Monday, June 30, 2014

A little excitement in the morning

Shortly after breakfast we headed out to the FR3 site. Of the three sites, this has the hardest diving with both a big swell and a strong current. As we began to turn after coming out of the channel, we spotted lots of smoke about where the lab is and where all the data is sitting that we have collected so far. We had been drying the four broken tiles, and I could just image somehow the oven we had them in catching fire. Ron immediately radioed back to shore, and to my relief we learned that they were burning trash today and the wind had shifted pushing the smoke into the lab area. I decided to send out emails with the data we had compiled so far to Doug and Fio so there would be copies somewhere off island. Of course we have well over a thousand photos that are too large and too many to send over the internet, but I am backing them up onto a flash drive just in case.

The first dive did not go very smoothly. One tile broke and was lost when it fell off the stand we use to transport the tiles underwater. Three baseplates were missing, and a couple of baseplates were out of sequence. We ended up returning to the boat with several tiles that we will have to try again to re-deploy.

On the second dive at FR7, the main goal was to re-drill four holes where we had problems earlier. Paul took care of the drilling, and he didn't even need a second diver to hold the extra SCUBA tank to power the pneumatic drill. I think Sabina took a photo of his set-up for handling all the equipment solo, but those photos haven't been downloaded from Paul's camera yet. Paul also took care of the molly bolt and Zspar. Zspar is an underwater epoxy that you mix together and it remains pliable for about an hour before it becomes too hard to work with anymore. Here is what it looks like:

Zspar epoxy

Paul tried to take charge of mixing up the mustard and black parts to activate the epoxy. He tried using gloves and putting equal parts into a zip-lock bag and then mixing it up by squishing the bag a lot. It did not work well. I stepped in, and using bare wet hands, grabbed equal amounts from the two cans and worked them together under seawater I had in an empty plastic ice cream container. The ball I  made was then placed in a ziplock bag filled with seawater.

Paul's failed attempt at mixing Zspar epoxy

While Paul was doing drilling, Sabina and I returned two tiles that had been held back. One was a cracked tile that we repaired (#84) and one was where the baseplate had escaped during removal (#100). The baseplates are positively buoyant, which means you can't let go of them for a second. Fortunately Joel, our skipper for the day, spotted it floating on the surface and was able to grab it.

After the drilling and re-deploying, we pulled about half of the FR7 middle transect tiles until we were low on air and needed to surface.

Last night as I was returning to my cabin at around midnight, I ran into this guy blocking the path.

coconut crab

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Some twists to our usual routine

It is Sunday and the staff has off and so do the "cleaning teams". Sabina, Paul, and I clean after breakfast (bathrooms, showers, laundry) and after dinner (kitchen) on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The rest of our team includes Jack who runs the shop and Jan the second cook. Another team has Mondays and Thursdays, and the third team has Tuesdays and Fridays. No one cleans on Sunday except for everyone pitching in to do some basic cleaning of dirty dishes and counters in the galley. Katie makes sure the refrigerator is well stocked with plenty of food to help yourself to dinner. She made pizza for us to zap in the microwave, and there were also lots of left overs from meals earlier in the week along with a nice salad. It is really hard to lose weigh here even if one is getting a lot of exercise.

Joel, one of the two skippers, took us out diving today even though it is a Sunday for which we were very appreciative. Since we were delayed three days getting out here, we need to make up for some lost time. On our first dive today we re-deployed tiles on the FR7 deep transect.  Here is a photo of Paul and Sabina taken a couple days ago by Fish & Wildlife officer Lindsey Hayes while he was snorkeling above us while we did the same task except on FR9.

Paul & Sabina re-deploying tiles at FR9
photo by Lindsey Hayes

As we motored from our first dive site at FR7 to our second dive site at FR3, we put out lines to try to catch a fish. I believe we are allowed 3 fish every 7 days. Sabina hooked an Ono, but it slipped off the barbless hook as she was pulling along side the boat to be gaffed. Bummer.

Paul & Sabina watching the fishing lines for a strike

The boat had a bunch of dolphins riding our bow wave as we trolled for fish.


