Friday, September 20, 2013

A better photo of me

Since I was taking most of the photos during the Palmyra trip, there are very few photos of me.  Doug used my camera on the very first day to take the one of me all dirty from salvaging the used mesh in the rain.  After that I didn't get any more of me on my camera.

Since returning I got a chance to look at some of the photos Francesco took with his iPhone.  I like this shot.  I have a big smile on my face because Doug is running the boat fairly fast across the lagoon which means there is a nice breeze in my face.  I told Doug I could do this all day, having him motor us around in the lagoon keeping cool in the hot weather.  I appreciated the wide brim hat when we were doing this because we often had red-footed boobies riding the air currents above our heads and dropping their guano on us.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Some useful links

If you want to learn more about research being done on Palmyra Atoll, I have added some useful links on the right side of this blog.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Re-entering the United States

Palmyra Atoll is a U.S. territory, but it is still considered international travel so you are required to have a passport. On the last day on the island they put out a visa stamp for you to mark your passport. Nowadays I have been to countries where they no longer stamp your passport, so it was nice to get one that not many people in the world have.

Because the plane lands in a small airport, the custom officer actually comes onto the plane to check your credentials. No one can leave the plane until everyone has cleared. Gareth is from Great Britain and Francesco is from Italy, so that took little extra time. Some of the other teams were bringing back specimens which sends up a red flag even though they were all dead -- preserved or dried. They had all the appropriate paperwork for the specimens, so it didn't take too long to get the green light from customs to exit the plane and enter the U.S. We all received leis as we exited the plane, a nice touch.

On Monday I went the Stanford Blood Center to donate. It was my 120th whole blood donation. The person taking my medical history got a kick out of all the places I gave him that I had been to in the last 3 years. Argentina was no problem, but Zanzibar was a challenge. While people have heard of it, they don't know where it is located. Naturally, Palmyra Atoll was not in their database of places with and without malaria, so he had to get his supervisor to see if I could donate. They looked it up in Google.  She said since it was a U.S. territory he didn't even have to list it on the form. That was a bit disaappointing.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Videos of manta ray encounter and counting coral recruits

Now that I have better a better bandwidth connection to the network, I thought I would try sharing some short videos. Both of these were filmed by Francesco Ferretti using a borrowed GoPro camera attached to his chest.

This first clip is of a manta ray that swam by as we were starting our dive the FR3 site. At the start of the clip if you look toward the top of the screen you will see the red "Hoff" float on the water surface. At the end of the clip, Doug, who handled the Hoff as we descended, is handing it off to Francesco who will clip it to his BC for the remainder of the dive.

Here is a second video clip showing Doug counting newly settled corals on the terra cotta tiles we installed. You can see Doug on the left using the underwater light that was custom modified to project blue light. When he finishes counting Doug looks up for me and puts up one finger and then makes a motion back and forth with his hand held flat. I am recording the counts, and this means he counted one coral recruit on the flat surface. I had previously recorded the number of coral recruits in the large divots and the number in the small divots. Also note when Doug looks up that he has amber "sunglasses" on top of his dive mask.

What you don't see is the signal Doug used for the count of coral recruits in the large divots which was to hold up the appropriate number of fingers and then raise his elbow. This made Doug look like he was doing the "funky chicken".

Sunday, August 25, 2013

I can't stop thinking about Palmyra

I thought yesterday's post of thank-yous would be my last, but I keep thinking of stories I didn't tell and pictures I didn't post.

First a story. Safety is a high priority on Palmyra given how far it is to the nearest hospital, doctor, etc.  Everyone coming to the atoll is required to have insurance to cover emergency evacuation. As a scientific diver, I carry DAN insurance which includes the cost of emergency evacuation, so it was not problem for me.

When working on the outer reef, divers are tethered to a float with a dive flag attached. This makes it easy for the captain of the boat to track where the divers are even when the seas are a bit rough. Trying to follow the divers by just looking for their bubbles is difficult to do unless the seas are flat. Also, this allows the boat to be further away from the divers which is important when "live boating". Since the boat is not attached to a mooring or anchor, it is going to drift and have to run the engines occasionally to keep on station. While being tethered to the surface by a line is a pain, it is absolutely necessary. There usually were three of us diving together, so I avoided being the tethered diver whenever possible.

