Friday, March 21, 2008

The Governor's Ball

We were invited to a soirĂ©e at the Governor's Mansion the day after we arrived in Pago Pago.  The mansion was originally built for the naval governor in 1902 and was recently restored to the exact specifications of the original design.  It is a spectacular residence sitting atop the hill with a panoramic view of the harbor entrance.  We were treated to a wonderful tour of the property by the Governor and First Lady who explained the history and significance of many of the pieces that have been amassed over the past 100 years of Samoan history.

After the tour we were invited to an outdoor Fale (a structure similar to but much larger than a gazebo with roof but no walls) where a sumptuous feast awaited.  Meat roasted on a slowly turning spit as several men in native dress prepared a traditional appetizer.  Several roasted breadfruits were mashed to a pulp using a large wooden bowl and a green papaya as mortar and pestle.  As the breadfruit became the constancy of mashed potatoes, coconut milk was added to a depression in the center of the mash.  Hot rocks were brought from a nearby fire and, while they were held over the breadfruit using wooden tongs, raw sugar was poured over them.  As the sugar hit the smoldering rocks it caramelized and dripped into the breadfruit and coconut milk.
After the demonstration we all sat down to the feast with more dishes than I can describe filled with delicious preparations of meat, fish, taro, breadfruit, and more.  It was some of the most delicious food I have had in a long, long time.

As dinner drew to a close the Governor took to the stage and made several heart-felt and genuine speeches thanking us for the work we have been doing and for the many hours that go into producing the data that go into the monitoring reports and other publications they use to make various management decisions.  Governor Tulafono has lead the way in this regard, using much of the data collected over the past five years to support a variety of management decisions including the suspension of fishing for all large-bodied reef fishes in American Samoan waters.  Decisions like these will go a long way to insure that the children of American Samoa will be able to enjoy the same reefs and waters we see here today.  We thanked Governor Tulafono for his generous hospitality and the time he spent with us on the Hi'ialakai.  And with that ... the dancing began.
(In all of these pictures the gentleman in the green and yellow short-sleeve shirt is Togiola Tulafono, Governor of American Samoa.)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Swains Island

Swains Island, one of my favorite places in the world!  Our last day at Swains was spectacular.  I dropped the oceanography team off on the beach early to begin their water sampling routine in the small brackish water lagoon in the center of the island and spent the rest of the day poking around the margins of the fringing reef surrounding the island.  I shuttled tanks to and from the ship for some of the other teams and did a little coxswain training for one of the ship's crew members.  I had been hoping to get to go ashore on the island as I had two years ago and, as luck would have it, we happened to have a few extra minutes at the end of the day.

After retrieving the O-team, they dropped me off just outside the reef where I could swim to shore through a small cut in the reef. As I entered the small lagoon inside the reef the water turned clear as gin and must have been near 90 degrees.  I waded through the shallow water and finally made it to the snow white beach and the cool shade of the palm trees, still laid out in neat rows from the plantation days.  Edmund, one of the members of the Tow team had joined me on shore and we quickly met up with one of the families that live on the island.  

The two children couldn't have been more than 6 or 7 years old and were completely fascinated with the small digital camera I had brought with me and we spent quite some time taking pictures of each other, marveling over the results on the camera's small screen.  Before long it was time to leave to begin our transit back to Pago Pago where we would change out eight of the scientists, a few of the crew and make the ship ready for the next leg of the expedition: Jarvis, Palmyra, and Kingman.  These are three of the places I have yet to visit and I must admit, I am very excited.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

In Memoriam

Monday was a hard day for us here on the Hi'ialakai. We ended the day's operations at Swains with a Safety Stand-down as we learned of the death of one of our fellow NOAA divers in Florida. Rusty Mason was a veteran diver and one of the finest members of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Mooring Buoy Team which installs and maintains the a multitude of buoys in the FKNMS which protect the fragile reefs from damage caused by vessel anchors. Rusty could always be counted on to show up with a smile and keep up everyone's spirits no matter how bad the weather got. An accomplished instructor, Rusty was often chosen to be the FKNMS diver assigned to the various VIPs visiting the Sanctuary, diving with them and keeping them safe. He will be dearly missed.

At this point we are all waiting to hear the final verdicts on the cause of the accident. At this point it appears to be medical in nature which is some small comfort. Conditions that day were perfect and it is pleasant to think that when Rusty's time came it was while he was doing what he loved best in the Tortugas Ecological Reserve, a place he dearly loved. As a child, Rusty loved the television program Sea Hunt and was known to strap a pillow to his back to perform backward roll entries off the back of the couch as if it were a dive boat. Conditions were close to perfect on Monday with over 100' of visibility, clear skies, and calm seas ... he must have been so happy.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Back to the Blog

Sorry to all that I have been a little lax in posting recently. I have gotten a few little nasty-grams and "where are you"s :-)

I have been feeling a little off, just a little head cold but it has been making me a little more tired than normal and bed has looked much better than the keyboard.

Yesterday was spectacular. We are now at Swains Island, one of my favorite in the places we visit (Maug in the Marianas is a close second). As I have described to many before, Swains is one of those idyllic south pacific islands. A donut ring of an island, Swains is encircled by a snow-white beach with the pink crests of its coral reef breaking the surface 50 yards off shore. Once used as a coconut plantation, hundreds of palm tree still arch out over the beach. The whole island is a rough circle not half a mile in diameter.

The oceanography team spend the morning deploying some instruments on the west side of the island and then had time of a spectacular drift dive in the afternoon. Swains has some of the clearest water I have ever experienced with visibility of 200 ft not unheard of. It is like diving in a hugh aquarium with new fish swimming by every second. When we returned to the ship our team that when on shore had already returned and were greeted with fresh coconuts, cracked and ready for drinking.

You couldn't ask of a more idyllic place.