The excitement begins the night before you ship out. No matter the length of an expedition, there is always that mix of excitement and dread as you try to get some sleep before heading out in the early morning. Did I pack everything I need? Will the weather be good? Did I set the alarm? (you double check your alarm. Again.)

During the third week of October 2016, the Open The Oceans team conducted our second Eye on the Sanctuaries expedition in partnership with OceanGate, Inc. We conducted dive operations both offshore in the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary as well as inside San Francisco Bay. In addition using Cyclops 1 and the MSLARS system, we were able to bring a variety of surface observers along to watch the operations and get a feel for what it is like to conduct such an expedition.

Surface observers chatting with pilot (and founder) Stockton Rush on the way to the dive site.

Pilot (and founder) Stockton Rush chats with folks on the way out to the dive site.

Cyclops 1 under tow in the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary

Cyclops 1 and the MSLARS moving to the dive site.

Green light filtered through plankton lights up the inside of Cyclops while the dive team analyzes sonar data

The Big Green (color courtesy of lots of little plankton) illuminates the crew while they inspect sonar data.

The Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary covers nearly 1,300 square miles of coastal and ocean wilderness west of San Francisco. The sanctuary is home to some of the largest concentrations of white sharks and blue whales on Earth, along with one-fifth of California’s breeding harbor seals and hundreds of thousands of breeding seabirds. The sanctuary also protects numerous estuaries, bays and beaches for the public to enjoy.

The close proximity of a truly wild space to the San Francisco Bay urban area was one of the central reasons that we decided to conduct our next Eye on the Sanctuaries tour in the Farallones. Sharks, whales, seabirds, seals and other species all come to the Sanctuary for a good reason: it is one of the most productive areas of our ocean planet, largely due to consistent coastal upwelling that cause large plankton blooms that form the base of a rich food web. This rich ecosystem thrives even as millions of humans live in close proximity, although most folks walking Fisherman’s Wharf might be unaware of the wonders available a short hour away underneath the Golden Gate!

Our expedition originally targeted exploration of a known shipwreck and 2 offshore banks in the Sanctuary; due mostly to some weather challenges we ended up diving several days offshore and a couple of days inside San Francisco Bay. You can read a nice summary of the expedition on OceanGate’s web site and stay tuned for future posts as we work up the collected data.

The picture below is a 360° photosphere taken inside Cyclops while diving Alcatraz. Use your mouse to spin the image or find some VR goggles to look around!