This gets me to my story. They would ask who is going to take "the Hoff", the red float that you see lifeguards using.  I felt dumb never having heard of a Hoff before. I asked how to spell it since I was recording this in my dive log. I then had to ask why is it called a Hoff. It turns out it was nicknamed for David Hasselhoff of Baywatch fame who, along with the other lifeguards on the TV show, would carry this type of float to help when rescuing drowning victims.

The "Hoff" off the stern of the Zenobia

Now for some more animal pictures. I realized I was remiss by not including more bird photos. I have a lot of birder friends, so these are for you.

The most common bird I saw on Palmyra was the red-footed booby. They would usually follow the boat as it moved around the lagoon such as this one that was hovering above Doug's head. I was glad I was wearing a wide brimmed hat. It not only protected me from the sun, but also kept the guano off my head.

red-footed booby in flight
Sula sula

The baby red-footed boobies are flightless, so you could get quite close to them while they were perched in Pisonia trees. Often the tree branches extended over the water, so if they fell in, they were food for the black tip sharks.

baby red-footed booby
Sula sula

Here are a couple of other species of boobies.

brown booby
Sula leucogaster

masked boobies
Sula dactylatra

It was hard to get a good shot of this bird since it never got close, and it was hard to keep in the frame when I was zoomed in with my terrestrial camera.

great frigatebird
Fregata minor

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Tying up some loose ends

I need to offer some thanks to the people who made this adventure possible.

First there are Doug McCauley and Fio Micheli who accepted my offer to assist with the projects.  Despite all my jabs at Doug about how hard he made us work, I knew what I was getting into, and it was just what I expected.  That is, except for doing the inventory of seven years of accumulated stuff.  Poor Francesco, who was fighting an ear infection for three days, had to do much more of the inventory while I got to continue diving.

Second there is my boss, Bob Schwarzwalder, who did not hesitate when I asked for his OK to take time off.  I had just agreed to host the Stanford science and engineering librarians retreat, so this meant the venue had to be changed and someone else was going to have to handle the logistics.  Bob was quick to follow up with the comment that I now owe him big time.

I also enjoyed the opportunity to interact with the teams from Scripps and UC Santa Barbara and learn about what they were doing.  I look forward to seeing more of the high resolution composite sea floor image maps that Gareth is producing. I particular appreciated having Katie Davis from UCSB on my "team" for the twice a week clean-up duty.  Since Katie needed to get out into the field before breakfast, she would clean the bathrooms while most of us were still in bed which meant the rest of us only had to do the showers. I managed to leave Palmyra without having to clean a single toilet bowl. Thank you Katie.

Thanks to Meg, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife officer, for taking me out for a great, albeit short, snorkel on the one Sunday afternoon I had off.


Last, but not least, I want to extend my thanks to the staff who kept the place running smoothly which allowed the science to progress un-interrrupted.  Katie and Robin kept us very well fed with a huge variety of delicious meals, and Robin also did our laundry for us six days a week.  Jack was a life saver helping get the pneumatic drill working along with finding the right tools or pieces of equipment when they were needed.  Chris and Hank were great boat captains, and Hank's skill at handling large sharks made the tagging efforts go very smoothly.  Perri, of course, was overseeing everything including dealing with a number of medical issues that inevitably arose.  Thanks to all of you for making is so easy for us to focus on getting the science done during the limited time we had on Palmyra.

Robin, Katie, Perri, Hank, Jack, Chris

Friday, August 23, 2013

One more building, one more pet, and one more science story

Here is a picture of the complex that includes the garage and machine shop on the left. In the middle are the offices for the station manager and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife officer. To the right of that is the air conditioned "wet lab" and a computer "dry lab". On the far right is the outdoor covered area with 5 large work benches for the science teams to use. You can see in front the all important antennas that provide WiFi access, the only means of communication with the outside world.

I posted earlier a picture of Dadu, the dog The Nature Conservancy inherited from the previous owner. Here is a picture of the cat they inherited, Tigger.

One of the projects being done by Meg of U.S. Fish & Wildlife is to get rid of the coconut trees on some of the islands. The concern is that coconut palms are crowding out the native Pisonia trees. A contributing factor to the large number of coconuts was a failed attempt throughout much of the 1980's at farming the coconuts commercially. Palmyra has one of the largest remaining stands of Pisonia forest in the Pacific, and the large population of birds rely on the Pisonia tree for nesting and roosting. In order to get rid of the adult coconut trees, Meg is drilling holes in the tree trunks and then filling the holes with a herbicide.  The picture below shows what happens when this is done.  The crown of the tree falls off.

