Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Fighting Sleep at Fanning

I fight against my eyes gradually closing. The whole universe seems to be revealing itself in every new star that glimmers into sight. Yet my eyes are slowly betraying me in favor of sleep after a long day. I’m curled up in the mainstays’l on the house top before my watch starts, procrastinating sleep for just a few more minutes of star gazing.
Out in the middle of the subtropical Pacific anchored at Fanning I am in a completely new world. Yet I am overcome by a feeling of home. Surrounded by with lush coconut trees, coral reefs, and a blazing sun, which leaves enough heat so that even now in the middle of the night I am comfortable in shorts and a tank I am clearly a long way from home in Seattle. But in my sail “hammock” I’m being rocked ever so slightly by the usual swing associated with being close to shore. The familiar chirp from the depth sounder and the noise of sails creaking have become as comforting as my puppies snoring peacefully at home. Its remarkable how three weeks on the ship have simply flown by. The Seamans has truly become our home and we’ve learned it like the back of our hand -well someone else’s hand that doesn’t seem to be constantly plagued with new cuts and scrapes- boat checks are completed with a sense of ease from knowing how the boat should be looking. Number of steps from the bunk to the head memorized so that even before the night vision kicks in, we can still get ready for watch without stumbling about the ship. This comfort surrounds me in a way I’ve only experienced before at home. The Seamans has certainly become home. Only this home is always guaranteed to have the best sunsets and views from the rail. 
Gazing out into a never-ending universe my thoughts are running away with me. After Evan’s uncommon dialogue about the vastness of the universe, I can’t stop gazing into the stars with amazement and awe. This feeling has come over me a lot this trip. A nearly inexplicable feeling of pure joy so overwhelming that I can’t help giggle and smile. From when we first set sail, the first sunset, making our way into Palmyra, the swimming hole, spending time at north beach, to now - laying out on the boat willing sleep to wait just a few more minutes, these moments overtake me and remind me why I am doing Stanford@SEA in the first place. For the adventure, for the fun, for the people, and to reconnect with my most joyous self.

My eyes close briefly. Then a distinct splash of the port side – dolphins. I’m falling asleep on a beautiful ship, in the middle of the Pacific next to an incredible new island to explore, surrounded by dolphins. I feel asleep with a smile, one that I haven’t been able to shake off since.

-Anja Brandon

Sound and Conversation: Two Ears, One Mouth

            Snap. Crackle. Pop.
            Snorkeling in a coral reef sounds a lot like pouring milk over a morning bowl of Rice Krispies. I never would have realized that if I hadn’t stopped to listen. And now I find myself listening to everything: the whoosh of the wind, the creak of the sails, the whirring of the 16th Street cabin fan, the clatter of the anchor, the splash of the bow, the half hourly chime of the clock. And those are only the sounds of the ship. Palmyra was rife with the sound of birds, Fanning of children, and as we sit anchored and waiting for clearance, I look forward to listening to the sounds of Kiritimati.

In focusing on the sounds of my environment, I find I’m a better listener in conversation too. Where I once constantly felt the need to one-up others, to tell the better story, to fill the silence – never quite listening to those around me, but always thinking of what to say next – I’ve taken on a more observant role. Rather than asking someone how they’re doing out of social due diligence, I find myself actually interested in the answer. Rather than inputting the sound of my own voice, a sound I am already much acquainted with, I gravitate towards the voices of others.

In listening, I’m learning a lot from my shipmates. I’m learning about their personalities and individual histories; I’m learning about their opinions and leadership approaches. In turn, I’m more aware of the ship’s community dynamic and emotional atmosphere.

Alexis and Don the engineer enjoying a conversation at sunrise

Of course, life aboard the Robert C. Seamans is a little different than the life many of us lead ashore. We don’t have midterms to study for or bike traffic to navigate. We don’t have appointments to schedule or office hours to attend. That’s not to say that life aboard the ship isn’t stressful at times, but our situation does allow us to be more in tune with the natural world around us.

