175 degrees where they released it.  The Curasub then was cleared to submerge and made a course northwest with the intention of not only exploring down to 1000ft but also sweep an area parallel to the shoreline at approximately 200ft searching for any signs of historical significance.  (see the attached course plot)

Although they did not discover any archaeological signs of importance... they were amazed to find some incredible undersea life that had not been encountered on previous dives and were left with some important geological questions due to strange bottom formations that more than likely are related to ancient volcanic eruptions during the formation of Dominica. 

Now… click here to watch the highlights of this amazing dive which includes an unidentified species of Catshark, deep water Toadfish, and an Anemone!!

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Days 29-30


Reticulated Goosefish (Lophiodes reticulatus)
March 19-20 (Days 29-30)

Days 29-30


Reticulated Goosefish (Lophiodes reticulatus)
March 19-20 (Days 29-30)

Day 30! We have officially been on Expedition Dominica for one full month.  To mark this very special day, we have stunning images of a Goosefish we encountered at around 740 feet on a sandy slope off Dominica's northwest coast. 

Goosefish are a type of anglerfish and they get this name from the lure on the top of their heads (see image gallery below). This fleshy lure is a modified dorsal spine that is used to attract prey near its very large mouth, full of long teeth that curve backwards. This fish is incredibly well camouflaged with the sandy ocean bottom, as its entire body from snout to tail is covered in fleshy projections that move in the current and resemble hydroids or small branching soft corals. This species of Reticulated Goosefish (Lophiodes reticulatus) can be found on sandy ocean bottom throughout the Caribbean Sea and western Atlantic at depths between 200-2,700 feet.

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Day 28


Discovering Dominica - Local Style! 
March 18 (
Day 28)

Day 28


Discovering Dominica - Local Style! 
March 18 (
Day 28)

Discovering and exploring the unknown depths is what Substation Curacao & R/V Chapman does… but today was different!  Our crew had the opportunity and pleasure to do this with 2 local dive professionals and 2 emerging marine biology students from Dominica! 

Fabien Honore (Owner of Island Dive Operations) and Eaon Vatel (Marine Conservationist) are both dive professionals based out of the Portsmouth area plus they are local marine experts that have logged countless dives around Dominica.  But they only know the reefs to the recreational limits of 130ft!

Kirnika Seraphine and Alyah LeBlanc on the other hand are students with a passion for marine life looking to continue their education at a higher level specializing in the marine biology.  With the aid of the Dominica Fisheries Division and our Expedition Team, they had a chance to seize a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to “sea” what lies deep below the waterline of their “Nature Island”!

Today, these 4 wonderful individuals submerged deep into Prince Rupert Bay with the Curasub to an amazing maximum depth of 855ft!!

Highlights of their exploration into the unknown included Batfish, Lionfish, and a seemingly discarded anchor with the chain still attached!!

Thank you all for joining Chapman Expeditions today!!  It was a pleasure to introduce you to our wonderful world of discovery during our Expedition Dominica 2016!!

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Days 26-27


Expedition Team welcomes Dr. Sipkema, Wageningen University
March 16-17 (
Days 26-27)

Days 26-27


Expedition Team welcomes Dr. Sipkema, Wageningen University
March 16-17 (
Days 26-27)

Good morning from WET Dominica. Earlier this week, we said farewell to the Smithsonian DROP team, who were scheduled to leave early Tuesday morning but got stuck at the airport for over 24 hours due to heavy rains! After days of steady showers, the river adjacent to the airport flooded and passed the retaining wall, requiring everyone to evacuate to higher ground. All are ok and finally home! Meanwhile the Curasub has been making dives in the rain, chilling the topside crew to the bone, while those on the Chapman had a constant view of freshwater from the river carrying tree branches, coconuts, and mud out to sea.