Once we got to the FR3 site, we collected 20 tiles from the deep transect and then returned to the lab to process them. After we re-deploy them tomorrow, we will have finished all the shallow and deep transects and have just 3 middle transects remaining. If the weather holds, we should be able to get to all 180 tiles.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Another day, another tile

Return tiles from yesterday, pick up new tiles, work them up in the lab, repeat. That is our mantra. Today we went out to FR7 and returned two tiles from the shallow transect that we missed yesterday and then returned 20 tiles on the deep transect minus one that was never found and one we could not secure and needs to be re-drilled. We then moved to FR9 where we retrieved 22 tiles. Twenty were from the deep transect, but we also picked up the first two from the middle transect. Here is what the stack of tiles looks like in the cooler as we transport them from the study site to the lab.

terra cotta tiles on a stick heading back to the lab

Today joining us on the boat was U.S. Fish & Wildlife officer Lindsey Hayes. Lindsey is here for 3 weeks while the resident officer, Stefan Kropidlowski, is back on the mainland having some dental work done. Since it was a last minute opportunity for Lindsey, he wasn't able to get all the medical paperwork and training done to meet AAUS scientific diver requirements before heading out with us to Palmyra. This means he can only snorkel. We had great sea conditions today, so Lindsay spent lots of time snorkeling above us as we worked below. Ah, the joys of diving in clear tropical waters such that you can see the bottom at 40 feet. Lindsey took some photos from the surface, so I am hoping some of them came out so I can share one on tomorrow's blog.

More blue skies today, so here you can see Lindsey, Paul, and Sabina enjoying the trip back to the lab on the deck of the Zenobia. Notice Paul is sporting his complete palm hat. He has plans to give lessons to everyone who wants to learn how to make one.

Paul (sporting new palm hat), Lindsey, and the bottom half of Sabina

There was a nice low tide as we crossed the lagoon, so you can see the extensive sand flats that surround Palmyra Atoll.

low tide showing the extensive sand flats around Palmyra

While the tile work for coral polyps is going well, we have abandoned the side project to collect small samples of crustose coralline algae (CCA) from the plates. The process was messy, was not very quantitative, and was going to significantly eat into the time needed to complete our primary task. Below is a tile showing our attempt at drilling out a small plug of  CCA.

tile #16 with the round area where we attempted to collect CCA

Friday, June 27, 2014

Another successful day

We headed out right after breakfast today to return 20 tiles and pull 20 more. The FR9 site is a bit challenging for me to get oriented because there is no slope. For most diving I do, I can easily tell by the bottom topography which way is onshore and which is offshore. Despite the lack of a slope, I managed to find the correct transects. As we motor back to the lab with our tiles stored in a cooler filled with seawater, we enjoy a bag lunch. Sabina graciously took on the task of making me, Paul, and the skipper sandwiches and packing other goodies (apples, granola bars, etc.) to take out with us since we don't get back until after lunch is over.

Tonight they are showing a movie, but I need the time to catch up with my dive logs, make notes for the day, and gather some preliminary numbers to send to Doug who is in Africa searching for hippopotamus dung and Fio who may have already left for her field work in Baja. I also need to study the underwater photo mosaic of our study site to see if I can find the one tile we were unable to locate today.

For the past several nights it looked like we were going to get a nice sunset at dinner, but each time the rain came in and ruined it. Tonight we finally got a decent sunset.

our first decent sunset since we arrived

Paul came to Palmyra with a mission - to make a hat out of palm fronds.  Here he is hard at work.

