Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Nice chronology and slide show on Palmyra Atoll history

The Nature Conservancy has a nice page listing major events in the history of Palmyra Atoll.  You can read about it at:

TNC also has a nice slide show of pictures taken on Palmyra when it was occupied by the U.S. Navy during WWII.

aerial of Palmyra 1941 © National Archives

Monday, July 28, 2014

Caught up at work, but the memories linger

It took a couple weeks to get totally caught up at work, but I still think back to my time on Palmyra. Here is a frame grab of me from a GoPro clip that Paul took.

me pointing with one hand and holding the line to the Hoff with the other

Here are another couple of fish photos.

Bluespotted bristletooth
Ctenochaetus marginatus

Dick’s damselfish
Plectroglyphidodon dickii

Friday, July 25, 2014


Doug drove up from UC Santa Barbara so that I could be debriefed by him and Fio on Monday. I gave them the 4 broken tiles, the non-functioning drill, an updated inventory, the SLR camera, etc. I also talked about the list I started for items that we will need next summer to finish off the project. One of the main goals of the meeting was to transfer almost 80 GB of images. These included 1,804 images of the plates taken in the lab, 616 images of coral polyps taken under the microscope, and thousands of time lapse photos take with the GoPro to monitor fish interacting with the plates in situ on the reef. I also gave them a dozen or so stills I took of the plates in situ, many of which I was able to ID which number plate was being photographed. There are now multiple copies of all these images in Fio's lab and in Doug's lab, so I was able to free up some space on my laptop.

Here is one picture Paul took of me wearing one of his palm hats.

I have at least one other picture I hope to post that was taken by Katie once she is able to send it to me.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Things are winding down

After our flight back in the luxurious Gulfstream IV, we faced a 9 hour layover in the Honolulu airport. It started off with me, Paul, and Sabina going through the Delta check-in line 3 times. The first time we learned that the ice chest with the microscope and drill weighed 60 lbs. They told us where there was a scale to use if we wanted to redistribute the weight to some of our other check-in bags to avoid the fee. We went over there, but because the ice chest was so well packed and taped up with miles of duct tape, we though the grant could afford to pay the extra $25 for the overweight ice chest. So we got back in line only to discover it was $100 for the overweight bag not $25. Since we had many hours to fill before our flight left, we went back to the scale and de-duct taped the ice chest trying to preserve as much of the tape as we could to re-use. We ended up moving the drill, a drill bit, and the base plates into Paul's checked bag which had room and was relatively light. Except for the microscope, most of the rest of the stuff wasn't very dense and was being used as padding such as my wetsuit, booties, knee pads. Removing the above mentioned items we got it down to 49 lbs. After all that work carefully re-duct taping it, TSA ended up choosing only the ice chest among all our bags to open and inspect. With all that tape, it looked suspicious.

ice chest covered with TSA inspection tape

The good news is we had an uneventful flight back to SFO, and everything I have unpacked so far survived the trip. I gave the microscope to Cheryl today to re-assemble and make sure it is OK.

Here is a photo of the Paul and Ron posing for the camera before we took off from Palmyra.

Paul Leary & Ron Harrell - diver dudes with shades

Paul became quite skilled in making hats out of palm fronds and was also instructing others on how to make them. Here are a few examples of the results of his work. He left them all behind for the Palmyra residents as he was not sure Hawaii would allow them through the agricultural inspection one faces both on entry and when exiting Hawaii.

palm frond hats by Paul and his students

As with last year, I may do a few more posts like this one, but soon this blog will go into hiatus until hopefully I return to Palmyra next summer to complete the 3 year project.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Finally some good aerial photos of Palmyra Atoll

When we took off from Palmyra yesterday the pilots did a loop around the island, so we were all scrambling to the windows to get photos. I have been finding and using (with proper photo credit) aerial photos taken by others, but I really wanted to have some of my own. They are not perfect, and I would have loved it if the pilots had circled the atoll a second time, I am still pleased with how some came out. I may call upon Chris Patton to photoshop out some of the reflections from the window glass that show up in some of the photos.

This is the best photo I got that shows the entire atoll.