So I ask, how often do you stop and listen? How often do you listen and really pay attention to those around you, to the world around you? While not all of us have the opportunity to sail for five weeks on a tall ship, all of us have access to nature. So take a step outside, close your mouth, and open your ears. There’s a whole world of sound out there if only you stop and listen.


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Peopled Atoll

            From a distance, Fanning’s landscape matches Palmyra, both isolated circular atolls surrounding lagoons, low lying strips of green surrounded by infinite blue. Unlike Palmyra, a protected reserve, Fanning atoll is part of the Kiribati nation with a population of just a few thousand people. Just as Palmyra offered an eerie lens into what a world without people could look like, Fanning is an equally eerie lens into the rapid changes brought with a human presence.
Notably, Palmyra’s protection and Fanning’s population are both recent phenomena, yet the changes in this short blip of time are all too apparent. While birds dominate Palmyra’s soundscape, a more silent island greeted us as we pulled into the waters surrounding Fanning. A walk around Palmyra guaranteed encounters with countless crabs and dense, unwieldy forests, while a similar path on Fanning is lined with pigs, cats, wild dogs, concrete and aluminum structures, and plots of land growing taro.
            As we extensively discussed in our time on the shore, though it is nearly impossible to appropriately define “sustainability” in its overused buzzword status of today, it is easy to spot sustainability when you see it. Similarly, it is easy to discern its lack. Fanning, given its small population and geographic area, is a tragic example of such a state. Many of Fanning’s staple food items are imported, brought on ships just a few times each year. The entire nation of Kiribati depends heavily on foreign aid, and most of this foreign aid comes only from countries with interests in fishing in Kiribati’s abundant waters, including Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. At the same time, climate change and sea level rise are expected to impact Kiribati’s very near future. While it will take longer for the islands to be entirely consumed by rising sea levels, classmate Walter discussed the more pressing issue during our on shore conservation policy discussions: that many of the islands that make up Kiribati could lose their freshwater lenses due to sea level rise in just two years.
            It is unfathomable to imagine a nation with no freshwater resources, yet this question has already tangibly entered Kiribati’s political scene. The Kiribati government has already begun dialogue with New Zealand and Australia on the potential need to move its entire population away from the original landmass of the nation to foreign nations.
            The horribly apparent paradox is that this issue is spillover from our industrialized world. Last night, our first night in Fanning, the lights illuminating our ship alone heavily outweighed any light coming from the island, of which I saw only a single bulb close to the church. While our gas-powered generators ran through the day and night, wind driven vessels outnumbered those powered by engines in all the lagoon boat traffic I observed at Fanning.

            There are important lessons in timeliness in this tragedy from which to glean hope. As we saw at Palmyra, an atoll can transition from heavy human alteration to a proud consideration as “pristine” in just about 60 years. Nature can and will bounce back. While it is likely too late for Fanning or even Kiribati as a whole to counteract its devastating reality, it is invaluable today to effectively learn from these examples and appropriately proceed into our future.

-Jason D. Kaufman

Monday, May 27, 2013

The First Day in Kiribati

Melon-headed whales as seen by Evan and Jacob’s robotic submarine, ROV Beepity-beep

Our calcium finger nails stroke the strings, hum of vibrating metal and wood sing forth in a harmony of fifths, palms slap wood, voice-box resonates:

All my life I’ve been waiting for,
I’ve been praying for,
The people to say…

Red moon rises over the horizon, Halloween orange, color of spiced apple cider, cake doughnuts, and autumn. Today is our first day in Kiribati, the tiny Fanning Atoll, and earlier we welcomed the kind customs officials onboard with our song:

That they don’t want to fight no more,
There’ll be no more wars,
And the people will say…