Paul working on his palm frond hat

This is the second year I am not happy with the footwear I brought with me to Palmyra. I am used to either wearing socks and running shoes or being barefoot. Neither of those work here on Palmyra. It is too wet to wear running shoes and not safe to go barefoot. I did way too much walking in my new (and expensive) flip-flops while I was stuck in Waikiki and already had developed abrasions around my toes. I checked the community clothing area in the laundry/shower building and found a pair of red Crocs. They are better, but they are a little small for me and they too chafed the side of my foot. Palmyra has been rough on my feet.

borrowed red Crocs for my beat up feet

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A long but productive day

The day started off with a beautiful double rainbow. The ship anchored in the lagoon arrived yesterday. The skipper, Dustin, sailed solo from Hawaii. There were originally four ships sailing to Palmyra to visit, and two turned back.

view from the Galley

After breakfast it was off to the FR7 shallow transect to return 20 tiles. It is work, work, work to get this accomplished in an hour underwater, but then we have to hang out for 5 minutes at about 15 feet for a safety stop. This gives us time to look around and enjoy the amazing marine life. Among other things, we saw a dolphin swim by during the safety stop on our first dive. Paul also brought the GoPro camera along for the first time and took this "selfie" picture of the three of us.

Me, Paul, & Sabina doing our safety stop

We then moved on to the FR9 shallow transect to retrieve another 20 tiles for processing. We had some cracked tiles, which is a bummer. Since Paul had the GoPro with him, I asked him to take the photo below of uncage tile #4 which had a large piece of something encrusted with coral resting on top of it.

uncaged tile with debris resting on it

FR9 was a neat area, but there is much more relief and not much of a slope, so it was harder to orient to determine which transect line is which. The first two tiles we collected turned out to be a pair from the middle transect instead of the shallow transect. Subsequently we found the shallow transect and collected 18 of the 20 tiles before running low on air. Overall I have been doing pretty well finding the correct tiles given I relied on Doug to do most of the underwater navigation last year.

On the boat ride back we enjoyed the ono fish sandwiches Sabina had packed for us after breakfast. Here are Paul and Sabina on the foredeck of the Zenobia hamming it up for the camera.

Paul & Sabina enjoying the good weather

On the way through the channel we spotted Barbara Block's team who are tagging mantas as the rays pass through the channel into and out of the lagoon. They do the tagging while snorkeling, not on SCUBA, since the bubbles from SCUBA can scare off the mantas. The channel is a great place to do tagging while snorkeling since it is not that wide and not that deep.

Robbie Schallert & Ana Guerra tagging mantas in the channel

After dinner on Thursday is "science night" where someone from the group gives a science talk. Tonight the Fish & Wildlife Officer, Lindsey Hayes, talked about his many years working on Johnston Atoll studying birds. We enjoyed the talk while sipping a little wine.

wine with Thursday night science talk

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Weather, work, and fun

Today was our first day with some blue sky. As we motored to our dive sites, Paul and Sabina were enjoying the sun a bit too much on the foredeck and got a little sunburned.

sunrise from my cabin this morning

On our first dive we finished returning 10 tiles to the shallow FR3 transect. We returned the first 10 yesterday. We then headed along the north shore of the atoll to about the mid-point to dive on FR7 for our second dive. This dive went amazingly smoothly. Unlike FR3, we did not have current or swell to contend with so we were able to pull all 20 tiles in a single dive. We then headed back to the lab after stopping to grab a quick lunch from the Galley. We then successfully processed them back in the lab and hope to be able to return them all tomorrow morning on our first dive. Below is what we are searching for under the microscope. Note that the piece of wire in the photo is 1 mm in diameter, so you get a sense of how small they are.

coral polyp with 1 mm wire below it

Sabina took this photo of Paul being welcomed by the resident red-footed booby on our arrival on Sunday.

Paul Leary with red-footed booby (Sula sula)

Building I missed photographing last year & food

Good morning.  It rained again last night, but this morning is the first blue sky we have seen since our arrival. Finally.