On Tuesday we welcomed Dr. Detmer Sipkema from Wageningen University onboard. He is interested in the microbial diversity in sponges and will be extracting and sequencing the DNA of bacteria and fungi species hosted within them. Just like humans, marine animals have an entire community of bacteria and other microorganisms living on and in them. There are certain types of microbes that only live in sponges, and some of these bacterial groups are specialized to live in only certain sponge species. Dr. Sipkema leads a lab focused on this symbiosis of sponges and bacteria; they want to know why their relationship is so highly specialized.

Yesterday the team collected an unassuming globular sponge at 430ft. When it was turned over at the surface, we found it was completely embedded with what we thought were tube worms. We had so many questions! Was the worm feeding on the sponge? Did the sponge grow over the worm tubes? Who was benefitting in this relationship? After carefully sampling a piece for genetic studies and museum collections, we worked for hours to find a living specimen within all the seemingly empty tubes. We finally found several nearly translucent animals living inside. 

After taking photographs and doing a bit of research, we think these animals are actually marine mollusks (snails). We sent photos to our experts to confirm our suspicions that these are a type of worm snail (Tenagodus sp). These filter-feeding snails live embedded in sponges to help support their fragile and highly coiled shells. We went down searching for answers in one area and came up with even more questions about biological associations in the deep-reef. There is never a dull day on this expedition!

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Day 25


Smithsonian Institute - DROP Dominica Summary
March 15 (
Day 25)

Day 25


Smithsonian Institute - DROP Dominica Summary
March 15 (
Day 25)

Summary of DROP Dominica Expedition, March 2016

Smithsonian Deep Reef Observation Project (DROP) scientists spent six days exploring the diversity of marine life off northwest Dominica to depths of 300 m (1,000 ft.). The scientific team comprised specialists of fishes, crabs and other crustaceans, sponges, corals, hydroids, mollusks, and algae. In six days of submersible diving, along with snorkeling or scuba diving on a few shallow sites, the team collected nearly 2,000 specimens of marine life for scientific study. Among the collections are many apparently new species, lots of rare species, and numerous species not yet recorded from the eastern Caribbean. For most specimens, in addition to preserving the whole specimen for future scientific study, a small piece of the body was removed and preserved specifically for DNA analysis back in the Smithsonian’s Laboratory of Analytical Biology in Washington, DC. Detailed study of the preserved specimens and analysis of their DNA will help DROP biologists better understand exactly what species they collected. Discovering new species is rarely a “eureka” phenomenon; rather, it takes careful study of physical and genetic aspects of specimens to determine if something is new. Results of the expedition will be published in numerous articles in scientific journals, as well as on various forms of social media.

Relative to the deep reefs (50 to 300 m or approximately 150 to 1,000 ft) off Curacao in the southern Caribbean, the DROP team found the deep reefs off NW Dominica to be more diverse in sponges, less diverse in fishes, crustaceans, and mollusks, and more heavily covered with silt from runoff from the many rivers on the island. Among the discoveries on the trip were vertical, tube-shaped sponges covered with spikey projections that provide habitat for tiny fishes, crustaceans, corals, hydroids, echinoderms, and more. Identifying everything found just on these sponges alone will take DROP scientists many months! Another highlight was dipping up deep-sea fishes, squid, and crustaceans with hand nets – not from deep depths while submersible diving but at the surface at night while on the ship. Although the scientific crew was knowledgeable about the daily vertical migration patterns of mid-water fishes and crustaceans, they had never encountered such marine life coming up from the deep into shallow coastal waters where the R/V Chapman was anchored.

The greatest outcome of the expedition is data on a deep-reef ecosystem that has never been studied before. Tropical deep reefs are diverse ecosystems that have largely been overlooked by science – too deep to access using conventional scuba gear and too shallow to be of much interest to deep-diving submersibles. DROP scientists can now compare what they found here in Dominica with collections made previously using the Curasub submersible off Curacao in the southern Caribbean and those made in the 1970’s and 1980’s by the Johnson Sea Link submersibles off Florida, the Bahamas, Barbados, and Cuba. Understanding the diversity of life on deep reefs and how it is related to life on shallow reefs is critical to knowing whether deep reefs may play a role in the survival of heavily impacted shallow Caribbean reefs.

