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Ship Logs

Crater Life
Written by Carlos Eyles
Underwater Photography by Jim Watt
September 28, 2002

Pearl and Hermes shallow reef.Last night we anchored up in the calm of blessed seas. This morning everyone seems to have caught up on their sleep, and by the skip in their step is ready for a full day of diving. This small village of sea people manages remarkably well, despite the closeness of quarters. With twenty days in our wake we are naturally worn down, but throughout this voyage I have seen no evidence of irritation towards another or melancholy. All are as helpful as they can possibly be, my fish facts are weak as are my computer skills and everyone from the chief scientist down to a deck hand has daily come to my aid. The level of cooperation and generosity among all on board is remarkable given our circumstances.

I watch the sun break the horizon for the first time in eight days, (though I confess that while on the dock at Midway we couldn't see the sunrise), and it comes howling out of the sea this morning like an angry Zeus, then just as quickly hides behind the skirts of a cloud as though his wife had found him out. But the clouds have not the presence and power of myth this morning. They are things of dreams, ethereal and temporary, yet cling to the sky with illusionary permanence, like dreams by mid-morning will be a vague memory. Directly above the boat the sky is as open as Mother Theresa's heart, cloudless and ready to fill with the dramas of the day. An eight knot wind is chased out of the east by the sun, and has not the bite to it of previous days, and it can do no more than wrinkle the sea like a Thanksgiving tablecloth after a full meal. By all appearances we have a beautiful morning before us.

The Documentation team is generally the last to leave, and I take a leisurely breakfast only to learn that we are shoving off in fifteen minutes. It turns out that the zode is needed and we have to have it back by noon. This is the most chaotic time of the day; all the teams are moving like it was the last moments on the Titanic. Nonetheless we are able to rig up, get our gear together and climb into wet suits in the allotted time. We are off, but to where, we all chorus? In diving these old atolls it is difficult to find sites that will produce the dramatic images Jim Watt and Mike May are looking for, most of the surrounding underwater terrain has been worn down by time and storms leaving scarcely any relief for the fish to use for dwelling places. Keoki has no ideas, we dove his best shot yesterday, so today all is new. We run about five miles east, paralleling the barrier reef by about a quarter of a mile, and start looking. By looking I mean stopping the boat at a likely looking area and putting on a mask and leaning over the boat and gazing down into sixty to eighty feet of water. It is often difficult to pick out anything significant with this method. We look for clues; perhaps a single fish, a high spot or crater, a fissure or crack, anywhere fish might congregate. Often such places are absorbed into the tissues of the seascape and cannot be ferreted out from eighty feet away through a mid water column. We search patiently, Keoki spots one shark, we contemplate a jump, but one shark does not a reef make. We go on. Finally after an hour and a half he spies a crack in the ocean floor and it is the best we can come up with, the day is moving on and we have to return the zode.

Crater in the reef at Pearl and Hermes.We all drop in together, in what appears to be an endless wheat field as seen from an airplane. There are a few craters and what appears to be a crack is merely a shadow of a shelf that holds nothing. Right off the top I have to tell you I'm a big animal kind of guy. I like sharks, and dolphins and whale sharks, I like the big ulua, the power fish that give energy to a place. But there are other worlds in the ocean, and as I settle in to the realization that aside from the ulua that are circling overhead, there is not much here in the way of big animals. It is not by design that I settle into one of these craters, but more out of boredom. However, as I sit, breathing slowly, the world of the crater begins to reveal itself. The personalities of the fish are in evidence, some are shy, and remain deep into there little caves, others are curious and come and go on my exhales, almost all are aware of my presence but a few seem unfazed and go about their business in an innocent and peaceful way that draws me deeper into their world.

Normally I do not spend much time learning the names of fishes; I am probably the least informed in this regard as anyone on the boat, with the possible exception of the crew. My knowledge of small fish was in their connection to larger fish, by watching their patterns of feeding and behavior they would often lead me to the fish I was seeking. But today this experience is so engrossing so captivating that I return to the Rapture and begin thumbing through a fish book, to identify all that I had seen. Some I learn are quite rare, like the Bandit Angelfish, and the Masked Angelfish. There were assorted butterfly fish which are generally yellow and black with various unique shapes to them, and these little sweet trumpet fish that let me get to within a few inches of them. The wrasses were flitting about as I suppose wrasses do, one beautiful fish that caught my attention was black and white about two inches in diameter called a Hawaiian Dascyllus. Under a ledge I found a Barberpole shrimp, quite common I'm told but was the first one I had ever seen.

Crater critters at Pearl and Hermes Atoll.Many of these fish, I learn, are targets of the fish collectors who capture them live then sell them to aquariums dealers who in turn sell them for serious dollars, upward to five thousand dollars a fish, to individuals who stock their personal aquariums with these highly exotic species. It's a problem on all the main islands, and the exotic fish stocks are dwindling dramatically. I know that the hearty yellow tangs on the Big Island were at one time abundant and a glorious vision for anyone to see, and now are few and far between. From this experience I would have to say that these beautiful little animals would be far more content in their ocean dwellings than in the confines of some upscale home in Beverly Hills. Far better to experience a fish, a dolphin, even a shark in the wild, where its true spirit can be seen and felt. There it can be known in the heart as well as the mind. There it can be known as it truly exists.

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