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You are here: /main/research/NOWRAMP 2002/journals/TC Update 5/


Ship Logs

Updates from the Townsend Cromwell (9/17 - 9/19/02)
Pearl and Hermes Atoll
Posted by Stephani Holzwarth

Brown Booby.  Photo by Jim Watt.Sept 17, 2002. Pearl & Hermes Reef. Glassy calm day, the kind that makes you feel ecstatic riding in a boat fast across saphire clear water. Bubblebee-sized flying fish burst out of the water ahead of our bow, along with dart-like needlefish. Brown boobies circled overhead, a clean, pretty Hawaiian green sea turtle dove out of site, and in the afternoon during our last run we had a couple dozen spinner dolphins travel with us for a happy 15 minutes. A little one surfed our bow wake next to its mum. It popped up for a breath, and even the guys smiled at how cute it was. "It looks like a little football," Brian said, endearingly.

Our task for the day was to retrieve the CREWS buoy we deployed last fall and replace it with a new one. The batteries that power the instruments were designed to last a year. We Launching a CREWS buoy.  NMFS Honolulu Laboratory.towed the old buoy through 4.5 miles of inner reef maze and out through the southeast channel where the ship was anchored in deep water. Deckhands pulled tight on 3 tag lines and our boat was pulling on a 4th to keep the buoy from banging against the hull and destroying its expensive sensors. I was the lucky one who got to slip the lifting strap over the crane hook. The hook and tackle are a hefty 500 lbs, so this is an Interesting (!) operation. Jonathon was infinitely careful craning the hook down. It took me a couple tries, but I yanked the strap down over the hook and swam out ofthere. On my way to the ladder I turned around to confront a riled up crowd of 100 lb ulua swimming at me, and a few galapagos sharks lurking beneath. It was a stunning site in the clear deep water, and I enjoyed a bit of an adrenalin rush climbing up the ships ladder. You can be sure I scanned under the ship for the big (imaginary) Tiger shark when I first jumped in. Now I know why the spinner dolphins come inside the atoll to sleep. ;o)

Sept 18. PHR. Towing the new buoy into the atoll we ran out of time and set two temporary anchors to hold the buoy for the night. Once we towed the buoy to the site the next morning, I raised the 1200 lb anchor with a liftbag and Rusty attached the buoy to the anchor with a super thick rubberband-like device which tethers the buoy at tension and keeps it off the coral. After I set the achor back down by dumping air out of the liftbag, Brian and Bill assembled settlement plates around the base which will document what kind of larvae flow through this atoll. The plates (unglazed ceramic tiles) from last year have a variety of things growing on them- sponges, algae, baby corals, and slimy unidentifiable objects. Jean Kenyon, our coral biologist, will analyze the plates in detail when we return. A conger eel slid out of the plastic pipe structure when we hauled it onto the boat. The eels seem to really like the pipes, we found one at Neva Shoals as well. Does that count as settling? Or just homesteading? ;o)

Sept 19. PHR.Between yesterday and today we finished 9 towed diversurveys, mostly along reef on the inside of the atoll. We're noticing an alarming amount of bleached coral on these inner reefs. Coral are related to jellyfish, only instead of being free floating, they anchor themselves and build a calcium carbonate masion to accomodate the family as the coral colony grows and prospers. Inside their skin corals keep little pet algae (zooxanthellae), which make sugar with the energy from sunlight and share it with the coral in exchange for a place to live. This is a classic symbiotic relationship, but if the coral gets stressed out it loses the algae and turns ghostly white. We call that "bleaching." If the coral can recover from the stress and take upmore algae, it will survive. If it stays stressed out, it dies. As alarmed as we were to see vast tracts of bleached coral within the atoll, it is actually a natural cycle. The coral has a good chance of recovering out here, as it is far removed from many of the extra stressors and pollutants that reefs deal with in more populated areas. The coral on reefs dies and regenerates many times on large time scales. These reefs are ancient.

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Stephani Holzwarth
Stephani Holzwarth

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