During the expedition, scientists noticed that many species commonly found only on shallow reefs elsewhere in the Caribbean were also found much deeper in Dominica. Might shallow-reef species already be moving to deeper reefs in response to warming surface waters? Other questions remain as well. Is the diversity of marine life on deep reefs off Dominica truly lower than that in the southern Caribbean, or might submersible diving off other parts of Dominica yield a different picture? How does the sediment from river runoff impact deep reefs over long periods of time? What are the migration patterns of deep-water species that result in their presence at night in shallow coastal waters? Such is science: new knowledge spawns new questions.

By Dr. Carole Baldwin

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Days 23-24


Smithsonian Institute - Dominica Update
March 13-14 (
Days 23-24)

Days 23-24


Smithsonian Institute - Dominica Update
March 13-14 (
Days 23-24)

It can be difficult to describe the underwater world from 300-1,000ft, as habitats can be as varied as anything you could see on land. Not every inch of bottom is covered in coral and fishes; there are many areas where you only see vast stretches of sand, silt, and rocky outcrops with seemingly little life.

Smithsonian scientists know that things are not always as they seem. Based on recent studies, biodiversity scientists estimate there are between 10-14 million living species on the planet and only about 1.2 million have been documented! Even in areas that look bare, a small rock pile or sponge can create surface area or habitat for a diverse array of organisms.

Over the past week here on Dominica, Smithsonian DROP scientists encountered numerous dark, vertical, one- to three-feet long, tube-shaped sponges with lots of finger-like projections. ” They did not recognize the sponge and gave it the nickname “The Rasta Sponge.” But they could see from the window of the Curasub that there was something special about them. They were covered with other life. 

Dr. Darryl L. Felder, a specialist in decapod crustaceans equates this naturally occurring ecological assemblage to collections made by the ongoing Smithsonian ARMS (Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures) investigation currently underway on Curacao since 2012.

At the surface, DROP scientists found that the sponge served as a foundation for a diverse community of invertebrates and fishes. Their team, led by DROP Principal Investigator, Dr. Carole Baldwin, estimates there were hundreds of species in a single sponge. They documented small solitary corals, hydroids (predatory polyps), bryozoans, nudibranchs (sea slugs), bristle worms, peanut worms, crabs, shrimps, and gobies living on or inside it. You can see images of some animals in the gallery below; most are under 3cm in length. 

Many marine organisms prefer to live on hard substrates. With the bottom dominated by silt, the sponges offer a potential home. Many sponges engage in chemical warfare to keep other organisms off them. But the Rasta Sponge is a big push over. It provides space for many other organisms to live, feed, or hide. Many of the rarely encountered animals found on these sponges are poorly known or new to science. 

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Days 21-22


Dominica Highlights
March 11-12 (
Days 21-22)

Days 21-22


Dominica Highlights
March 11-12 (
Days 21-22)

We have some updates for everyone tomorrow, so stay tuned. Until then, enjoy these video compilations from earlier in our expedition. 

Highlights from submersible dives in Toucari Bay:

Video of Stalked Crinoids from Dominica:


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Day 20


Potentially New Species of Basslet Discovered! 
March 10 (
Day 20)

Day 20


Potentially New Species of Basslet Discovered! 
March 10 (
Day 20)

Smithsonian scientists had a great start to the week on the RV Chapman. DROP Principal Investigator, Dr. Carole Baldwin, thinks her team has already discovered a new species of basslet, a small and colorful reef fish about an inch and a half (3.8 cm) long. 

You may be asking yourself: Why does she think this might be a new species? Dr. Baldwin has studied Caribbean reef fishes her entire career, and as a taxonomist, she carefully studies the morphological (or physical) features of each species to better understand their evolution and biology. Scientists use characters like fin shape, color pattern, bone structure, and scale counts to differentiate between species. 

In the image below you can see two species of basslet, the Bicolor Basslet (Lipogramma klayi) and the potentially new species from Dominica. 

