07/20/2011 06:41 pm ET | Updated Sep 19, 2011

Swan Islands Expedition With Dr. Sylvia Earle: Day Three (PHOTOS)

From the Sylvia Earle Alliance:

Day three of the Swan Islands expedition, led by Dr. Sylvia Earle, world-renowned oceanographer, National Geographic Explorer-In-Residence, founder of Mission Blue and 2009 TED Prize Winner, found the team rising with the sun and a growing sense of hope for the discovery of healthy sections of the Mesoamerican Reef.

For those Huffington Post Green readers who have been following coverage of this expedition since its inception on Monday, you know now that “hope” is Earle’s favorite word.

Having led more than 50 expeditions worldwide involving more than 6,000 hours underwater, at age 75, Earle is truly the voice of the oceans, dedicating her life to the establishment of a global network of marine protected areas (MPAs) – which she calls “hope spots.” These are large areas of critical importance to the health of the ocean, the planet’s “blue heart,” that if protected, can save the ocean from destruction.

The hope of day three of the expedition was to find sections of the reef surrounding the Swan Islands that would showcase the healthy examples of corals that the team had expected to see more of in this remote location.

This hope was fulfilled on a dive completed by Earle and her colleague Dr. Melanie McField, director of the Healthy Reefs Initiative, based in Belize City, Belize.

Among the marine life spotted were goliath grouper, a nurse shark and a rather large school of surgeon fish. Goliath grouper, specifically, are a great sign of a healthy marine environment, according to Earle.

In addition to documenting a good number and diversity of fish, the team was also delighted to find large strands of Staghorn Coral in various sizes of development. Currently, Staghorn Coral is critically endangered globally.

Also joining Earle on the expedition is Sylvia Earle Alliance board member Shari Sant Plummer, who had the good fortune of spotting three squid on an earlier dive.

Earle shares her most recent dive experience with The Huffington Post Green:

“I think what we saw today was really how the whole island marine ecosystem looked. What I've been noticing is mostly hurricane damage. This is an interesting case, because it's not the anthropogenic factors that we usually see of nutrient runoff, or damage from fishing and anchors, and dynamite fishing, and that kind of thing. That's usually what you see with the coral rubble we saw on the first day. I'm thinking these spots were protected from the storms. Almost every single hurricane that has gone through the Caribbean has gone across Swan Island. It's amazing that there's anything at all...”

What has become clear for the expedition members in further exploring the Mesoamerican Reef is that the Swan Islands have natural challenges they must face. Yet, these are challenges that can be endured. It is the negative impact of human influences, however, like over-fishing, which these Islands must be protected from. And with help from conservation organizations, the private sector, media and most importantly, the public, “There is reason for hope,” as Earle is so fond of saying.

Using the unique hashtag #hopespots, Earle will continue to post real-time content from the expedition, including photos, blogs and video, on Twitter @bluerules and on her Facebook page Friends of Dr. Sylvia Earle.

Earle and her team are also encouraging the public to join them in taking action to protect this hope spot – and others in need of MPA status – by logging on to their website – – where they can donate to local conservation efforts aimed at safeguarding the Mesoamerican Reef.

Continue to visit The Huffington Post Green for exclusive photos from the Swan Islands expedition led by Dr. Sylvia Earle.

All photos courtesy of Kip Evan Photography.

Swan Islands: Day 3