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You are here: /main/research/NWHI RAMP 2004/journals/Lisianski 1

October 9th: Guards in the Gardens of Lisianski

Written By Dan Suthers October 9, 2004

Gaetano piloting zodiac away from Hi`ialakaiLisianski, named after the captain of the first of many ships to run around here (see [2]), is the third largest NHWI. It has no fringing reef, but is surrounded by large shoals making it both a productive reef ecosystem and a dangerous island for ships to approach. As the Education/Outreach team motored towards the island in our Zodiac (under the hand of Gaetano, sporting freshly bleached hair), all we could see at first was a long strip of sand beach topped with low vegetation and a few large bushes surrounded by ocean. But as one approaches, one begins to see hints of the shoals: occasional small breakers betraying the bane of sailing vessels.

David and Susan had a permit to enter this quarantined island along with Stephani, and all three had brought their quarantine clothes. Stephani was with the Mooring Team on HI-2, and would rendezvous with us shortly. Gaetano and I were only permitted to stand on the beach below the high tide mark. Quarantine is strict on this island because it is nearly restored to native vegetation after a bleak history of exploitation for bird feathers and denudation by rabbits similar to that of Laysan [2].

We took the long way around the north side before reaching the landing area on the south west, so were treated to a seaside tour of the entire island. Upon landing at the US Fish and Wildlife sign, we quickly discovered that the fly population is as annoying here as it is on Laysan. David and Susan unloaded their gear and quarantine clothes, and as they went to change Gaetano and I headed back out to escape the flies and do a little snorkeling while we waited for Stephani to join the shore party.

Ulua (large fish)As soon we stopped the Zodiac, a large ulua was circling under us. I entered the water six times at six different locations this day, and each time was immediately greeted by equally large ulua staking claim to their territory and shadowing intruders.

beach, water, and sky with seal in distanceChamber Operator Jim Bostic was aboard HI-2 this morning to observe operations, and wanted to be dropped off at the Hi`ialakai, so Stephani arrived later than expected. Once Stephani had been dropped off on Lisianski to join the others, Gaetano and I examined two other reef locations off the west side of the island. At the first location, the coral was silted over and covered with algae. My ulua escort there swam with a reef shark: who was keeping an eye on who? At the second location I observed healthy Porites at depths below 10 feet. I also found a collection of Fungia scutaria or "Mushroom coral" Mushroom coral (pictured), a free-standing coral that can grow on sandy bottom or rubble, thereby avoiding the need to compete with other corals and algae for growing space on solid substrate [1]. At another, the current being forced through a coral gully was so strong that I could swim in place.

By lunch time we could see someone at the dropoff point, so went to claim our landing party. Once everyone was on board, we zipped out over the shoals to blow away the flies, and drifted while we had leftover steak sandwiches for lunch. Then we headed around the south end to look for photographable coral and gather fish specimens for portraits.

blue and green Montipora coralEncountering purple and blue patches in the water at two different locations, twice we donned our masks and entered to find stunning gardens of Montipora and other corals. Delicate formations of blue, purple, lavender, white and green filled our cameras while ulua kept a close watch. One would not expect to find such easily broken formations in the populated islands. I took more than the usual number of photographs, and offer a sampling here. During both explorations we were again shadowed by ulua, as if they were the guard dogs of these gardens.

Ulua over coralsWe had a brief encounter with the towboard team during which we photographed them towing by. The day's expedition ended with fish collection at the coral ledge on the southeast end of the island. Ulua shadowed our boat while Stephani netted fish in the shallow cove.


Tonight the stars are bright, and the light of a sailboat is visible on the horizon. Bridge staff Steve Kroening and Matt Wingate say they saw the sails earlier today, and point out a second vessel on the radar.

Scott prepares the TOAD deviceDown in the dry lab, divers are recounting being shadowed by ulua. The creature of the night at the TOAD operations are, as one might expect from our daytime experience, ulua. One can see up to half a dozen of these large fish at a time swimming in front of the camera. I reflect on the other half-dozen I swam with at close range today, and on the fact that one would be lucky to see one fish this size while diving in the Main Hawaiian Islands.

closeup of clouds after sunset

[1] Gulko (1998)
[2] Rauzon (2001)

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front of Zodiac and island barely visible in distance

The shoals between our Zodiac and Lisianski in the distance would wreck a ship, but cannot be seen in the morning glare




birds over island beach

Boobies come to investigate as we pass around the north side of Lisianski





coral community

Porites coral community






Light green and blue Montipora coral in fan shape

plate-like Montipora in blue and green

Montipora coral in spiral shape

green Montipora in cascading fans

Multiple forms and colors of Montipora










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