Last year I did a pretty good job getting photos of all the buildings on Palmyra, but I failed to take any of the shower/laundry room. In this building they do our wash for us 6 days a week. This allows one to live with just 3 t-shirts and always have a clean one to wear. Below is a shot showing the laundry facilities with the clean cloths lined up for people to come by and pick up.

clean cloths waiting to be picked up from the laundry

Across from the laundry there are 5 shower stalls with sinks as can be seen below. Today Paul, Sabina, and I are on clean-up duty. This means after breakfast we will be cleaning the laundry/shower area and the four toilets. We also help clean up the kitchen after dinner.

showers cubicles

Last night we had a delicious meal of freshly caught fish. Some of the fish was served sashimi style, and for those of us who have dissected enough fish and seen the nematodes and other parasites, a cooked version of the fish was also served. Also for dinner was a fresh spinach salad with crumbled gorgonzola cheese, strawberries, and pecans. There were fried potatoes and green beans too. Yum. It was topped off with a "donor" dessert. At first it didn't register with me what this meant. It turns out these were desserts usually served when donors to The Nature Conservancy were brought to the island. This year they didn't bring the usual group of donors out during the "off season" when the scruffy scientists aren't around. Below are the chocolate and lime desserts we had. The chocolate was wonderful, and I hope to eat one of the left over lime ones tomorrow.  Thanks Katie!!

chocolate "donor" dessert

lime "donor" dessert

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Making progress on the project, changes at Palmyra, and Paul's project

First the weather report. It rained very hard last night at 1 am, then again at 4 am, and for a third time at 6 am.  Fortunately it didn't rain all day today. I hope it continues in this pattern, raining at night and dry during the day. It was overcast all day. Hopefully we will get some sunny days too, but I am happy if it just isn't raining. It isn't so much the rain I mind as it is the puddles and muddy slush it makes on the paths around the station.

Today we finished processing 20 tiles from the shallow transect on the FR3 site. We managed to reinstall 10 of the tiles. Tomorrow we will finish installing the remaining 10 tiles before moving on to either the FR7 or FR9 sites to pull more plates.

For those of you who read my blog entries last year, there have been a number of changes since then. For example, last year every time you went into the kitchen you took off your shoes or flip-flops. Now you keep your footwear on. Someone stepped on a piece of broken glass at some point, so the rules quickly changed. This means if I return I will probably bring different footwear. I am thinking something like Crocs. Despite my buying expensive flip-flops, I am a hard walker and they are chafing my feet around the big toe.

They also removed the WiFi in the Galley. The idea is that people should be interacting with each other and not on the mobile devices when in the Galley. While I understand this, I really miss being able to go to the Galley early in the morning with my iPad to check email while waiting for breakfast to be served. Now I am walking all the way over to the lab to get my morning email fix.

Since there are only 9 scientists in residence right now, all of us have our own cabins. This was a luxury I enjoyed last summer while most had to share their cabins. I am in #4, the same waterfront I cabin had last year.

Last year we were using two wheelbarrows that were falling apart and not really designed for hauling SCUBA tanks. The Nature Conservancy asked us to fill out an evaluation at the end of our stay, so I responded to Laurie suggesting they invest in something better for moving tanks from the dive locker to the boat ramp. Thanks, Laurie, for making this happen.

new cart for carrying SCUBA tanks

Another request I made to Laurie was to fix the wall air-conditioning unit in the lab which was dripping on my computer last year. I kept my laptop covered with plastic last year. It is fixed, so thanks again to Laurie for arranging this.

Finally I have to show Paul's first project.  He loves to build things, so he is enjoying having a shop and having a lot of materials at his disposal. He came up with this idea without any prompting on my part. We are trying to keep the critters on the tiles happy while the are in the lab during processing.  We have an ice chest full of seawater with bubblers to keep it oxygenated and heaters to keep the water warm. There are also two digital thermometer probes to measure the water temperature. The water at our site was about 81 to 82 degrees.  Paul built the setup you see below and glued it to the top of one of the ice chests we shipped over on the barge.  Doug, if you are reading this, this is why I said there would only be one ice chest coming back with us.

