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

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Team is assembled, but date of departure is still tentative

The Nature Conservancy is having trouble lining up the charter flights from Honolulu to Palmyra this summer.  I am tentatively scheduled to fly to Palmyra on June 19th and return on July 6th.  Because the charter flight date is not confirmed, I have yet to book my flight from California to Hawaii.

This will be my third summer on Palmyra, and each year I have had a different group on "my" team.  I put "my" in quotes because the first summer Doug McCauley was the team leader and I was along for the ride.  I served as team leader last year, but this summer Professor Fiorenza Micheli will be going, and I am happy to defer to her as team leader and return to a supporting role.  The third member of our team is Tim White, a Hopkins Marine Station graduate student who just completed his first year taking classes up on Stanford's main campus.

Fio visited Palmyra for about a week when the Stanford@SEA ship visited the atoll a number of years ago, but she hasn't lived and worked at the lab on the island.  Tim has worked on Palmyra before and knows the ropes.  Working out of the lab on Palmyra will be considered luxurious living for Tim compared to the 3 months he spend living on the island of Teraina also known as Washington Island.  Like Palmyra, this 3.69 sq mi island is one of the Northern Line Islands, but instead of being a U.S. territory it is part of the Kiribati nation.

You can read a little bit about the research Tim did during his three months on Teraina by going to:

I heard Tim give a talk about his work on Teraina and was impressed with his ability to adapt and "go native" after being dropped off by a cargo ship.  He was totally cut off from the outside world until the cargo ship returned 3 months later.  He had to build his own shelter (with the help of the natives) and learn the local language as there were only a couple of residents who knew any English.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Returning to Palmyra for the final year of the project

It looks like I will be returning to Palmyra again this summer to complete the third and final year of field work on this project. This year Professor Fio Micheli is hoping to join me after she had to back out of the trip last year. Tim White will also be joining us. Tim is a new graduate student, and has been to Palmyra Atoll before while working with Doug McCauley on the shark tagging project.

Speaking of Doug, he just receive the prestigious Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship.  You can read about it at:

So there may be a random post or two on this blog between now and when I leave for Palmyra, but once I am on the Atoll, I will try to keep up with pattern I set the last two summers with almost daily blog entries.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Something to read while my Palmyra blog is in hiatus

Hopefully I will be blogging again next summer if I return to Palmyra to help complete the three year project. That decision will probably be made in early 2015. In the meantime, I was fortunate to be able to spend time in New Zealand and New Caledonia this month. The impetus behind the trip was to attend the IAMSLIC conference in Noumea, and I was able to stop off in Auckland on my way to the conference and drive around much of the north island of New Zealand. I created a separate blog for this trip, so if you are interested, the link is:

I managed to get in one short snorkel in New Zealand and an entire morning of snorkeling in New Caledonia. I have posted underwater photos from both, but the rest of the pictures are terrestrial.

Monday, August 18, 2014

National Geographic article on the Southern Line Islands

The September 2014 issue of National Geographic has a short article with some beautiful photographs from the Southern Line Islands. The article was written by Kennedy Warne, and the photographs were taken by Brian Skerry. I particularly love the aerial photo of Caroline Island, also known as Millennium. The article was prompted by the Kiribati government declaring in June of this year a 12 nautical mile fishing exclusion zone around all five of the remote isles.

Below is a link to the article online.

Be sure to click on the links on the left side to see the still photos and a short video clip. 

Here is a aerial photo of Caroline/Millennium Island taken by NASA’s Earth Observatory.

Palmyra is part of the Northern Line Islands.