Saturday, March 29, 2008

On to Palmyra

On our last day at Jarvis we were visited by a small pod of curious dolphins, ready to bid us a fond fair-well.  Having completed our Jarvis surveys we are now on our way north to Palmyra. While we are sad to see Jarvis slip over the horizon we are looking forward to the warmer waters of Palmyra. Jarvis is on the equator and is subjected to massive upwelling of the equatorial counter-current which slams into the western side of the island, bringing cold deep ocean water the the surface making for spectacular, but chilly diving.  While Palmyra is farther north, it experiences less upwelling and should be about 6 degrees warmer (the difference between winter and summer in diving terms).

We are all hoping to be able to go on shore at Palmyra, at least for a little bit.  I have not been to the atoll, but gather it is as spectacular above water as below.  Either way, it will be nice to see yet another new and exciting reef.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Our first tows at Jarvis

Towboarding at Jarvis the past few days has been incredible. This is my first time to this island which is legend in our program and it has not disappointed. The water has been a little nippy, but the fish life has been incredible. We are towing through clouds of tiny brilliant orange and purple anthias so thick it is hard to see the other fish behind them. We have seen manta rays, schools of over a thousand jacks, hundreds of barracuda and seventy-three green turtles on a single survey. It is enough to boggle the mind and put a cramp in my hand.

Now I know many of you may breathe a little quicker for this part, but it is the number of sharks at Jarvis that sets it apart from the rest and what many of us were looking forward to seeing. This is very much an intact ecosystem where the apex predators have yet to be fished into oblivion. Not looking too much like fish (or surfers for that matter) the sharks have paid us little attention aside from an initial curiosity before moving on down the reef. We have seen hundreds of grey reef (who follow us around like little puppies), white-tip and black-tip reef sharks and scalloped hammerheads in magnificent formation. Rest assured we are well aware of their behavior patterns and are ready to quickly get out of the water if any start acting unusual. They really are beautiful animals.
We have one more day here before moving on to Palmyra and none of us are ready to leave.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

T-12 Hours and Counting...

Excitement and anticipation are high aboard the Hi’ialakai tonight as we are expecting our first day of dive operations at Jarvis Island to begin in less than 12 hours. Our day will begin with a 6 am breakfast, 7:30 daily operations meeting followed by launching the small boats at 7:45. And then it begins! 

We’ve spent today checking and re-checking gear in preparation for what is supposed to be the best diving that our program gets to do. You may ask, what constitutes ‘best’? My understanding is that this island has a higher number of fish and greater coral cover than any of the other islands we survey. There is also the possibility of seeing manta rays, multiple sea turtles and possibly dolphins while diving. It has been described by others that have already been there, as diving in a Wyland painting! So we are keeping our fingers crossed for clear skies and light winds. 

We were greeted this morning by a blue sky that was quickly replaced by a horizon of storm clouds. It was such an impressive sight that it warranted a trip to the bridge to watch as about 180 degrees of the horizon turned dark, rain began pelting the windshields and the rest of the sky remained a beautiful blue. Seas have been a bit higher today after passing through that short squall, but we are still hoping for some calm weather tomorrow. Either way this should be an amazing experience. Wish us luck!

Take care and best wishes.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Transit to Jarvis

Aloha to All! Over the next few weeks, you may hear a somewhat different voice on this blog from time to time. Cristi has flown down to Pago Pago, American Samoa and joined the NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai, from which Ben has been making these posts. This is a completely new experience for me and while Ben is a seasoned sea-goer, I am still taking time to get my sea legs and explore life on a ship, including being able to work with a constant slow rolling of the floor.

The ship is currently transiting to Jarvis Island, a small uninhabited island just south of the equator. This will be the first research site of the ship’s return leg to Honolulu and will be followed shortly afterward by Palmyra Atoll and Kingman Reef. The transit from American Samoa to Jarvis will take a total of 4 days, which will hopefully provide enough time to adjust to the conditions of living aboard a ship. My first few days have been spent trying to master walking down the hallway without bumping into too many of the walls and learning not to be nauseous while doing minor chores (showers, working on the computer, eating, etc). It is surprising how much extra time needs to be alotted for even minor tasks, given the movement of the ship and the naps that are required by the gentle rocking motion.

Today was spent preparing for dive operations on Wednesday and conducting more safety drills. The drills of the day included a simulated Man Over Board event and Pyrotechnics training :-) We all mustered to the top deck of the ship while the crew launched a small resuce boat and recovered a life buoy and smoke canister (used for marking the site of the buoy). It was impressive how quickly all of this could be accomplished and the 200+ foot ship could be maneavured back to the ‘man over board’. The pyrotechnics training involved an explanation of flares and smoke canisters which are included in our life rafts and can be used to signal another ship in the case of an emergency. Cristi, Ben and several other of the science and ship’s crew were able to "test" out a few of the flares. The fireworks were not quite as spectacular as those in Waikiki on Friday evenings, but much more fun for being so interactive!