May 24, 2007. Kiritimati, Kiribati -- We arrived in the Line Islands on a gorgeous sunny afternoon and anchored offshore of Christmas Island 2 days ago. Here, emerald lagoon seas reflect green colors in the clouds, and coral sands are bleached white. Our mission has changed, as we've been conducting scientific surveys (transects), snorkeling inshore reefs, and exploring Christmas Island.
We've transitioned to Leg 2 of our voyage where the focus is on the coral reefs of the Line Islands. Our ultimate goal is to survey the status of the back reefs along the Line Islands chain to assess the impact of the local inhabitants on the health of the reef systems. By comparing along the gradient of human habitation (from 9,000 people on Kiritimati to relatively uninhabitated coral atolls at Palmyra and pristine Kingman Reef) we hope to garner a better understanding of human impact on these vital reef systems. Project science included surveying the reefs to examine the state of the biodiversity of apex predator coral reef fish by Chris Hanson and Del Rego with Barb Block and Doug McCauley swimming close by.
Visran Vischit-Vadakan and Kaori Tsukado, advised by visiting scientist Boris Worm, did transects that investigated herbivorous fishes. Sam Urmy, Jess McNally and Johnny Bartz, working with chief scientist Rob Dunbar, conducted a lagoon coral health project that placed temperature recorders along the lagoon regions to observe how the lagoon waters influence the physical characteristics of the water column and ultimately the coral reef community.
Students also participated in recreational snorkeling. I took one group out for a trip with experienced guide Kim Anderson of Dive Kiribati. Within three hours we swam with a large manta ray, dolphin, caught a barracuda and large blue trevally that we let go. We saw dolphin fish leap out of the water after flying fish, and gasped as a booby swooped in front of our boat to grab, and then lose, a flying fish that erupted pushed up into the air by our presence.
We met with Henry Genthe, a former chief scientist of SEA in the early years, who told stories of the early days of the program aboard Westward. Genthe, his family, and the students and staff at St. Francis High, a local school, hosted a spectacular gathering for our students. We all sat together in Henry's backyard -- literally the beach front -- as the sun set and students from St. Francis performed a series of welcome songs and traditional dances.
Stanford@SEA students led by Kat Hoffman performed several songs of their own. As the evening wore on, all the students danced together to local music. The evening was memorable primarily for the new friends, and exchange of new rhythms, dance and songs, but most importantly for the cultural exchange that has been on going between SEA and Stanford students and St. Francis for many trips.
We donated books we gathered back at Stanford to several schools. We pulled anchor at 1300 and left for Washington Island, a 2-day sail. We sailed through a feeding frenzy completely with diving birds, including boobies and frigates, and leaping tunas chasing flying fish. It was a super sight. We quickly dissected two of the 25-pound skipjack we caught, and found 8 squid (which we promptly called Meridith Capenter to sample), several baby tunas (which I put away for later viewing) and a variety of ocean life in their tummies. It was a great end to a fascinating day. -- Barb Block, chief scientist