Potentially new basslet species from Dominica on top; Bicolor Basslet (Lipogramma klayi) from Curacao on bottom. These fishes are about 1.5 inches (3.8cm) long. 


You can clearly see differences in color patterns and fin shape, but these could represent geographical or population differences. DROP researchers take a small sample of tissue from every specimen they collect, and back at the Smithsonian, DNA will be analyzed. Many biodiversity scientists now use genetic information to help identify species, and in this case, the new genetic sample from the bicolor basslet from Dominica will be compared to samples previously obtained from the southern Caribbean.  

Coral reefs represent some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, and deeper reefs are underexplored globally. Knowing how these deeper communities are connected to shallower reefs and one another is critical to the understanding of the health and resilience of our oceans. 

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Days 16-19


Smithsonian Institute - DROP Researchers Arrive on Dominica
March 6-9 (
Days 16-19)

Days 16-19


Smithsonian Institute - DROP Researchers Arrive on Dominica
March 6-9 (
Days 16-19)

Good morning from Dominica! Apologies for the delays in posting an update, we had a busy start to the week with the arrival of Smithsonian Institution Deep Reef Observation Project (DROP) researchers Monday evening. 

On board we have specialists who study fishes, crustaceans, sponges, hydroids, molluscs, and algae. These National Museum of Natural History scientists are interested in a number of questions about the biology of deep reef organisms and their importance in overall coral reef diversity and health. As representatives from the institution with the largest natural history research collections in the world, they plan to document the rich diversity they encounter here in Dominica and make their findings available to the public at large. 

Smithsonian DROP research began in Curacao, where the Curasub is based. The Curasub is the only research submersible operating in the Caribbean, and it provides researchers the ability to dive deeper than recreational SCUBA allows and much longer than deep re-breather diving equipment allows. The DROP team has conducted research cruises with the RV Chapman and Curasub in Curacao, Bonaire and yesterday they made their first dives in Dominica. 

DROP researchers have described over 40 new species of fishes and invertebrates from the southern Caribbean, and expect to discover new species here in Dominica. Already scientists have collected what appears to be a new fish species from 400 feet as well as specimens of several new species previously discovered on deep reefs of the Southern Caribbean but not yet named and described.

To learn more about the DROP project, click here


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Days 14-15


Dominica Rainy Days
March 4-5 (
Days 14-15)

Days 14-15


Dominica Rainy Days
March 4-5 (
Days 14-15)

It rained almost non-stop in Dominica the past two days which made prepping the sub more difficult.  Many of the pre-dive checks of sensitive sub sensors and batteries require opening up compartments that must remain dry, so working on the back of a rocking ship in the pouring rain was definitely a challenge. The rain set back yesterdays dive back a couple of hours, but once underwater, the rain was unnoticeable at deeper depths. 

Every dive, the team is truly venturing into the unknown, it is likely no one has ever laid eyes on the animals and rock formations they encountered. They crossed over sand flats reminiscent of a desolate desert for 40 minutes, finally reaching a plateau covered in giant barrel sponges and coral whips far offshore. The plateau led to a steep drop-off and wall descending hundreds of feet and was home to countless species of vase sponges, fishes, and marine snails, many of which the team has never seen before. Everyone on board is excited to have marine biologists from the Smithsonian Institution onboard next week. These scientists are world experts in the identification and biology of marine fishes, gastropods, crustaceans, and algae. We hope to post a lot of information during their visit so stay tuned. 

