We begin day after day of diving and underwater drilling to install our equipment. The rain beats down and the currents are some of the strongest we have ever experienced but we remain in high spirits, making the best of our time in this breathtaking place.
On March 20th we make our first exploratory dive of Canal Copihue and come across the heartbreaking sight of the millions and millions of fragments of dead corals.
The channel is shallow compared to the surrounding channels and it bottoms out at about 20 meters. In the deepest part of the channel all you see are dead individuals, now with some anemones growing on them. Near the eastern and the western limits of the channel, it opens up into two larger bodies of water and we found some magnificent corals still alive. These are the largest specimens of this type that any of us have seen in our lives, measuring about 40 cm across.
The landscape in this region is incredible. The mine boasts that this is one of the purest limestone in the world. All the surrounding channels are illuminated by this light gray rock marked with dark crevices running down it from the nearly constant rain. This area receives 9 m of rain annually, making it one of the wettest places in the world. For comparison, Vancouver, which is considered a very rainy city in Canada gets about 1.5 m of annual rainfall.
Our mission here is to investigate a mass mortality event that occurred in Canal Copihue. An expedition to this area in 2006 (A) revealed a canal that was filled with live cold water calcifying hydrocorals called Errina antarctica. In 2013 (C) a similar expedition revealed that most of the hydrocorals in this canal had died and the bottom was littered with dead remnants of the beautiful bright corals. Now, on this current expedition, we will be installing monitoring equipment and making fixed photoquadrat sites at three points along the channel where we can monitor how the benthic community changes over time. We will also be installing recruitment plates to see what species colonize the plates (composed of ceramic tiles) and in what order. We are super excited to begin our work in Canal Copihue, which is about a 20 minute boat ride from the mine Guarello.
We have generously been given a shed to use as our workshop and lab while we are here at the station. As we unpack our dive gear and get the compressor and the pneumatic underwater drill running, we begin planning for the days to come. We will be living at the mine for the next ten days, and our accommodations make us feel at home with warm, comfortable beds, hot showers and delicious food. The mining company supports scientific visitors such as ourselves and we are forever grateful to these hard working people who make space to accommodate us.