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.