Saturday, August 13, 2016

Flight from Palmyra to Honolulu

I went out to the airstrip to greet the arriving group of 11 scientists and snapped this photo of the Falcon50 on its approach to the Palmyra airstrip.

Falcon50 approaching the Palmyra Atoll runway

While the flight that brought us to Palmyra was configured to hold a lot of cargo inside the plane's cabin, our return flight was configured to maximize the number of passengers it could accommodate. We were bringing back a 90 lb cooler filled with all the tiles that we retrieved after being on the reef for 3 years. We had two additional coolers weighing just under 50 lbs each that held two microscopes and lots of other gear. Then there was Tim's very large dive bag, both our carry-on bags, and the 37 in camera stand upright. There were only three of us flying back on a plane, so all our baggage fit in the plane's hold.

After moving the basket, I was able to stretch out on the 3 seat bench shown below and catch up on my sleep.

The three seats on the left form a bed for me to catch up on my sleep.

Tim, who was even more sleep deprived than I was, is able to recline his seat more than one can on any commercial airline when flying in coach.

Tim getting ready to get some shut-eye

A view of cockpit as our pilot George and co-pilot Jonathan prepare the plane for takeoff.

cockpit of the Falcon50

One last view of the reef as the plane leaves the runway.

the reef off the north shore of Cooper Island on takeoff

Friday, August 12, 2016

Departing Palmyra today

Today I did the final bit of packing and cleaned my cabin for the next scientist, Stacie, to enjoy. I had a little free time, so I biked out to north beach to take in the view one last time.

relaxing on north beach before my flight back to civilization
I spotted the dorsal fin of a fairly large blacktip shark curating through the water that was only a couple of feet deep, but I didn't get my camera out fast enough to capture it on film.

I realized I hadn't gotten a picture of Alex among all my photos, so I grabbed a quick shot of him as he finished preparing lunch for a crowd. The population on Palmyra almost doubled with the arrival of the plane.

Alex prepares breakfasts and lunches and the occasional dinner

Terrestrial wildlife

I still haven't managed to get a good photo of the white fairy turn while it is hovering in place, but I did photograph this pair perched in a tree.

white fairy terns
Gygis alba
It is not all about the animals. The vegetation on Palmyra is dense. Here are some photos of the Hala tree. The is a dioecious tree with the female producing a fruit that I am told some people confuse with the pineapple.

Hala tree
Pandanus fischerianus

unripened fruit on a female Hala tree
Pandanus fischerianus

ripe fruit from a Hala tree, a feast for crabs
Pandanus fischerianus

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Thursday was a Community Service Day on Palmyra

Usually on the day before the plane arrives with a new group of scientists, everyone at the station spends an hour raking up the leaves on the paths between the cabins and other buildings. The leaf free paths don't stay that way very long, but they should still look pretty good when the new teams arrive on the plane around 11 am tomorrow morning unless it is real windy tonight.

Below is a pair of "before" and "after" photos.

You may notice the "before" photo is a bit hazy. This is because my camera had been in the air-conditioned dry lab, and it had not adjusted to the hot and humid outside air. I would have been late to the raking party if I waited for my camera to adjust, so I wiped the camera lens and took a photo as quick as I could before it fogged up again. I just wasn't quite fast enough.

path before raking

path after raking

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Back in the water today

After many days working on dry land, I made it back in the water for a 2+ hour snorkel at Penguin Spit. The display screen on my Olympus TG-2 camera cracked and flooded during a dive near the start of this trip. This has been very frustrating, since I also used this camera for most of my terrestrial photos. It fit easily in my pocket, and it didn't matter if I got caught in a downpour which happens frequently on Palmyra. The good news is I was able to use one of the GoPro cameras during my snorkel. I still would have preferred my Olympus since it has built in color compensation for doing underwater photography. I ordered a new camera online, and it is waiting for me back in Pacific Grove.

