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You are here: /main/research/NOWRAMP 2002/journals/FFS Day 3/


Ship Logs

French Frigate Shoals, Day 3, Rapture Reef (9/13/02)
by Carlos Eyles
Underwater Photography by Jim Watt

The breaking sun ignites the low clouds raspberry/orange stretching for as far as the eye can see in all directions. Its heat seems to generate an easterly wind fueled by its fire. The power of the sun this morning is undeniable in the declaration of its birth. Giving credence to the idea that this day is all we have and to live it fully.

Rapture Reef.  Acropora corals, pennantfish.Yesterday, late in the afternoon Capt. McClung dove a reef just off the Rapture's stern, later Jim Watt, who never met a dive he didn't like, and Brian Hauk made the dive. They came back with such glowing reports that a full scale dive was planned with all teams save for the archeologists. Some twenty divers were rigged up and ready to go at 8:30am. It was quite the undertaking with NOAA Dive Supervisor Greg McFall in fine form. And not without reason, the dive was in eighty feet of water, the deepest dive for all involved so far in the expedition. The Documentation team was the last to go.

I teamed up with cameraman Mike May and we dropped into a hundred and fifty feet of visibility. Spectacular! As we descended I could see the reef that appeared to be about the size of two hundred and fifty foot Rapture vessels sitting side by side in a white sand bottom that gave the appearance of an oasis of life resting in the middle of a desert. Teams of divers were stretched out all over the place raising a curtain of bubbles that caught the light and illuminated the scene that played before me. Describing the day to day experience of this expedition, I find myself

Fish biologist counting fish on Rapture Reef.

overusing phrases to recount the spectacular when in the rapture of the depths, but this reef, was indeed a coral garden. The likes of which I have never seen in Hawaiian waters, nor by Jim Watt, who has seen it all. The table coral, which appears flat and round with tiny buds of relief that resemble a flower bloom, covered nearly every inch of the entire reef. Beneath the tables of coral, soldierfish peered out with looks, I swear, of bewilderment at the hubbub of activity that was going on everywhere on the reef. I was experiencing an odd sense that there were two phenomenon going on simultaneously - one was the school of scientists working so diligently at their tasks and, two the remarkable beauty of the reef itself.

Qudrat survey for bottom cover.I had not seen the scientists in action before and realized just how formidable were their respective jobs. They have to analyze and primarily record through the use of video and a contraption called a quadrat which is a meter square(there is another, smaller one a quarter of the size) sort of pyramid made out of PVC with a camera mounted at the top of the pyramid that shoots down on a section of reef. That area represents a sample of the reef as a whole and they can study it and see exactly what is going on in that section rather than taking the entire reef and essentially doing the same thing. It is, quite naturally much easier and produces the same results. They quadrat sample as much of the reef as they can in the time they have, thus acquiring an overall picture of every aspect for the entire reef system. This of course paints a clear idea of that which does not move. When they need to determine or quantify what does move,(primarily fish) they use a transect line and video the life that exists along the line that runs twenty-five meters along a random section of the reef. Three of these lines are used and later they review the video to count the fish, although there are also fish counters on the dive. The transect line is also used to examine the stationary as well such as coral, algae and other invertebrates. The real crux of their job is, in this case at eighty feet, time. They only have a limited amount of time to cover all this territory, Forty minutes was all they were safely allowed to be down. Needless to say the activity was quite focused and intense, they scarcely look up at all, and for all they knew a fifteen foot tiger shark could be cruising above and I don't think they'd ever see it.

Rapture Reef.As to the reef itself, the spectacular coral aside, the fish life was as prolific as I have seen anywhere in a very long time, certainly in Hawaii. There were hundreds, perhaps thousands of pennantfish, Oval Damsel Fish, Three Spot Damsels, Thompson Surgeons, Pyramid Butterflies, Menpachi (Squirrel fish), and the assorted ulua, both black and white and omilu, (bluefine travelly) and throw in a couple of white tip sharks to top off this moveable feast. I have to wonder, if, at one time, all of the Hawaiian Islands held these exquisite reefs and coral, and if so, what happened? I am told by Alan Friedlander, a fisheries biologist, that actually nothing happened. Well the fish were in abundance, and were summarily fished out by the line and spear and net, but the table coral simply never made down to the main islands, the current patterns were such that they could never get established. The next question that comes to mind is what can we do to protect what is here? Which of course is what this expedition is all about, determining what, exactly do we have here? I must say that it is most gratifying to be in the company of so many men and women who have dedicated their lives to keeping this place of astounding abundance and healing and beauty intact. They are constantly reflecting on the mistakes of the past and insure that they will never be made again. They cherish these untouched islands and understand the value of such places for all mankind. If left solely in their hands, these reefs and vast waters would be here undisturbed for time immemorial. And we all, our children and our grand children would be better for it.

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