Friday, May 27, 2011

From Palmyra to Christmas Island

A booby escort from Palmyra
We left Palmyra on a glorious sunny day-sailing through the deep cut of the Palmyra channel with an escort of boobies, and a few mantas. We're carrying a new passenger, Dr. Joe Bonaventura, from Duke Marine Lab, a professor who served as one of my mentors, along with Dr. Mike's who brings aboard boundless energy, and a unique view of marine biology.  Joe, and the "first blood" team attempted at Palmyra to get one of the first oxygen dissociation curves of reef fish in warm waters so that we could examine if, and how these fish bind oxygen more tightly in their warm, lagoon waters.

A bit of play
For all of the sailors on this ship, Palmyra and Kingman lived up to expectations, and gave us more- a week of adventure, research and sheer spectacular beauty. I love Palmyra for its mystical qualities, the gorgeous emerald colors you only see only in the tropical Pacific, lush greens and smell of the earthy Island, the spectacular North beach where cone shells, and blacktip shark pups abound in the shallows, and the super facilities that the PARC consortium and TNC have created to allow scientists to better understand the structure of undisturbed coral ecosystems. Our students had fantastic access to unrivaled undergraduate research projects on coral reefs, snails and birds, manta ecology, and shipwrecks. We adventured throughout the protected atolls with zodiacs and our own sailing dory called Gene, and had a fantastic time.

We moved on for two days at Kingman Reef- always the highlight for me of this trip. Here one feels as remote as you can in the Pacific realm, an ominous V-shaped reef greets you- waves breaking over coral shelled spits you can barely see, a place with a powerful yet mysterious quality. Beneath the sea,  there is a remarkable vibrance of colors with clams, corals, fish.  My favorite here was the abundance of sharks.  As if carrying a tuna attractant, every time I got in- I saw grey reef sharks, white tips or black tips. A few were a bit more than curious,  potentially attracted to the shine of my weight belt- we safely negotiated our time underwater in the region with the sharks- and had a sense of their control over this spectacular reef.
Sailing through a squall

We've sailed for the past three days into the trades easterly gusts, to get to our next island stop in Kiribati -Christmas Island. It was tough at times beating into 6-8 ft seas- I took a photo from my port window on stormy wake up. Squalls at night reminded us of the challenges of taking sails down in powerful winds, students performed flawlessly, and the drenching rains cleaned the decks and felt refreshing to our often salt drenched skin and clothes. We had a first class play on board (Picture shows the cast) about "winkling", from the science watch - that helped us learn the chemistry of measuring oxygen in the water.  We preformed a series of "stations", casting meter nets and Tucker trawls acquiring the final data for some transect projects looking at the oxygen minimum layer, and deep scattering layer organisms in relationship to the physical properties of the water column.
Christmas Island ahead!

Now we're about to enjoy three days in our final port of call before turning the ship North to sail home to Honolulu.


1 comment:

Tami said...

We are SO happy to see you! It doesn't get much better than this. Sail on Caleb Kruse...