Here are some screen grabs from the video I shot with the GoPro.

coral head at Penguin Spit, Palmyra Atoll

school of black durgon
Melichthysn niger

goldfin dascyllus
Dascyllus auripinnis

group of onset snappers under tabletop coral
Lutjanus monostigma

Idyllic Palmyra evening

On Tuesday night we had a very nice sunset.

Palmyra sunset on August 9th

After it got dark Tim and I went to Sand Island for some night ops. While we had strobes out to help guide us to the island in the dark, the moon and stars were out and we could easily make out the island from the boat dock without the strobes. The water was so calm it was like being on a lake.

After our return and a shower, it was approaching midnight, and the moon was starting to set. I know my dead Olympus camera does a much better job taking photos at very low light levels, so I was wishing it wasn't dead. But the moon reflecting on the water was just too beautiful not to try and capture the moment with my terrestrial camera. Here are two shots I got, one with the white moon casting its reflection on the water, and a second as the moon is starting to turn red as it approaches the horizon. As you can see, not the world's best photos. You just had to be there.

white moon reflecting on the waters of Palmyra's west lagoon

red moon reflecting on the waters of Palmyra's west lagoon

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Water everywhere but none to shower or drink

Monday night I was on radio duty for night operations on Kaula Island. I was there to answer calls when the lagoon boat left the dock, when it anchored at Kaula, when they finished hiking across the sand flats, and then every hour until the team left the island. The final call is when they return safely to the dock. This was an early night with the boat returning around 12:30 am. On a previous night I was up until just past 2 am answering the radio.

The interesting part here is when I came off radio duty and went to take a shower before going to bed. The water was not coming out of the shower head very fast. Thinking it had something to do with the shower head settings, I moved to a different shower stall. Instead of a trickle of water, this one had absolutely no water. I checked the galley, and it also had no water. At this point my concern was whether there was a leak in the water pipes coming from the water catchment. Armed with a flashlight, I biked to the catchment and looked around the pipes to see if I saw a leak. I also biked around the shop area looking for pools of water. I didn't find anything. By this time it was after midnight. Tim was still working in the dry lab, but everyone else was in bed sound asleep. My concern was the lack of water pressure might be due to a leak. I didn't want everyone to wake up the next day to discover the station had lost most of its fresh water supply. Reluctantly, I tried to reach Perri, the Station Manager, on the radio. When he didn't respond, I biked over to his cabin and knocked on his door. He was very gracious and thanked me for waking him up to let him know about the problem. He confirmed there was no water pressure and checked the water pump in the generator building. There did not appear to be any leaks, so repairs could wait until morning when he could put Jack on it.

I hate posting a blog entry with no photos, so here are some I took at the start of the trip.

We share the runway with fighter planes when departing Honolulu.
I believe this is a F-22 raptor.

The Falcon50 gets the red carpet treatment when it lands on Palmyra.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Airstrip repairs looking good

The four person team working on the runway faced many challenges including rain, a flat tire, a cement bag breaking as it was in transit to the airstrip, and the hopper coming off its hitch and flipping over as it was being filled with cement. Despite these setbacks, they worked through the weekend with Jack and Perri making some finishing touches on Sunday morning. Now it mostly involves letting the cement cure.

Those of us flying out this Friday appreciate all their efforts to make sure the runway is ready for the plane to land on schedule.  Thank you for all your hard work carried out in the tropical heat.

