Monday, June 20, 2016

The 2016 Stanford Team

Last year Fio Micheli was schedule to lead our team on Palmyra Atoll. When the trip fell through and we had to postpone our trip a year, Fio was not able to work the new dates into her busy schedule. I am bummed as I was looking forward to spending time with her in the field and letting her assume the role of lead scientist. That said, I have a very experienced pair of graduate students that will accompany me when we leave a little over a month from now.

Ana Guerra has been to Palmyra several times. As a Stanford undergraduate she travelled to the atoll to help with a Hopkins graduate student's project before obtaining her own funding to return to Palmyra and conduct her own project studying the vulnerable bristle-thighed curlew.

bristle-thighed curlew on Palmyra Atoll
Numenius tahitiensis
During my 2014 stint on Palmyra Ana was there too, working on a project tagging manta rays. After that she spent a year diving around the world as the 2014 North American Rolex Scholar which included a two week stint serving as the acting refuge manager on Palmyra. Read more about Ana's adventurous life on her web page:

This fall Ana will start as a graduate student in Doug McCauley's lab at UC Santa Barbara. For those of you who have been following this blog, you might remember that Doug is one of the PIs on this project and was the lead scientist during my first field season on Palmyra in 2013.

The second member of the team is Tim White. Tim is a graduate student in the De Leo & Micheli labs at Hopkins Marine Station and another avid diver with experience working on Palmyra Atoll. But what impressed me most was when I heard him talk about the time he spend on Teraina also known at Washington Island. A barge dropped him off on this tiny atoll where there were only few people who spoke a bit of English. There was no communication to the outside world, and Tim just had to hope the barge returned in three months. He was there to study shark-finning practices. If you want to read more about this fascinating story, check out an interview he did at:

Tim White building his own shelter on Washington Island
Tim is hoping to do some of his Ph.D. research on Palmyra and is off to a good start with some preliminary funding to study coconut crabs on Palmyra while we are out there this summer.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Palmyra reef suffered in 2015

While the Stanford team failed to make it out to Palmyra as planned during the summer of 2015, the reef suffered two major hits. First there was a major storm that did physical damage to the reef. It will be interesting to see how our settlement tiles fared. There is a chance we might get a look at them before we are on site if Scripps is able to create the photomosaic from the photos it took of the reef after the storm event. It would be nice to know ahead of time what we will be facing.

Below is an example of a large table top coral that is vulnerable to storm damage.  I wonder how many of these have been toppled?

table top coral
Acropora cytherea

The second hit the reef suffered was a coral bleaching event that was the result of high water temperatures brought on by the El Nino. The good news here is the reef has been recovering from the bleaching. To see some before and after photos of bleached corals that have recovered a year later, check out the following URL:

Friday, June 17, 2016

Counting sharks on Palmyra Atoll

A new paper just came out using dual-frequency identification sonar to track sharks as they enter and exit the Palmyra lagoon using the channel cut through the reef by the U.S. Navy during World War II. While only one of the authors, Fio Micheli, is currently from Hopkins Marine Station, three of the other four authors who are from UC Santa Barbara have a history with Hopkins and Stanford as students working on Palmyra.

Using military sonar technology, the group was able to document the movement of sharks as they passed through the channel. Over the 443 recorded hours they observed 1,196 sharks with a maximum of 10 sharks appearing in a single frame. There seems to be a shark "rush hour" at dusk with the shark traffic peaking between 7 and 8 pm.

Below are two links with more details about this scientific paper.

blacktip sharks are the most common species observed in the Palmyra lagoons
Carcharhinus limbatus

Thursday, June 16, 2016

A New Blog

If you are looking for something to read until my Palmyra blog starts up again, check out my Baja Librarian blog. Back in April I participated on a research trip diving off the Pacific side of the Baja peninsula. The link to this blog can be found in the list of my other blogs to the right of this blog entry.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Palmyra Trip is on for summer of 2016

Just a quick note to let you know the third and final field season for the coral settlement project has finally been scheduled.  I will be going to Palmya Atoll from July 19 through August 12.  I am bummed that Professor Fio Micheli won't be able to go, but I have two very experienced graduate students who will accompany me, Tim White and Ana Guerra.  More about them later.

