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You are here: /main/research/NOWRAMP 2002/journals/Mokumanamana/


Ship Logs

by Carlos Eyles

Mokumanamana from the top.We arrive at seven thirty in the morning. The island lies low on the water, appearing benign and clearly lacking the power and majesty of Nihoa. Fewer birds greet us as high, thin clouds with vaporous wings fly across the morning sky, where the budding sun blazes pale prisms on their feathered tips. We are one hundred and fifty miles west of Nihoa, three hundred miles from Kaua‘i. Necker is shaped like a fish hook and covers 45 acres of land, it is a dry volcanic island with a surrounding reef area of more than 380,000 acres. The islands is somewhat smaller than Nihoa and it has no trees, but has plenty of low-lying native plants. Low to the west a thick bed of clouds struggle to rise from the horizon only to lose their will to the cerulean sky. As if two skies were vying for possession of the day.

Short, low, dung covered cliffs mark the presence of birds, which, as we near descend from the morning sky to greet us - boobies, frigates, sooty terns - as we circle the island. The island appears broken as if two reside within the one, divided by a small stone isthmus.

I am eager to get into the water, as is the rest of the documentation team which includes Jim Watt, still photographer, Mike May, videographer and Brian Hauk, dive master. We also have John Elder along, one of the two ship’s doctors. Although we have made inquires, no one aboard the Rapture seems to know much about the island in terms of where to find the best concentration of fish. Which doesn’t surprise for that, of course is why we are here in the first place, to discover where to find such populations, or if in fact one even exists.

Giant Trevally.We are the last boat out today. It is decided to circumnavigate the island and make jumps into areas that look promising. In thirty minutes we have come up empty. The windward side, blowing a solid twenty five knots has a flat and featureless bottom, seemingly barren of any significant fish population. We return to the lee side and 250 yards in front of the anchored Rapture Watt and I make our last jump. Swimming 100 feet off the island we make a free dive to 30 feet and are greeted by a host of Ulua, (giant trevally) all 35- 55 pounds. We come up and both know instantly the significance of what we have found.

While the rest of the team slips into their scuba gear, I free dive the Ulua. They appear to have never seen a human and fearlessly approach. I am on the bottom at 60 feet when the rest of the school appears. I count 20 fish, several five feet long, weighing upwards to 100 pounds. They circle me from three feet away. I am both astonished and awed. To put this event into some perspective, I have been diving the Kona Coast of Hawai‘i three times a week for the last two years, always on the lookout for this most prized among all fish. I have spotted a grand total of three ulua, all under fifteen pounds. And now in this little cove I view for really the first time what all of the Hawaiian Islands must have held throughout the ages, right up to the last fifty years. These grand creatures, whose silver bodies catch all the light in the dark depths and reflect them back to the viewer, swim in that powerful way relegated to very large fish. They move without any apparent effort, guiding along on some other energy that we lesser beings do not possess. Their large eyes miss nothing, and though curious appear nonchalant at my presence among them. The largest, satisfied that I am neither a food source nor a threat, drift back down the instant I begin to ascend. The smaller ones follow me up for twenty feet, then turn and join the others meandering about the bowl shape sandy bottom.

Two Eagle Rays.Two spotted eagle rays glide by, a green sea turtle halts in its descent to check me out, a white tip shark weaves its way through the boulder strewn edge of the island. I confess to having little interest in anything but these kings of underwater Camelot; the ulua. I make repeated dives and the pattern repeats itself. Once they spot me they rise to investigate, the smaller one first then the giants.
I am thoroughly enraptured. Thrilled beyond words.

The life energy, the soul, if you will, of the natural world is found in the presence of the very largest of the species that occupy that domain. They have the countenance of power. They know who they are, and in what realm they reign, they have nobility. From first hand experience I have seen the eradication of such animals and the realm they once occupied changes dramatically with their absence. Think of a forest without the grandest of its trees, yes it is still a forest, but different, its nobility, its soul is no longer in evidence. It is this very element that so influences humans, it gives us humility, yet makes us aware of our connection to true nobility. In reality we are only as noble as the creatures with which we share space on the planet. To destroy these awesome creatures most assuredly will be the destruction of ourselves. Not in the physical sense, but that could also be true, but in the spiritual sense. Only a healthy spirit can perceive a healthy environment, and only a healthy environment can produce a healthy spirit.

Group of Giant Trevally.I swim west down the island as the divers enter the water. Drop down into the entrance of a large cave 20 feet high and 15 feet across, from its dark bowels swims a monk seal. My first sighting of this highly endangered species that resides only in Hawai‘i . It is wary of me and not wishing to stress it, I turn away, its large seal eyes following me as it retreats into the cave. I stop and watch it go, then it stops and we stare across at each other, unsure, then both move off. The seal conjures mixed feelings, I am sad that it is holding on in such a fragile manner and joy of course, that I was able to witness its lively presence. I want to know it in the way I know the Ulua, feel its presence, understand its nobility. Perhaps we will meet again as the day progresses.

Moving further west, still close to the island, finding in the froth of ocean meeting rock, the multitudes; the silver bait balls that are the primary food source, the bottom rung of the food chain. I have not seen bait like this for thirty years when down in the Sea of Cortez, before it was pillaged to virtually nothing. But here they are and all I must do is hang with them, and wait. I do not wait for very long . A school of bluefin trevally blaze by, a hundred or more. On the Big Island of Hawai‘i, to see just one on a day’s dive is to have been given a gift, to see this many is to be blessed. Among them are half a dozen rainbow runners, followed by several hundred bonito, their silver bodies cutting quick water. I dive and the entire entourage turns and comes to me, circling, their phosphorescent blue of the trevally glowing like shards of neon among the silver. Dream-like they circle me until I am dizzy. I have not seen such a sight for thirty years. I believed that I would never again. I hold the moment for as long as a breath, then ascend. In those moments my spirit renewed and filled beyond imagining I watch the fish turn as one and speed off into the blue to complete the circle of life, one that shows itself here in startling clarity, like nowhere else perhaps on the planet.

Heading back for the boat two monk seals intercept me, twisting by in either intense play or mating ritual. They ignore me, and begin to mock bite and in general put on a show for fifteen seconds then are gone. The circle of life here comes and goes in a blink of an eye, if you miss it or are asleep it will still go on, but you will be little less enriched, perhaps even a little less noble than you might have been.


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