Paul Leary's first building project

Monday, June 23, 2014

Finally on Palmyra and my first full day of work behind me

My first full day was busy. We made two dives right after breakfast. The first one was to check out our dive gear and adjust our weights. We also scouted out the tiles we plan to retrieve and marked the end one with flagging. I also took several pictures of the tiles in situ.

caged and uncaged settlement tiles after one year on the reef

On the second dive we retrieved 10 of the tiles to bring back to the lab to photograph and look for coral polyps. Here is an example of what one of the tiles looked like:

settlement tile overview photograph in the lab

We also take four more close up photos of the four corners of the tile with the center hole always showing up in one corner. Any coral polyps we find are counted, measured, mapped, and photographed. So far we have found one, maybe two. We sent a copy of the one we were not sure about to Dan Brumbaugh to help us confirm the ID. When we are looking for corals, we shine blue light on the tile and then look for fluorescence using amber colored eyeglasses. Of course we spot other cool things like a very small nudibranch and polychaete worms.  here is a baby anemone we found. It is blue because of the lighting we are using to spot corals.

baby anemone found on tile under blue light

As we were heading out this morning for our dive, there was a full rainbow over the sailing yacht anchored in the lagoon.  In addition to making a reservation to use the lagoon (only two boats allowed at a time), all boats must have passed a rat inspection and had their hulls cleaned within a few days of leaving port for Palmyra.  Once here, they can only stay a week.  This group is very nice, and the ships chef made lunch for everyone on the day the plane arrived for both the arriving and the departing science teams.

full rainbow over visiting yacht

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Getting to Palmyra - the rest of the saga

This morning we had two cabs take us from the hotel back to Bradley to catch our plane. The pilots were flown in yesterday from the mainland to Kona. They were originally scheduled to fly in today for the charter going from Kona to the mainland on Monday. The plane landed this morning around 8:15 am from Kona. One of the Gulfstream II pilots who flies to Palmyra regularly agreed to go out with us as a passenger to help out the pilots with any landing questions since these pilots (like the ones yesterday) haven't flown to Palmyra before.

Brenda provided us with a very nice full breakfast spread.  In addition, Paul brought a couple "butter avocados" and a baguette for us to try.  Yum.

breakfast spread at Bradley

skins of the consumed butter avocados

It was a good thing we ate a big breakfast. This is the "cheap" flight compared to yesterday with no food, just water. Also we don't have a flight attendant to take care of our every need.

As we sat in the plane with the engines running I overheard in the cockpit that no flight plan had been filed.  Finally we got the green light and took off around 10 am only a half an hour behind our scheduled departure.

The good news is we finally made it, and this time the weather was clear enough for some aerial photos.  Last year it was raining when we landed.

We flew over Kingman Reef on our route to Palmyra

An aerial shot of Palmyra

A second aerial photo of Palmyra

Getting ready to try again

Up early this morning to head for the airport to try a second time to land on Palmyra. In the meantime, here are two photos taken during our first attempt on Friday. We had a short delay on the runway as there were 4 fighter planes ahead of us in the queue for take-off. The first photo shows two of them taking off. The second is the cockpit of the Gulfstream 4. Notice the formal "uniforms" of the pilot and co-pilot.

two fighters taking off from Honolulu

cockpit of the Gulfstream IV-SP

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Hopefully my last day in Waikiki

We are going to make a second attempt to fly to Palmyra tomorrow (Sunday). We will be flying on the same plane but with a different crew. The plane is leaving later than usual. Last time we had to be at the airport by 7 am. This time we need to be there by 8:30 am. Brenda has promised us a real breakfast this time instead of just coffee, donuts, and juice. Of course I really wanted another bacon donut, not only to eat, but to take a picture of it which I failed to do on Friday.

Assuming the plane can land, this will be a quick turn-around flight. Normally the flight lands and everyone has lunch together before the outgoing science team departs. There were several people among the departing group I had hoped to spend time talking with about logistics, equipment location, etc., but that is not going to happen.  If I can just get on the island I will be happy and can't complain.

It was not a very exciting day in Waikiki. I spent some time Skyping with Fio to go over how things are going. I proofed a draft of the Hopkins newsletter and emailed in my corrections.  I went with Lindsey see the Moana Surfrider hotel, one of the old classic hotels on the beach where Lindsey and his wife had stayed many years ago. I also went and bought an aloha Hawaiian shirt to wear tomorrow since I am tired of wearing dirty cloths. I expected to be on Palmyra 3 days ago where they would be doing my laundry 6 days a week, and I had sent most of my cloths directly to the island back in April.

