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The Scuba Sports Club’s Annual (2017) : Sojourn to The Explorers Club’s Sea Stories

Explorers Club study desk (Large)

By Gary Lehman

Every year before Thanksgiving The Explorers Club in Manhattan holds a full-day convocation called “Sea Stories” for those interested in marine history/archeology, technology, film-making, exploration, marine biology/fishery management– and exciting places to travel and watery things-to-do!  This year Sea Stories was held on Saturday, November 11th. Over the years many spellbinding presentations have been enjoyed by those lucky enough to attend.  This year was no different, and each presenter and presentation held special draw for us!

Attending from The Scuba Sports Club were Tom Butcher, Vreni Roduner, Amanda Slattery, Judy ‘Dee’, Melissa Lonquich, Allan Rios, Denise Blais, and Al Miller.  Of course – as is always the case at The Explorers Club’s Sea Stories – everyone in the NYC metropolitan area diving community who attends is delighted to connect up again with divers and friends from so many different area clubs and organizations.  It was our pleasure to find friends from the Wildlife Conservation Center’s Coney Island (Brooklyn) Aquarium dive team, Sea Gypsie’s President Renata Rojas and several members of her great club, Jamie Pollack, the venerable Joanna and John Lentini, as well as the creative juggernaut team of Olga Torrey and Larry Cohen!  With all the yacking going on ‘between and betwixt’, it is hardly a wonder that the staff at The Explorers Club had to bang the bell real loud at the end of the coffee breaks in order to accelerate the resumption of the presentations! 

First a few words about The Explorers Club (TEC) HQ.  The building was formerly the home of Lowell Thomas, who was portrayed in the film Lawrence of Arabia as the obnoxiously persistent paparazzi reporter/photographer from the Chicago Tribute, getting ad hoc interviews and photo grab shots of Colonel T.E. Lawrence.  As HQ of TEC, the building is brimming with inspiring relics of the golden age of exploration at the turn of the 20th century, and mementos celebrating the famous ‘firsts’ achieved by its members:  first to the North Pole (Robert Peary, 1909);  first to the South Pole (1911, Roald Amundsen); first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean (1927, Charles Lindbergh); first to summit of Mt. Everest (1953, Sir Edmund Hillary & Tenzing Norgay; first to deepest point in the ocean (1960, Don Walsh & Jacques Piccard); first to the surface of the Moon (1969, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin & Michael Collins; and first recovery of an authenticated pirate ship – Whydah Galley (1984, Barry Clifford).  TEC’s photo ‘hall of fame’ features all the ‘movers and shaker’ of exploration over the past 100+ years. 

 The paintings by William Leigh are breathtaking; if they seem familiar, it is because Leigh also painted the display dioramas in the American Museum of Natural History.  There are treasures all over the building – including the globe used by Thor Heyerdahl to plan his Kon Tiki Expedition, and the table used by Teddy Roosevelt and team to devise the Panama Canal. The artifacts in the top sixth floor ‘Trophy Room’ include a lion skin owned by Teddy Roosevelt; a sperm whale phallus; photos and reliquaries of the Dalai Lama; African tribal drums; a cheetah and ponderous walrus head (and other ungulates); mammoth tusks and other astounding treasures reminiscent of those at the Museum of Natural History (which is just across Central Park).   Visiting TEC while in NYC is a “must do” for our visiting friends and family with a connection to adventure, geography, and exploration!

Dr. David Freestone kicked off the day with a presentation helping us to first understand, and then want to protect the Atlantic’s Sargasso Sea.  Probably not many in the audience had a substantial understanding of Sargasso before Dr. Freestone’s presentation, but by the end we were all advocates. Even something as seemingly “good” as radically-increased ocean shipping over the past thirty years is hazardous to Sargasso, due to maritime pollution of these floating rain forests (compounded by global climate change, ocean acidification, and even harvesting for these grasses for fertilizer and animal feed).  Sargasso is a critical nursery area for the fish and wildlife of the Atlantic (and of global importance) and it is alarmingly threatened; and given that it is defined to be in ‘deep ocean’, there is no one nation under whose jurisdiction it can be protected. Our heartfelt thanks for Dr. Freestone and the staff at Sargasso Sea Commission for every success going forward. 

Lars-Fristian Trellevik provided a studied discussion of the challenges of deep sea tasking, whether that be ship salvage, oil exploration/rig repair, deep sea mining and the like. Being in a remote location, the team has to make do with whatever they have on hand.  McGyver, report to the bridge! Lars offered harrowing explanations about the risks of entanglement of the umbilical cords attached to ROV’s at depth. In short, key to success is cross-training, spares, checking/double-checking/buddy checking and finally checking one-last time to improve outcomes when working with complex systems!  

Eric Higuera followed with an enchanting presentation about the burgeoning biodiversity of the Socorro Islands and other iconic Mexican dive locations.  We all came away thorough committed to putting Socorro on our travel plans for future diving!  It is one thing to show “pictures” of sea life, but Eric captured the essence of these environments. Any photography done by a photographer with an emotional connection to the subject will be most impactive, and so it is with Eric’s underwater photography and filmmaking. Masterful job, Eric giving hope that endangered species like the mantas can be restored to healthier status through committed stewardship, and heartfelt thanks for bringing Socorro, Guadalupe, and Magdalena bay with all their sea life to us! 

Videographer Evan Kovacs then embarked us aboard the sunken ship Antikythera, about 20 miles northwest of Crete – under the watchful eye of the Greek Antiquities Authority, that is! The location of this wreck is not revealed, but its most intriguing treasures were discussed and shown – astounding bronze and marble statuary, jewelry, and amphorae, as well as the Antikythera Astrolabe – a 2,000 year-old analog mechanical computer used to predict the positions of the stars.  Modern CT scans were used to peer through layers of encrustation, revealing gears, sprockets and inscriptions which described its operation. The undisturbed wreck offers archaeologists the rare opportunity to study it in context.  Thank you Evan for bringing this Antikythera wreck to us in Manhattan and sharing its treasures. 

So – why does everyone love Jennifer Hayes?  Her ability to connect right into the hearts and souls of her audience? Her accessible, easy, animated, entertaining style? Her human empathy and passion for the oceans, and marine environmental advocacy? Her spellbinding photography? The fact that she speaks for us, feels what we feel; her connectedness to real people? Answer: YES! Jennifer’s presentation Islands to Ice held us captive for an hour in Garden of the Queen (Cuba); American crocodiles and the mangroves there; Tubbataha in the Philippines featuring the explosive biodiversity in that UNESCO World Heritage site; the Mesozoic-era sturgeons of the Canadian Maritimes/St. Lawrence (and restocking with the cutest little baby sturgeons!); the life in the waters of Western Brook Pond and the Gaspe and the Bay de Chaleur; the adorable harp seals; how Jennifer was ‘adopted’ by a seal mom; and more!   …But then our day at Sea Stories had to end….

With all the above in mind, we hope to catch up with you next year at The Explorer’s Club Sea Stories 2018!  Just beware that bell at the end of the coffee breaks!