September 23rd: Specimen Release at Maro Reef
Written By Dan Suthers September 24th, 2004
In the morning I am writing while the divers conduct their 8th consecutive day of underwater operations. The work is taking its toll: three divers remain on the Hi`ialakai with earaches and a sore knee.
At 1400, HI-5 was deployed for the education/outreach team, which will be returning specimens. Tonight we transit to Laysan, so all specimens must be released this afternoon at Maro Reef. Under the original plan, Stephani Holzwarth was to join us, but she is with the mooring team on HI-2, and their buoy tow took longer than they expected. In surging seas, we loaded the Zodiac with the specimen buckets and our snorkeling gear, and headed out towards the reef. Our Cox'n (boat driver) is Able Bodied Seaman "Guy" Gaetano Maurizio, who grew up on Moloka`i. Previously he was in the Navy working search and rescue, and was the first sailor in the water in response to the U.S.S. Cole bombing to pull sailors (and bodies) out of the water and keep the ship afloat.
The Hi`ialakai is stationed 2 miles off the reef to avoid this dangerous area, so it is a long ride over. We cannot even see the breakers during the first portion of our journey: it looks like we are headed out into the endless Pacific. I had been told that the ride in a Zodiac is fairly dry. Sitting near the front, I now know why: the bow bounces high over the waves rather than ploughing into them, making for a wild bucking ride. More than once I found myself airborne. The ride was better further towards the stern and sitting on the soft airtubes.
After perhaps half an hour, breakers over the reef come clearly into view, and we can see HI-1, the launch supporting the fishing team. The swells in this area are muted by the shallower water. We headed for a nearby breaker, where we can see rocks showing above the surface when the trough of a swell passes. Could these be the rocks that allow the state of Hawai`i to claim territorial waters here?
David Liittschwager got in the water and we handed him buckets of specimens to be released. We decided to photograph the release process underwater, so Susan and I joined him and snorkeled over to the reef surrounding the rock. After we are done releasing specimens we had a little time to investigate the reef. In shallow areas, visibility was good at close range and I was able to photograph colorful corals. But there is a soft murkiness to the water that cuts visibility quickly at any distance. As we return to the Zodiac I can barely make out a shark investigating us from several meters below.
A transit begins tonight, and tomorrow we will be in the area of Laysan Island. Arrangements have been made on my behalf to provide me with "quarantine clothes" so that I can visit the resident caretakers and learn about restoration efforts there.