We have been in our own little world aboard this ship, and it feels strange to now be in someone else’s. To see other people – a reminder that the world we have created for ourselves is not the only one that exists. Sometimes on bow watch, it is easy to believe that the world consists of only a blue circle covered by a blue dome. Everything we know and use is onboard our little steel boat at the center. It feels like a fairy tale where we create our own rules and customs. I am reminded of Lord of the Flies – I wonder if this is why the rules of the ship were laid out so painstakingly beforehand, whey they are followed with such attention to detail…

But what is this human Earth we live in anyway, if not one where we have created arbitrary rules – rules of ownership, borders, customs of trade and politeness and warfare? I recall our song to the customs officials.
The Milky Way splashes above me like the spilled paint of a free-style abstract artist, stars as liquid as in the night of my high desert homeland. Just beyond the rail comes a breath, a drizzling of droplets, and a sleek grey form slips back beneath the waves. There exists a world beyond our human Earth, with no rules put in place by reasoning, just laws that are. We sail to study this world, Nature, the intricate dance of organisms and ecosystems, push and pull of geology and time, vibrations of atoms and molecules. In the water, the phosphorescent flashes of bioluminescence do their best to mimic the stars.

One day,
One day,

One day-ay-ay-ay

-Evan Clark

Lucas on Uncommon Dialogues

            Before I break into an account of our recent scintillating Uncommon Dialogues, I would like to break the ice with a brief anecdote (or a quick yarnin’ if your feeling piratey) to give you all an idea of what our stint here on Palmyra Atoll was like.

For me, Palmyra turned out to be slightly more leisurely than for most because my research project can only be conducted while in open waters. This gave me a lot of free time to explore the island, and I’ll admit what I craved most after 2 weeks on a 135 ft boat with 40 people was some solitude. Also, having just finished the book I had been reading for our conservation class, Four Fish (which is by all means a fantastic read, and for all you amazingly supportive parents who secretly wonder why half your salary is paying for your child to research the mating behavior of the wart-footed stump snail or something of the likes, this book will convince you their education is more than worthwhile), I was eager to crack the binding of my new read. Solitude and a leisurely read, however, would prove to be not as feasible as I hoped.

I decided to hike to Strawn Island, the far end of the Atoll. I began down the trail and within 5 minutes encountered my first obstacle, a boulder sitting in the middle of the pathway, brandishing club like claws up at me. It was one of the notorious Palmyra coconut crabs, hermit crabs that have outgrown the luxury of a shell and now scamper about the island gorging themselves on coconut meat, which has given them the renown of tasting just like coconut. But this crab was a monster, at least 2.5 ft across while in its wide-gaited, “bring-it-on you measly human” stance. It could have wrapped one of those pincers around my ankle and taken a foot if it was so inclined. After ample prodding and poking with a long stick, I managed to push the crab out of the way and I heard it hissing angrily as carried on.

A menacing Palmyra coconut crab
Not long after, I found I was again not alone, but this time being besieged from the air. Two, stark white birds were repeatedly swooping dangerously low to my head. At first I feared I had disturbed the birds from their nest, and having been warned that preventing certain birds from their nest for more than a minute causes their eggs to denature, I hurried off on my way. But the birds refused to dissipate and soon their numbers had doubled and then tripled and I was suddenly brandishing my arms, stomping through unknown terrain as a blitzkrieg of ironically dove-like birds harassed me from all direction.

A protective bird

Breaking out of the palm forest in a frenzy, I found I had stumbled upon a beach, and luckily the air bombers followed me no further. Before me lay a long shallow sand bar, and at its end was a series of dilapidated WWII bunkers slowly sinking into the sea. Atop the largest bunker was a small tree. “Where better than a bunker to protect me from the onslaught of the natural island residents?” I thought. The Japanese may have never made it to Palmyra, but surely all their constructions afforded the navy personnel stationed there shelter from crabs and birds. Oh how wrong I was.