The intrepid runway repair team - Tim, Jack, Sarah, Perri

Some birds and crustaceans on north beach

On Friday I took a few minutes off to check out north beach. I think this is the first time I have been there during the day.

north beach with dead palm tree trunk with roots

There were bristle-thighed curlews and Pacific golden plovers on the beach

2 bristle-thighed curlews & 3 Pacific golden plovers
Numenius tahitiensis Pluvialis fulva, respectively
and in the air.

bristle-thighed curlews in flight
Numenius tahitiensis

There are hermit crabs in all of the shells in this photo. They were all munching on this seed from Neisosperma oppositifolia (no common name), but when my shadow passed over them, they all synchronously dropped off the seed and retracted into their respective shells.

dinner interrupted -- hermit crabs around a Neisosperma oppositifolia seed

I wasn't fast enough with my camera to catch this crab before it mostly disappeared into the drain. You can still see some of the crab's legs dangling from the hole. The drain is a remnant of construction done when the atoll was occupied by the military during WWII.

crab legs dangling from drain hole

A few random photos

Here are some photos I wanted to share that didn't fit into any story line

A rescued red-footed booby named Rain, sitting on a bike in front of the galley

Aaron biking past the water catchment on his way to north beach

NW gun battery as seen from Strawn Island

hermit crabs feasting on a coconut

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Some Palmyra Atoll history trivia

I made a number of blog entries on the history of Palmyra as I was getting ready for my first field season back in 2013. Each time I return, I learn new and interesting tidbits.

When The Nature Conservancy purchased Palmyra from the Fullard-Leo family back in 2000 for $30 million, there were some stipulations to the sale. One that I talked about back in 2013 was the request that several dogs and cats who lived on the islands would be allowed to live out their lives on Palmyra. This was done, but they have all since died.

When the atoll was bought by The Nature Conservancy, the purchase did not include Home Islets.  This is because the previous owner, Judge Henry E. Cooper, retained ownership when he sold it to  the Fullard-Leo family. Ownership of Home Islets are now shared by about 36 children and grandchildren of Judge Cooper.

Back around 1815 the Esperanza, a Spanish pirate ship loaded with gold and other plunder from the Inca temples of Peru, was attacked by another pirate ship. The crew abandoned ship and then wrecked on the reef surrounding Palmyra. Those who made it ashore survived about a year before building two crude rafts to try to make it back to civilization. One raft was allegedly picked up by a whaling ship, and no one knows what happened to the second raft. What happened to the treasure is a mystery. Did it sink on the Palmyra reef? Was it on the raft that disappeared? One rumor is that it was buried on Palmyra Atoll. This brings me back to another unusual stipulation in the sales agreement. Should the treasure ever be found on Palmyra, the Fullard-Leo family retains rights to 25% of it.

south beach Palmyra
This is probably what greeted those stranded pirates 

New deluxe accommodations for the Station Manager

For those readers who have been to Palmyra before, there is a new cabin on the block. The Station Manager cabin complete with picture window was built between the far end of the existing cluster of cabins and the swimming hole. So far they haven't updated the map they give you upon arrival showing the location of all the buildings, but we know where to find you Perri 😊.

Station Manager's cabin

There are no complaints on my part since I have had a waterfront cabin to myself on all three of my trips. I was in cabin #4 in 2013 and 2014.  I am in cabin #3 this year.

Cabin #4 on left and Cabin #3 on right

Airstrip repairs one day behind schedule due to rain

On Thursday we had some heavy rain which was a good thing since our non-potable water storage was a bit low. However, a dry day was required to apply the cement to the already prepped patch on the airstrip. Fortunately, Friday started off very dry and the team of Perri, Jack, Tim, and Sarah were able to pour the cement. I took a few minutes to go out and check on their progress and snap a few photos.

patch of runway prepped and waiting for cement

Perri, Tim, and Sarah releasing the bag of cement

Sarah displaying her new skill driving heavy equipment

Here a solar panel, there a solar panel, everywhere a solar panel

Earlier I shared a photo of the shop's roof covered with solar panels. That is just one of many places you can now find solar panels. They are not only on many rooftops, but there is also an array on the ground. Besides the shop's roof, here are photos of all the places I have found them so far.

solar panels on Galley

solar panels on SCUBA Shack & covered storage area

solar panels on ground on the road to north beach

solar panels on tower behind the laundry/shower building

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Packing for me, science for Ana & Tim

I finished encasing all the settlement tiles in bubblewrap last night before going to bed. Today I distributed them across two ice chests that I had lined with more bubblewrap. I then weighted the two coolers. One weights 49 lbs and the other 50 lbs. This would be perfect except for one thing. The tiles only fill each cooler half way. The plan was to put clothes, wet suits, and other soft things on top of the tiles to keep them snugly in place, but anything I add will put the weight over the 50 lb limit enforced by United Airlines. If you go over 50 lbs they charge $100 in addition to the normal baggage fee.

