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You are here: /main/research/NOWRAMP 2002/journals/time flying by/


Ship Logs

Time Flying By
Posted by Daria Siciliano, remote sensing, Ph.D. candidate, University of California at Santa Cruz
Underwater Photography by Jim Watt
October 3, 2002

Coral reef at Lisianskli Island.I can't believe this is the last week of the expedition. Time is flying by, data are accumulating, our skin is a few shades darker and our muscles fatigued from lifting tanks and anchors… yet to this date every morning, during the mad scramble to find my weight belt or the battle to put on my wet suit, still drenched from the day before, I meet happy faces assembling their own gear for the full day ahead with the same enthusiasm as we did our first day.

We just left Lisianski, the low-lying coral island named after the Russian captain that first sighted it in the early 1800s. This island has been full of surprises. The dives have been nothing short of spectacular, with amazingly abundant healthy coral on the eastern side of the Neva Shoals, the open atoll ecosystem that extends for 13 km south of the island of sparkling white beaches. We surveyed some reefs that rival the degree of development and diversity displayed by their rich counterparts in the western Pacific. Everyone would come back from their dives giddy and wide-eyed mumbling how this was their best dive ever - although people have been using such superlatives almost every day.

Ancient coral colony.  Porites evermanni at Lisianski Island.The weather has been definitely cooperating. Funny to realize to what extent the weather affects our mood and our impressions of one place. Last year we surveyed this island under gloomy dark clouds that suddenly turned into torrential rains. It was cold and the dark water just didn't seem that inviting. Reluctantly, we slowly geared up and jumped in the water on the lee of the island. We actually did survey a beautiful reef, entirely covered by the blue coral, Montipora turgescens, and a couple of Monk seals even came over and paid us a visit as we were laying down the transect line. But the pretty underwater memories faded quickly once back in the boat giving way to an intense desire to get out of this cold miserable place. In contrast, this year Lisianski greeted us with glassy waters and sunny skies. The small boat was planing over calm Beaufort-1 waters in search of our dive spot. And what dive spots! One coral heaven after another, with corals heavily competing for every inch of the substrate, and colorful reef fishes busily plucking algae and coral polyps here and there. All of a sudden Lisianski ranked as one of my favourite of the NWHI, jumping up from the bottom of the list.

Rapture Reef, French Frigate Shoals.I slept on the top deck of the ship, engulfed in my sleeping bag under a most beautiful starry sky. The new moon allowed a glorious milky way to jump out of the sky in all its brightness. Bonnie was teaching us the Hawaiian names of the constellations, but before long, the top deck was silent and we all fell asleep rocked by the gentle motion of the ship. As I fell asleep I thought about the past three weeks. Things have been hectic, but smooth. I was so relieved after we visited Kure Atoll, the focus of my dissertation. I had some critical tasks to accomplish there, all of which amazingly got done. Then my thoughts drifted…. I thought about free diving at Necker Island with manta rays and grey reef sharks in 100 ft visibility, in the company of Jim Watt, one of the world's best underwater photographers, Carlos Eyles the writer and free diving instructor extraordinaire, Nainoa Thompson, the Hawaiian master in star navigation, and Mike May the videographer, all mesmerized by our surroundings. I thought about the dive at Maro Reef surrounded by no less than 50 sharks, moving sinuously around us wandering who in the world these paralytic-looking seals were and what were we doing in their fluid realm? I remember as Marjo, Jim and I all comfortably just sat on the bottom and watched and took photos as sharks and Giant Trevallies zipped above us. As my eyes were closing, I recalled our many encounters with monk seals, one of the most critically endangered mammals in the world. I was intent on epoxying the permanent transect stakes that Jim had just hammered into the reef at Pearl and Hermes Atoll, as one large seal approached me from behind and started playing with my hair. I wouldn't have noticed except that I looked up and heard Jim emitting a grunt through his regulator while pointing at something big right behind me. I pondered for a second whether I was better off turning around to face death bravely in the jaws of a Tiger Shark or just let it devour me without looking. I decided to face the beast, who luckily turned out to be just a playful seal of about 900 pounds.

Montipora sp. corals at Midway Atoll.I can't believe we'll be back in the bustling rhythms of a crowded city in less than a week. It's a different world out here. Problems are gauged in relation to underwater visibility and absence or presence of heavy surge. Great day today, we had 100 ft visibility. Bad day, we couldn't see the end of the transect line. Nobody has any clue of what day of the week it is, or what time of the day for that matter, or what's going on in the world. We just know it must be lunch time because we're hungry, we should sleep when the data on the computer screen start to appear fuzzy, and it's time to wake up when we hear the crew getting the small boats ready. The whole day we are guests in the homes of octopus, sharks, jacks and snapping shrimps, charismatic megafauna and spineless lower life forms. This is my third year participating in a research expedition to the NWHI, and every year I am so grateful for the privilege of being able to retreat from the real world for a month and plunge into one of the most untouched and beautiful marine ecosystems left on earth.

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