Palmyra Atoll looking from east to west

A view of some of the islands on the eastern side of Palmyra.

eastern islands of Palmyra

Here is a picture of the north/south causeway the U.S. Navy built during WWII.

north/south causeway

Here is part of the runway on Cooper Island.

runway on Cooper Island

Thursday, July 10, 2014

I want my own private jet

I must say flying is really nice in a Gulfstream IV. I suggested the pilots take us all the way to San Francisco instead of just to Honolulu. Getting on the commercial flight in coach is going to be hard. Here are some photos as we were getting ready to take off this morning. The pilots were preparing the plane, including taking off the red covers over the jets they put on yesterday to keep the birds out.

Gulfstream IV with one jet cover on and one off

rear view of the plane almost ready to take off

me, Sabina, and Paul in our Charlie's Angels pose

Here are some interior shots.

wide leather seats that move, tables, a couch, but no WiFi

bathroom with gold appointments

pilot with GoPro camera mounted on his window

Some screen grabs from the GoPro plus one last sunset

I really liked having the GoPro mounted on my mask on the second to the last dive. My one disappointment is that I didn't see any megafauna like a manta, sea turtle, or shark to get a chance to film them hands free. If they swim by while I have a camera in hand, I am concentrating on the camera getting the right shot instead of enjoying the encounter. With the GoPro mounted on my mask I can both enjoy the experience and get it on film.

Down at 60 feet I saw my first sea cucumber on the fore reef. I now know you have to get a lot closer with the GoPro since it has such a wide angle lens. I am pointing to the sea cucumber, but you can't really see it. It is the dark horizontal blob about two thirds the way up between my finger tip and the top of the image. Not something you can really see in this shot.

me pointing to my first sea cucumber on the fore reef

Here is a screen capture of several lobsters at 70 feet. Paul was there taking still photos with his camera, so I didn't get any closer.

lobster antennae

The one plus for staying an extra night is we finally got a decent sunset.

I like the one below because if you look closely starting at the bottom of the photo you can actually see the bottom of the ocean, then the light reflecting on the surface of the water, and then the sky. That is not a shark fin on the bottom right. That is part of the palm frond floating horizontally across the frame, and below that is a coconut floating on the water.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Stuck on Palmyra one more night

The weather on Palmyra was very bad when we got up this morning which contributed to the delayed departure of the flight out of Honolulu. The weather improved, but by the time the flight landed, the pilots decided to stay the night and fly out tomorrow morning. One would think this would be a good thing, but really it is a total waste of the day. Instead of spending the afternoon snorkeling, I was on the phone with a terrible VOIP satellite connection trying to re-book our flights. I also had to change my Monterey Airbus reservation, etc. I had moved out of my cabin, so now I have to move to another cabin, etc. We hope to get in to Honolulu around noon which means more wasted time as our flight back to SFO doesn't leave until 10 pm. This is a bummer. On the bright side, it isn't raining right now.

Here is a partial group shot. Perri was off dealing with the plane issues, we didn't track down Jack, and Ron was out on the Zenobia with the UCSB team.

Here is our ride out of here tomorrow morning.

More photos from Engineering Island adventure

Getting to Engineering Island requires anchoring the boat at the edge of the sand flat and then hiking a long distance across the sand flats.

sand flats along edge of the north/south causeway

In our case, we were walking along the edge of the causeway. Every so often there is an opening in the causeway and water is always rushing through those breaks. The water is also deeper. Below is a photo the Fish & Wildlife officer, Lindsey, took of me as I moved across one of these openings. My waterproof camera is underwater in the pocket of my shorts, but I had brought along my terrestrial camera to take photos of the hospital we never found. It was in a dry bag inside my backpack, but I still didn't want to risk dunking it. The current was strong and the bottom covered in large, slippery boulders. To be save I was going across sitting on my butt holding my backpack over my head with one hand.

me trying to keep my terrestrial camera dry

While we didn't find the hospital, we did see a number of coconut crabs, including this one up a tree.

coconut crab above us on a tree trunk

Also on the way back we hit a spot with a large number of sea cucumbers in about a foot of water. On the fore reef I only saw one sea cucumber in all my dives, and that was only when we went down to deeper water.

sea cucumber in the shallows of the sand flats

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Pretty underwater pictures

Here are some of the photos I took on Monday's last dive of the trip.

red morph of blackside hawkfish
Paracirrhites forsteri

whitemouth or turkey moray
Gymnothorax meleagris

guineafowl puffer
Arothron meleagris

finally a sea star, only the third one I have seen in 90 dives over two years

finally a half way decent blacktip shark photo, but I wish I were closer

Last full day on Palmyra Atoll

No diving today since we are flying tomorrow. Besides, the Zenobia is out getting a new GPS system installed. Instead it is the exciting job of inventory, packing, cleaning, etc.