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Day 13


Exploring the Unknown with Dominica Locals
March 3 (
Day 13)

Day 13


Exploring the Unknown with Dominica Locals
March 3 (
Day 13)

Today we welcomed three special guests to the RV Chapman. Ms. Zethra Baron, Fisheries Liaison Officer and Observer for the Government of Dominica, was on board for the day and made a two-hour sub dive. She is the first Dominican woman to make a deep dive in a research submersible! Also on board were Mr. Arun Madisetti, a marine biologist, and Mr. Simon Walsh, an underwater photographer. They are experienced dive instructors and lead the Lionfish Program here in Dominica. Like Ms. Baron, they made a two hour sub dive at Toucari Bay, reaching a max depth of 520ft; this was their first dive beyond 200ft.  Both gentlemen were amazed by the species they saw. They are avid SCUBA divers with over 20,000 combined dives and saw 10 fish species they had never seen before in just 2 hours. As leaders of the Lionfish Program, which aims to reduce lionfish numbers on local coral reefs, they were upset to see this harmful, invasive species at depths below their reach, although they had expected to see more.

In the gallery below you can see a few of the fish species typically found beyond recreational diving limits as well as a lionfish hunting at 250ft on a silty expanse in Toucari Bay. 


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Days 11-12


Busy Diving! 
March 1 -2 (Days 11-12)

Days 11-12


Busy Diving! 
March 1 -2 (Days 11-12)

It has been a busy week for the crew in Dominica, above and below the water. Whenever a marine specimen is collected, it is carefully photographed and cataloged into the expedition database. Click the button below to view images of deep-reef marine life from Dominica; we will update the gallery throughout the expedition.

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Days 9-10


Toucari Coral & Sponge Habitats
February 28-29 (
Days 9-10)

Days 9-10


Toucari Coral & Sponge Habitats
February 28-29 (
Days 9-10)

Over the past few days in the underwater world of Dominica, the Curasub found habitat rich in coral and sponge life. The pictures below show a few sites from Toucari Bay between 150-250ft. Right now, the crew is slowly exploring at different depths, marking sites of interest throughout the bay. 

The group is surprised at the diversity of sponges in the area. Click below for some beautiful habitat shots. 

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Days 7-8


Diving Toucari, Dominica
February 26-27 (Days 7-8)

Days 7-8


Diving Toucari, Dominica
February 26-27 (Days 7-8)

Over the past two days the crew made several dives off the northwest coast of Dominica near Toucari Bay. The team discovered rich habitat and saw many of the familiar deep-reef species they often encounter in Curaçao.

Two of the crab species sighted can only be found at depths of 500ft and below! When the team saw a small piece of wood moving in the sand, they realized they were looking at Xylopagurus tenuis, a type of hermit crab that makes its home out of pieces of wood that fall to the ocean floor. Later in the dive they came across a small 3cm orange crab covered in spikes, Acanthodromia erinacea

Check out the gallery below to see a few images from the dive and images of specimens collected. 


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Arriving in Portsmouth, Dominica


Arriving in Portsmouth, Dominica
February 25 (Day 6)

Arriving in Portsmouth, Dominica


Arriving in Portsmouth, Dominica
February 25 (Day 6)

Today was a travel day for the RV Chapman and her crew, so no sub dives today. We cast lines off from Roseau, sailing north along the western coast, arriving safely at Portsmouth in Prince Rupert Bay!

Portsmouth was originally designated by the British Empire in the mid 1800’s as the Capital of Dominica and a free trade harbor for passing sailing vessels. By the late 1800’s, due to continuous outbreaks of malaria, the Capital of Dominica was reassigned to Roseau.

Fort Shirley, located at the northern most point of Prince Rupert Bay, was built also by the British as an impregnable fortress over the course of 50 years between the mid to late 1800’s.

Check back in on us tomorrow to learn more about our first dive in this new location. 

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Dominica Government Reception


Dominica Government Reception
February 24 (
Day 5)

Dominica Government Reception


Dominica Government Reception
February 24 (
Day 5)

The Fisheries Division of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries of the Government of Dominica has partnered with the Marine Archeological Society of Curacao (STIMACUR – Curacao Maritime Museum) and the Smithsonian Institution Natural History Museum to complete research into the marine biology and ecology on the deep reefs off the Northwest coast of Dominica. This research will range from Marine Archaeology to Deep-reef Biodiversity as well as other areas of interest.  The RV Chapman arrived in Roseau on Tuesday February 23rd, 2016 and will sail North-ward towards Portsmouth on Thursday February 25th, 2016.