In addition to the coral settlement tile work, we will be replacing the battery on one of the Block lab sensors that is attached to a buoy near the mouth of the channel that connects the main lagoon to the outer reef.  The primary purpose of the sensor is to detect tagged manta rays as the enter and exit the lagoon.  Of course if any of the tagged gray reef sharks swim by the sensory, their presence would also be recorded.  Of course right now nothing is being recorded since the battery died some time ago, and we haven't gotten out there to replace it.  

Tim has also received some grant money to study coconut crabs.  This means we will be doing some night field work since that is when they come out to forage.

I plan to resume daily blog entries once we are "on island" this summer.  Until then there may be an occasional entry when I have any interesting news to report.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A couple links to interesting web pages on Palmyra Atoll

I continue to find interesting web pages about Palmyra Atoll. In addition to a short description of the island and its terrestrial wildlife, this link has some nice photos along with text that describes the history of ownership of Palmyra.

Of particular interest are the photos taken by James Sinnott.  He served as a Radioman First Class on Palmyra from August 1942 until December 1943. I wonder if he is still alive and how many other photos he has of Palmyra? I sure hope someone has archived all of them.

Following the James Sinnott lead I got from the above URL, I found these links:

This appears to be an old, un-maintained set of web pages. Some of the hot links do not work, but I sometimes managed to move around by looking at the URL and editing it using the naming convention used by the author. I was particularly interested in the Palmyra History tab which again provides some great historic photos. It appears the Bishop Museum in Honolulu may have a nice collection of historic photos of Palmyra. If I get some time there on my trip in October, I may see if I can arrange to look at them. Last year I tried to visit the Bishop Museum library, but it was by appointment only. I will plan ahead next time.


Trip to Palmyra delayed

By now I should have arrived on Palmyra Atoll and been busy composing my first blog entry with pictures of another glorious sunset or some beautiful sea creatures. Unfortunately, despite heroic efforts by The Nature Conservancy, they were not able to get a new signed contract with an air charter service to fly us to Palmyra. They scrambled to come up with an alternative means of of transport to this remote location and ended up sending a 65' schooner called the R/V Machias down from Hawaii to Palmyra with the staff that is being swapped out on the island. That one-way trip took 7 days. The schooner is now going to stay on station and be used to ferry people back and forth between Palmyra and Christmas Island which takes about two days each way. Christmas has a landing strip with commercial plane service once a week with Fiji Airlines. Even though this would have meant several more days of travel time to get on and off Palmyra, we would have considered doing it except they couldn't fly us in this week because there was some VIP delegation of government officials visiting Christmas Island. There was "no room at the inn" in addition to security issues that meant the whole trip would be delayed for a week. While Fio and I had a buffer of several days built into our plans, we could not afford to come back over a week later. I was committed to help host the Friends of Hopkins open house/picnic and Fio had a trip planned with several major donors. These were commitments we just couldn't blow off. Tim could still go with the delayed schedule, and we were lining up two alternative divers when logistics got a bit too crazy given the short amount of time we had to accommodate all of the changes. After much agonizing, Fio decided to postpone the trip in the hopes that they would be able to take us later in the season after the plane service direct to Palmyra had been restored.

There are lots of gory details that I will spare you. Instead I will share the good news. The Nature Conservancy is optimistic they will have a new air charter service contract in place by August. They also may be able fit us back into their schedule to do our field work the latter half of October. This is good news for me as it means I am back on the team to go to Palmyra. Fio is not so lucky since those dates won't work for her. So despite my best efforts to NOT be the lead scientist this year, I am back in that role. I really can't complain as it is much better than not being able to go at all. This is all still tentative, but I am optimistic. If the October dates don't work out, then this field season will be scrapped, and the work will have to be done in the summer of 2016.

If we do the trip in October, we will be sharing the island with some donors. This has pluses and minuses. On the down side, I probably won't get cabin #4 all to myself like I have the last two years since it is a prime waterfront cabin. I am sure the waterfront cabins will go to the donors. On the plus side, we will probably get even better food -- not that it was ever bad. I remember one night last year we were served "donor desserts". These were fancy desserts that weren't going to keep until the next donor visit.

This is a lot more text than I like to have in a blog entry, especially without any pictures, so here is a photo I found on the web of the R/V Machias upon which I almost got to sail the South Pacific.

Photo by Jeff Milisen for Kampachi Farms, LLC