Perri gave up waiting for a 24 hour period with no rain before raking the area. In fact we continue to have sporadic heavy downpours.

rain and un-raked leaves

The rain broke long enough for us to rake.

community leaf raking project

Working is alway best with a sense of humor.

"American Gothic" with Sabina & Joel

The large sterilizer is broken. We are getting out of here just in time.

Perri, Jack, & Ron trying to fix the kitchen sterilizer

Monday, July 7, 2014

Last day of diving and a visit to Engineering Island

The day did not start off well. The GPS on the Zenobia finally died. Ron and Joel have put off installing the new one so we could keep working. They were scheduled to make the replacement tomorrow. To get us through today, we used a hand held GPS and Joel's tablet that had the NOAA map and showed us our location on the map. The one thing we lacked was depth readings. Kudos to Ron and Joel for improvising to get us out one last time.

dead GPS behind Joel's tablet and the hand held GPS to the left

The seas were rough at FR3 and FR9, so we headed to FR7 to do filming of the tiles with the GoPro. On the first dive I finally got to try out my GoMask. Here I am with the GoPro attached to my mask. I recorded video for the the first 42 minutes of the dive.

me with the GoPro on my mask

I hope to get some screen grabs from the video, but that will have to happen later when I have time to review the film.

On our second dive to retrieve the GoPro on a stick, I took my underwater camera to get still photos. I got some great shots, but it is late and it takes a while to upload the photos with the slow internet connection. I will try to post a selection tomorrow.

Also on our last dive, Paul and Sabina decided to go in without their wetsuits since it was going to be a short dive. Here is Sabina sans wetsuit doing her safety stop and holding the Hoff.

Sabina sans wetsuit doing her safety stop

After the dives, Lindsey took me and Dustin to go look for the old abandoned military hospital on Engineering Island. It was a long hike across the sand flats. When we had to cross breaks in the causeway, I was sometimes up to my neck in water holding my terrestrial camera above my head to keep it dry. I hope to get a photo of me crossing one of these channels that Lindsey took. The sad news is we didn't manage to find the hospital. Very disappointing.

Lindsey & Dustin hiking to Engineering Island

Invisible fish caught on film

This was taken several days ago. Sabina spotted this fish and Paul filmed it. I can't upload the video since we don't have the bandwidth for a file that large. Instead, here are a couple screen captures I grabbed from the video. It appears to be a juvenile flatfish. What is so cool is the fact that it's body is transparent with white spots on it. When the fish is against most things you would never even know it is there. It only shows up when it moves. In this image the tail is to the right and the eyes are the two brighter spots on the left.

juvenile flatfish, species unknown

Here is a second photo of the fish against the metal top of our tile carrier.  The lid is 6 inches square to give you some perspective on the size of the fish. The fish is just to the left of the center hole. The eyes of the fish are at the top.

If anyone knows what species this is, I would love to hear from you.

Here was tonight's sunset.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Another day on shore for me

Sabina and Paul went out this morning to deploy the GoPro to record how fish are interacting with the caged and uncaged tiles. I decided to give my ankle another day of rest. Here is a photo captured by the GoPro as a blacktip reef shark swam by. The caged and uncaged tiles are in the background.

For some reason there was a desire for fresh coconut. Skipper Joel instructed Paul on the finer points of opening a coconut with a machete.

beware of Paul with a machete

I am going to leave the caption for the photo below up to your imagination.

Sabina and Paul

Today Sabina, Paul, and I were on clean-up duty. After dinner we helped clean the kitchen. Paul is easily entertained by the commercial spring kitchen faucet. I suggest the Micheli lab at Hopkins Marine Station install one of these in their kitchen area so Paul will take care of all the dirty dishes.

Sadly, the new ceiling fans in the galley did not last very long. We were worried that someone would hit one with the mop handle as they were cleaning the floor. Instead it hit Robbie's arm as he was stretching. Robbie is OK, but the fan is not.

new ceiling fan broken already

We had our first half way decent sunset since our arrival.