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You are here: /main/research expeditions/CReefs 2006/journals/Days1-3

Days 1-3
October 8-October 10, 2006
By Andy Collins, NOAA, NOS, NWHIMNM -
Education and Outreach Specialist

All
                        scientific crew ready for departure. Photo by Andy Collins
All scientific crew ready for departure.
Photo by Andy Collins

I am aboard the NOAA ship Oscar Elton Sette in route to French Frigate Shoals (FFS) in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. We departed Honolulu harbor around 6 PM last Sunday 10/8, and we are just passing the island of Mokumanamana (9 AM on Tuesday 10/10). We expect to reach FFS in the early evening today. It is busy on the ship with the scientists and ship’s crew preparing all the sampling gear for deployment. There are modified lobster traps (designed not to catch lobsters but smaller crustaceans) on the aft deck waiting to be deployed, and our Dive Master, Brian Zgliczynski is working on the dive compressor, and checking out everyone’s gear. Much of the time over the last few days has been spent discussing how field operations will be carried out, and how the database will be structured to capture all data about the organisms we will be collecting. The database management aspect of this mission is quite daunting considering the number of samples that will be coming in and the number of organisms hidden among the samples. Each organism, except those which are well known, or above a certain size, will be isolated, photographed, labeled, and preserved in tiny vials of alcohol.

Since our departure from Honolulu was delayed by a few days the scientists had an opportunity to test drive some of the special collecting gear last Saturday, and work out some of the processing procedures. Even off the densely populated shores of Honolulu the scientists found a great diversity of crustaceans, nudibranchs, worms, and other organisms, many of which are quite difficult to find, let alone collect. Such is the advantage of having these world-renown taxonomists aboard. What they see in pieces of coral rubble, or a patch of sand is so very different from what the untrained eye sees, and many of the organisms they are collecting have developed exceptional
Can opener crab collected on South shore
                        of O’ahu. Photo by Jodi Martin
Can opener crab collected on South shore of O’ahu. Photo by Jodi Martin
predator avoidance and camouflage mechanisms over tens of thousands of years of evolution, making the scientists job even harder. The other factor for why they were able to collect these hard to find organisms, some as small as half a grain of rice, and many even smaller, is because of the special collecting methods employed. Each method targets particular groups of organisms. Some methods are designed to suck the organisms out of their burrows, others are designed to sieve them out of sand. Only a few minutes using the suction method and the taxonomists were busy for the whole day, sorting, identifying, photographing, labeling and preserving.

A few minutes ago I was downstairs in the medical unit for a neurological screening. All divers are screened for pre-existing nervous system issues, for dexterity, and skin sensitivity, the purpose of which is to have a baseline of nervous system function in case of a diving accident. As long as we follow all of the strict diving protocols and procedures there will hopefully be no use for this screening information, or for the decompression chamber, which we used yesterday during a simulated dive emergency drill with a member of the scientific party acting as an unconscious diver. Many dive accidents, such as decompression sickness, can result in nervous system damage due to nitrogen in the diver’s blood or tissues coming out of solution. In the unlikely event that this happens, both the neurological screening and the decompression chamber will needed.

Dive tanks at the ready. Photo by Jodi Martin.
Dive tanks at the ready. Photo by Jodi Martin

Aside from preparations for field work, and eating three times a day, our days are spent discussing various topics related to these fascinating and tiny organisms the scientists study. For me it’s like walking into Willy Wonkaland. Just to listen to these scientists talk about their field of interest and organisms they study, and seeing their photos, is truly an eye opening experience, and a testament to the wondrous and amazing diversity of life that only appears to be more rich and complex as we move from the macro level of fish, corals and large algae to the micro scale of miniature crabs, predatory snails, and finally single cell organisms. It has been said many times before, but science fiction does not hold a candle to what we are seeing beneath the microscope, a marine world in miniature that few of us ever notice, but one that ultimately allows coral reef ecosystems to function.


 

*All images and information from French Frigate Shoals are provided courtesy of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument, Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands State Marine Refuge, and NOAA's Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center in accordance with permit numbers NWHIMNM-2006-015, 2006-01, 2006-017, and DLNR.NWHI06R021 and associated amendments.

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