07/18/2011 04:41 pm ET Updated Sep 17, 2011

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

From the Sylvia Earle Alliance:

Today, Dr. Sylvia Earle, world-renowned oceanographer, National Geographic Explorer-In-Residence, founder of Mission Blue and 2009 TED Prize Winner, joins a team of scientists, government officials and award-winning photojournalists on a week-long expedition to the Swan Islands and Mesoamerican Reef, “the Galapagos Islands of the Caribbean.” Located 90 miles off the coast of Honduras, the Swan Islands are situated at the southern boundary of the Mesoamerican Reef – the Atlantic Ocean’s largest coral reef and a “hope spot” as identified by Dr. Earle and her team.

Led by the Sylvia Earle Alliance (SEA) and the Healthy Reefs Initiative at Texas A&M Corpus Christi, the Mission Blue expedition aims to raise global awareness of the critical importance of the Mesoamerican Reef and surrounding areas to the overall health of the world’s ocean as well as catalyze support for the official declaration of this “hope spot” as a marine protected area (MPA).

An MPA is an area of the ocean where human activities are more strictly regulated than the surrounding waters – similar to national parks on land that have safeguarded key areas of biodiversity from environmental degradation for many years. Earle coined the term “hope spots” to describe existing MPAs as well as target regions in need of official MPA status.

Using the unique hashtag #hopespots, Earle will be posting real-time content from the expedition, including photos, blogs and video, on Twitter @blue rules and on her Facebook page Friends of Dr. Sylvia Earle, allowing the public to join the team on a virtual expedition of the Mesoamerican Reef and the Swan Islands.

Check out photos from day 1 of the expedition during which Dr. Earle’s team departs from Roatan for the Swan Islands and conducts their first series of dives in the Mesoamerican Reef.

All photos courtesy of Kip Evan Photography.

Swan Islands