It appears that one of the side effect of removing all the rats was an increase in coconut seedlings since the rats were eating some of the coconuts.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

More fish photos

I am wading through the 1000+ photos I took and picked out some more fish pictures.  The first two are species I had already posted, but these are much better shots.  The first was taken while snorkeling at Tortagonia.  The second was taken at outer Penguin Spit on the dive where I was just keeping an eye out for sharks, but otherwise was free to take photographs while Doug was on the hunt for coral recruits in parrotfish divots.  After this dive I told Doug he had fulfilled my request for at least one fun dive.  Doug's response to this request had been that all his dives were fun, you just had to look up occasionally.

Chevron Butterflyfish
Chaetodon trifascialis

Oval Butterflyfish
Chaetodon lunulatus

Here is one more butterfly fish.  I took this while Doug was doing a fish count which meant I couldn't use the flash.  This would have been a great shot with more vivid colors if the flash had been on.

Ornate Butterflyfish
Chaetodon ornatissimus

Here are a few more fish photos.

Peacock Hind
Cephalopholis argus

Aulostomus chinensis

Bluefin trevally
Caranx melampygus

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Back in the States physically, if not mentally

Now that I am back home, I thought I would add a few more blog entries to document a few things that I didn't have time to do while on Palmyra.

I didn't have a lot of free time as Doug kept us very busy. Beside the one Sunday afternoon I got off to go snorkeling, on the last day I had an hour and a half between lunch and when the plane took off to return us to Honolulu. Since I had lost my watch on the reef and didn't want to risk missing the plane, I borrowed Doug's watch and took off to hike around Cooper Island. While the terrestrial work had given me the opportunity to visit some of the other islands, I hadn't had a chance to walk around the island on which the camp and airstrip were located. I headed out thinking I would go to North Beach, but I took a wrong turn. I was pretty sure I knew where I was going and figured I would eventually hit the airstrip and could loop back from there. I told myself if I didn't get to the airstrip by 1 pm I would need to turn back.  One pm came and I still hadn't seen it, but I was sure I would have to run into the airstrip and hated the idea of backtracking. I picked up my pace and gave it a few more minutes. I was rewarded when the forest opened up and I found myself at the far end of the airstrip. It was still a long walk, but I made it back in time to take a quick shower and rinse my shirt in cold water. Putting on a cold, wet shirt felt great.

I forgot to mention that when we visited the other islands, we had to wear cloths that had been frozen for 48 hours. This is to kill off any insects, seeds, and fungus. There are some non-natives on Cooper Island that they don't want to get onto the other islands. I found putting on the frozen cloths refreshing and considered doing it for all my cloths.

Here is what the "wet lab" looks like inside. When you arrive you just claim a space that no one is already using and can set up you computer. My chair is the one on the left with the navy sweatshirt on the back. I am right under the air conditioner, the coolest place on the island. It does have its drawbacks. The air conditioner spritzes you with water on occasion. This feels great, but it is not good for computers. Hence you will see that mine has plastic over it. I brought the sweatshirt after being told the plane will be cold as well as the wet lab. I didn't put it on once. It is something I can cross off my packing list should I go back.

Here are the two walk in freezers. Actually I don't know if they are both freezers or one is a walk-in refrigerator. In any case, they made it possible for us to be fed so well.

Here is the dive locker with air compressor for filling SCUBA tanks.

In addition to the dive locker, there was an area on the boat ramp where dive gear can be hung to dry.

There is a tent available just above the boat dock for staging research gear.

There are four lagoon boats that can go within the lagoon and to sites on the outer reef that have moorings. Also on this dock is the U.S. Fish & Wildlife whaler.

There is another tent where fuel for the lagoon boats is stored and dispensed.

Now for some recreational facilities that I did not get a chance to use.  First there is the Yacht Club which has a weight room, a place to watch DVDs, a ping pong table, a dart board, and a library of books that smell of mildew.

They have a selection of kayaks and small sail boats that are available for anyone to use.

There is also the swimming hole

which was in the process of getting a new deck after the old one was damaged while cutting down a coconut tree.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Last day on Palmyra Atoll

Yesterday was crazy.  In the morning we did two long dives counting coral recruits on the tiles we installed. The afternoon was spent logging data, compiling inventory, packing, etc. Today we finish packing, clean our cabins, do a community raking, etc. This will be my last blog entry from Palymra. If all goes well, I should have a long layover in the Honolulu airport tonight and might get a chance to blog from there.

