The ocean has fascinated me and had a pull over me ever since I was a child. I have always been curious about this magical body of water teeming with life. This love for the ocean coupled with a curiosity to study how life survives in it brought me to Rutgers University, USA all the way from India. I am currently a PhD student in Dr. Vetriani’s lab. As a lab we are interested in studying the physiology, ecology and evolution of microorganisms at vent environments that resemble early Earth’s environment. It wasn’t until I joined Dr. Vetriani’s lab that I realized that going down to the bottom of the ocean and visiting these unique environments was a possibility! When I heard of this opportunity to be able to join the Vent-SID cruise organized by Stefan Sievert and to be out at sea for a month to do science, I was thrilled beyond words. I had been looking forward to this for a long time and it was finally happening. What was even more exciting was that it was an Alvin cruise, which meant there was a slight chance that I would get to dive, but that was just the icing on the cake.
Being on this cruise has been one of the best experiences of my life. I have learnt so many new things, met some wonderful people, made some good friends and, most important of all, I have made cherished memories to take back with me. Every single day has been an adventure and a new experience, but the day I dove in Alvin for the first time will always stand out! What made the dive extra special besides the fact that it was my first was that it was an additional dive added to the dive series due to being able to save time during transit back to Puntarenas and that we were responsible for bringing back some very crucial samples from the deep sea. The day before the dive was an emotional roller coaster for the divers and the scientists since there was a lot of uncertainty involved around the dive the next day due to issues with the thruster of Atlantis. In the end everything sorted itself out and it was decided that dive 4905 would be taking place indeed. The night before the dive was spent in a constant battle between being awake with excitement and wanting to get some rest.
Finally the day arrived and surprisingly excitement is all I felt! There wasn’t a trace of nervousness. The dive was piloted by Jefferson Grau, with Ileana Perez-Rodriguez as the port observer and myself as the starboard observer. It felt great to be diving with a fellow woman scientist who also happened to be my academic sister (she got her PhD from the Veriani lab). When the sub first hit the water I admit I had a fleeting feeling of being drowned, but as we slowly continued our descent everything felt normal. It was fascinating to see the changing hues of the water as we descended through the euphotic zone. It started out with being sky blue to a very beautiful teal to a very dark blue and then just darkness! That’s where the bioluminescent life came out to play, resembling thousands of stars in our galaxy. The journey to the bottom of the ocean was remarkably peaceful, calm, and quick. The first thing that I was mesmerized by was the seafloor. It was hard to believe we were still on planet Earth, it looked nothing short of an exoplanet. Our first task was to find the Large Volume Pump (LVP) and position it in the desired fissure at Teddy Bear. En route we witnessed two different types of octopuses, sea cucumbers, sea pigs, anemones, and a number of other fascinating creatures. Next on the list was getting fluid samples with the Majors. For this we travelled to Crab Spa which is a really cool vent site adorned with Riftia, mussels, crabs and fish. If I were a marine creature, I could see myself hanging out at this cool joint! Almost all of the Major Samplers fired beautifully and it was a proud moment for me as part of the Major Team.
From there we moved on to collect some dead and healthy Riftia. The Riftia tubeworms were ten times more beautiful in real life than in photos. With their brilliant red plumes and gracefully swaying bodies they were quite a sight! After doing our last task of releasing the LVP, we started our ascent back to reality. These eight wonderful hours of my life had passed by in a heartbeat. To this very day it still feels like a dream…. a dream that came true!