I hate doing a blog without photos, so here are a couple from our force stay on Christmas Island on Friday.

Gulfstream IV waiting to get fuel on Christmas Island

Proof I set foot on Kiritimati, also known as Christmas Island

Friday, June 20, 2014

Yet another delay getting to Palmyra

The day started great as we arrived at Bradley Pacific Aviation. We were all under weight so there was no problem with our bags. I had my first bacon coated donut which was actually very tasty.

Bradley Pacific Aviation

While we flew to and from Palmyra on a Gulfstream II last year, the charter service Brenda was able to negotiate for this trip uses a Gulfstream IV-SP. I thought it was luxurious last year, but this year is even better. The plane is wider, longer, and has more amenities. This year we even had a flight attendant to take care of our every need.

Robbie, Paul, Ana, Sabina getting ready to board the plane

interior of the Gulfstream IV-SP

The pilot, Drew, was very friendly and invited us to come up to the cockpit to look around and talk. He had never landed in Palmyra, so I showed him a bunch of aerial photos I have collected. He asked if they were mine, and I said no and that it had been raining when we arrived last year and I really would like to get some of my own aerial photos of Palmyra. He said he would see about doing a 360 of the island before we land so we could take some photos.

Then things fell apart.

There was very low cloud cover over Palmyra, so we dropped below it to try to land which would have been great except it was also raining. There is no control tower, no runway lights, etc., so you need to see the runway to land. We could see the runway out of the side windows, but Drew could not see it from the front windows of the plane which is necessary to land. After circling around for a while we continued on to Christmas Island where there is a larger runway and the weather was clear.

aerial of Christmas Island

Drew was not able to contact anyone on the ground, so we buzzed the runway. Still no response, so we just landed with no clearance. The person finally contacted our plane and apologized -- she had been out for lunch. They had the fuel which we wanted, and supposedly we had a release for it. Instead we were told they required cash up front. The cost to re-fuel is not chump change. Eventually they agreed to accept the fuel release. In the meantime we all got off the plane and took some photos.

Ana, Sabina, Paul at the airport's VIP Lounge on Christmas Island

At first I was optimistic we might still get to Palmyra, but things took a turn for the worse. After starting to refuel they aborted when they learned that we were not paying in cash. Drew had to go into town and met with a Scotsman who runs the island. The Scotsman ended up paying for the refueling with the understanding that Brenda at TNC would reimburse him.

By now the pilots were running into the FAA limits on their flying time, and the weather on Palmyra had not improved, so we headed back to Honolulu. A very frustrating day.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Last day in Hawaii

The good new is they found another charter plane, so we are flying to Palmyra tomorrow morning only one day behind schedule.  We need to check in by 7 am, so this will be short entry as I need to get to bed for an early wake-up call.

We split up today.  Paul and Sabina were going to rent mopeds, and I didn't feel like dealing with Honolulu traffic on a moped.  Instead I took the bus to the Bishop Museum where I spent the day.  It is a very nice museum.  The original building is gorgeous.

Bishop Museum exterior

Bishop Museum interior

I need not have worried about Paul or Sabina getting in an accident and thus not being able to come to Palmyra.  The price for renting the mopeds turned out to be too high, so they ended up doing more exploring on foot.  Much of their day was spent in search of the elusive "butter avocado".  That adventure will have to wait for another time.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Dinner in Waikiki

Tonight we went to Marukame Udon for dinner.

The is a very popular noodle and tempura restaurant.  The food is good and inexpensive, so there is a very long line to get in.  Here we are in line with Grace who has been hosting Sabina during our stay in Waikiki.

Grace, Sabina, & Paul in line for dinner

The four of us had a delicious and filling dinner for $30.  We then went to Duke's Waikiki for drinks and dessert on the beach.  A nice evening to help us forget about all our problems trying to get to Palmyra.