This is not very glamorous stuff to be doing while in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Ana and Tim, on the other hand, are back out in the field. Here they prepare to depart the dock in a lagoon boat.

Ana getting her slate ready to record data

In the photo below, Tim is radioing in "Palmyra Station, Palmyra Station, this is lagoon boat 3 departing the dock for Penguin Spit". He will radio in again once they reach their destination and Ana gets in the water to do her fish follow. There will be another radio call when Ana gets out of the water and they head to Sand Island for some terrestrial work. The next three radio calls will be when they arrive and depart Sand Island and when they return safely to the dock. All boats are required to be back at the dock by 5:45 pm. This way, if there is a problem, a search/rescue protocol can be implemented while there is still daylight. It is all about safety which is especially important working in such a remote location.

Tim radioing in their departure from the dock

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Some screen captures from GoPro video

On Tuesday we did our last GoPro deployment on tiles 99 & 100 on the FR7 deep transect.  On our second dive we pulled the GoPro and tiles before the battery ran out, so Tim was able to get some footage of us and the surrounding reef.

GoPro selfie with Tim, Joe, and Ana (left to right) on FR7

Joe helping release the GoPro on a stick

Ana taking some underwater stills

Joe maintaining neutral buoyancy

The packing begins

We have just over a week before Tim and I depart Palmyra for Honolulu and then the mainland. Ana is staying on for another month or so.

While we might take a morning next week and go diving back on FR7 to see if we can locate any of the missing tiles, for the most part all the fun field work for the coral settlement project is done. Ana and Tim are out in the field today working on their own projects, and I have started the process of preparing all the tiles so they remain unbroken as they are tossed about by the airport baggage handlers.

Out of 180 tiles we installed in 2013, two were lost and 4 were broken in 2104. The broken ones were dried and taken back to the mainland. That left us with 174 to locate and pull this year. We had received dire warnings that the 2015 storms had really trashed the coral reef and we might not find any of our tiles in place. Fortunately, things were not that bad. We managed to locate and recover 139 tiles with only 35 that were either ripped out by the storms or so overgrown that we could not find them on the reef.

89 tiles packed with 50 on the counter to go

This afternoon I finished wrapping 89 tiles, and I have 50 left. Each tile is put in a zip-lock bag and then covered in bubblewrap. While they might all fit in a single ice chest, it is more than likely we will have to split them across two ice chests in order to keep the weight under the airline's 50 pound limit for checked bags.

The cot was added to the dry lab for whomever is monitoring the radio during night operations. Any group working at night on any of the islands other than Cooper Island has to check in every hour. That is in addition to checking in when they leave and arrive at the dock and when they arrive and depart the island.  So far 1:30 am is the latest any group has returned from working at night.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Homage to a Palmyra sunset

This evening we finally had a spectacular sunset. I took dozens of photos, but whittled it down to just four to share. This is what we were seeing as we finished our delicious dinner. Life is grand.

sunset from the Galley on Cooper Island

Here is the sun setting behind Lesley and Dudley Islands

sun setting behind Lesley and Dudley Islands 

Here is the sun setting behind Ainsley Island. If you click on the image for a larger view, note that all those dots in the sky are not from dust on my camera lens. Those are all birds.

sun setting behind Ainsley Island

Here Tim and Alex are enjoying the evening display.

Tim and Alex enjoying the sunset