It is expected new marine biological information will be discovered in the deep waters of Dominica where no one has ever been before.  Unusual species of fish, coral, sponges and other marine life may be discovered during this expedition which will be of great significance to the local, regional and international community.

This is also a great promotional opportunity for the Dominica Ministry of Tourism and incredible exposure for this beautiful Nature Island. Over the next few days, scientists from the Smithsonian Institution will be joining the expedition. The Government of Dominica is looking forward to a successful underwater expedition for the benefit and advancement of marine biological science. 

The evening speakers included Mr. Norman Norris (Senior Fisheries Officer – Dominica Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries – Fisheries Division), Mr. Francois van der Hoeven (STIMACUR), Mr. Adrian “Dutch” Schrier (Substation Curacao/Curacao Sea Aquarium), and Honorable Johnson Drigo (Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries – Dominica Government).

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Roseau, Dominica


Roseau, Dominica
February 23 (
Day 4)

Roseau, Dominica


Roseau, Dominica
February 23 (
Day 4)

Yesterday marked the first day Substation Curaçao officially hit the water on Dominica after extensive preparation and triple system checks of both the Curasub and the topside support boat, the “Joniboy”. Bruce Brandt (pilot) and Barbara van Bebber (co-pilot) gave their top-side support crew (Tico Cristiaan & Bryan Horne) the all clear to dive at around 11:45am.  The lines were released and the Curasub was on its way to explore the first of many deep-reefs sites on Dominica.The Joniboy would follow the Curasub using a Tracklink Software System connected with GPS/Compass plotting the subs entire course.  

The first dive was lead by Dutch and Francois van der Hoeven of STIMACUR – Curacao Maritime Museum. Francois and his group are interested in cultural artifacts that might be found in the Roseau Harbor, which has been in use for about 250 years. On this initial exploratory dive, the team found the area was covered in silt sediment originating from the Roseau River. No historical artifacts were found on this dive because of the extensive silt cover but the team will be out exploring again tomorrow. The group was surprised they found very little garbage, considering Tropical Storm Erika caused a lot of damage to the Dominica coast late last year (August 2015).

The total dive time of this first dive was approximately 4 hours with a maximum depth of 1000 feet.

Stay tuned, there are many more Curasub dives to come, this is just the beginning!

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Arriving on Dominica


Arriving on Dominica
February 19 - February 22 (Days 1-3)

Arriving on Dominica


Arriving on Dominica
February 19 - February 22 (Days 1-3)

On February 19th, 2016, the RV Chapman set sail for Dominica at approximately 12:30pm setting a heading of 67 degrees west after passing Klein Curaçao.  Over the next 3 days, this Caribbean crossing would span 480 nautical miles averaging 6.5-7 knots with relatively calm seas.  Minor course adjustments occurred due to the Equatorial Current that averages 0.5-1 knot and originates in the Atlantic Ocean.  This current enters the Caribbean Sea just East of Grenadines then heads North-west through the Grenada Basin then turns Westward between 12-15 degrees north latitude.

During this voyage, the crew of 17 experienced wonderful sightings of Humpback Whales, Beak Whales, Spinner Dolphins, Bottlenose Dolphins, Schools of Dorado & Tuna, and even a late evening recon flyby from a Military or Coast Guard Drone.

On February 22nd, 2016 at approximately 7:00am, the RV Chapman and her Crew arrived safely at their destination.  

Let Expedition Dominica 2016 Begin!

Dominica Press Release


Dominica Press Release


 

PRESS RELEASE: 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.

Follow us during the #dominicaexpedition2016 as the adventure unfolds!!

Article courtesy of EventsCuraçao.

 

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Dominica Expedition Logs


Dominica Expedition Logs


Dominica Expedition 2016

Relive our 42 day Expedition to the beautiful nature island of Dominica where

we explored the deep reefs and discovered at least 9 potentially

new species of fishes and crustaceans.