Yesterday we had another beautiful sunrise.

Yesterday, after catching an Ahi on the boat ride back from our dive sites, we had a swarm of about 30 gray reef sharks behind the boat. If you don't pull a hooked fish out of the water immediately, it will get eaten by sharks which are attracted to the struggling fish. People have commented that there seem to be a lot fewer sharks when diving than there used to be. I have been very comfortable with the number of sharks I have seen on my dives. I also know there have been more around than I have seen since my focus was on the task at hand which usually meant I was looking down and not around.

gray reef sharks
Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos

Monday, August 12, 2013

Last full day of diving

We had a hitch hiker join us on board the boat as we headed out this morning.

There are a lot of small gekko's around the station. One jumped on my bare leg as I was walking to my cabin in the dark one night.

It was raining when we left the dock today. It was warmer in the water than on the boat. On the first dive we saw a Napoleon wrasse. This is a very large wrasse, but I didn't get any photos of it.

Here are a few miscellaneous photos from previous dives.

ringtail wrasse
Oxycheilinus unifasciatus

halfspotted hawkfish
Paracirrhites hemistictus

school of black trigger fish
Melichthys niger

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A fun snorkel on my last Sunday on Palmyra Atoll

We did three working dives this morning and I didn't take my camera. Francesco spotted a good sized hammerhead shark. I got a glimpse of it. I am hoping Francesco got a video of it. If so, I will share later.

Doug gave me the afternoon off to go snorkeling. Meg, the US Fish & Wildlife officer, took the two cooks and me out on her boat. We were trying to go to Crazy Corals, but we ended up at Tortagonia. This is very shallow, so you can only go there in a shallow draft boat on a high tide. We were only out there a few minutes before we were recalled because of a weather front coming through. Too bad, but I did manage to get some great photos. I would go back in an instant.

Here is an example of a beautiful coral formation.

There was a huge school of convict tangs.  I also have a movie, but I don't have enough bandwidth here to post a movie.

Convict tangs
Acanthurus triostegus

This is my favorite.

Achilles tang
Acanthurus achilles

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Some more terrestrial photos

Here is a better photograph of the exterior of my cabin #4.

This is the view I have from my front porch.

We decided to store some of the left over used orange wire mesh we used to build the cages.  Perri, the station manager, let us use his truck to haul it out to the old navy bunker that is used for storage. Here is what the bunker looks like from the outside.

Here is what the bunker looks like on the inside.

They caught another Ono yesterday, so that was on the dinner menu tonight.  Here is what Francesco's plate looked like.  I should have gotten a photo of Doug's dinner plate since it would have twice as much food on it.

Wondering what an Ono looks like before it is on the dinner plate?  Here are two fine specimens.

Friday, August 9, 2013

No diving today

The Scripps group used the boat today, so we were left on shore. We spent the day doing an inventory of all the supplies Doug has accumulated since 2006. He has been here at least once every summer since then except one.

Below is a picture of our work area. Stuff that has been in the salt water has to be rinsed in fresh water. We then use a wire brush if there is any rust. After that it gets sprayed with WD40.  I also did this for the two cans of epoxy and then spray painted the cans so they wouldn't rust.  I could go on, but is is not the most exciting part of the trip. Here is a picture of our work area. It got looking a lot worst before it started to look better.

Doug has 5 "totes" filled with gear. Below is a picture showing some of the "totes" that are used to store gear. They are easy to move around with a forklift as different groups of scientists come and go.

Enough of the boring stuff, but Fio will appreciate it when she comes out to work here next summer.  Here is a screen grab from a movie Francesco made with a GoPro he borrowed from one of the other teams. We were having problems with the older model GoPro that we brought out with us.  The movie camera is strapped to Francesco's chest, so you see his BC Air2 dangling in the photo. It is the best shot yet of a manta ray. We see them quite frequently and sometimes quite closely.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

I never tire of Palmyra Atoll sunsets

Here is one from tonight.

The birds are also very noisy at sunset (and through most of the night).  Click on the image to see the larger view and see if you can count all the birds. All those speck in the sky are birds flying above the island. This is the sunset from last night (Wednesday).