Atop the bunker and beneath the tree, I finally began to enjoy my book as the crashing waves soothed me from afar. Deciding to top of the situation with yet another indulgence, I reached into my backpack for a home made oatmeal bar I had brought, and lifting the bar up to my mouth I found that it had sprouted wad of gesticulating arms and claws. I screamed and threw what I thought had been my bar, but in reality was one of 4 fist sized hermit crabs that had crawled into my bag in the few moments I had been there, heaping themselves over my delicious snack. After emptying out my bag, I turned around to see that a migration had begun; from every direction atop the bunker, swarms of hermit crabs were narrowing in on my bag. I spun around and the crabs must have known that their secret swarming had been disclosed to the true beholder of the bar (myself) because they all abashedly popped back into their shelves and pretended to not exist.
And so I was finally able to enjoy my book on Palmyra, but only between intermittently chucking a few handfuls of hermit crab out of my bag.

Professor Joe Bonaventura looks on

After a four-day pause while in Palmyra, we resumed our Uncommon Dialogues with a talk hosted by our resident fisherman, Martini Arostegui. Martini comes to the world of marine conservation from an interesting perspective, as he is currently ranked as being the third highest record setting fisherman in the world. Martini introduced his topic by telling us about a man he met while at Palmyra, one of the 11 current residents. Martini believed this man to be an excellent fisherman, “probably one of the 20 best anglers in the world” as he put it, yet for some reason this man lived and worked in one of the strictest Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s) in the world, a secluded island where no wildlife of any kind can be removed except for the occasional rare specimen for scientific purposes. However, for Martini, this seemingly counterintuitive individual represents the most practical and worthwhile sort of fishermen you can be, one who seeks out a future for fishing while still enjoying the sport.

This is not always the case. As Martini put it, the fishing community can often be “ stubborn.” Their position, however, is not lacking in justification. As the conservation movement progresses and the borders of MPA’s expand, they are slowly zoning off the waters that the fishing community has come to enjoy and love. For this reason, many fisherman have become adamantly opposed to marine conservation, citing the lack of evidence that MPA’s are effective and claiming the ocean as an open, unlimited resource. Martini, coming from both the fishing community and the scientific community, can easily relate to both perspectives, and according to him the solution can be found in effective communication.

The manner in which the conservation community goes about protecting the oceans is often lacking in public communication, the kind of communication that is needed to persuade the people that care most about these regions, their fishermen. Not only this, but the data showing the effectiveness of MPA’s needs to be collected, consolidated, and stringently evaluated so as prove their worth once and for all. Without showing that MPA’s help to preserve the future of fishing, the fishing community will continue to be completely justified in vying to keep the oceans of the world open and available. Although the situation is frustrating, it makes our mission as conservationists and scientists clear: to establish the facts, and more importantly, establish a network of trust between those who study the world’s natural resources and those who use it.
 Our next talk was hosted by Zach Gold who told us about something called the Global Warming Paradox. The Global Warming Paradox is a theory that states that the countries that will be most negatively affected by the effects of climate change are those that are developing. Conversely though, the best way for any nation to best defend itself against the adversities associated with climate change is to burn fossil fuels. This is because many studies have shown that there is a direct correlation linking countries’ GDP’s with their consumption of fossil fuels per-person.

Hopefully you now see the paradox - that the developing countries attempting to buffer themselves against a changing climate have little choice than to increase their contribution to the problem, creating a positive feedback loop that ends in our demise. Zach then posed us with the question, what should we as Americans, being the largest burners of fossil fuels in the world, do?

The conversation that followed soon turned to one of effective international aid. How do we tell people in much more precarious socio-economic positions to do what we are infamously not doing, conserving our energy resources? Many of the group believed that the best option was to bring the skills, materials, and technologies necessary for sustainable development to the countries that needed them. Others in the group were also quick to remind us that this approach still relied on us to act as hypocrites, and that few would be willing to accept our help in such a situation.

 To solve this problem, it is important to keep the right perspective. We must not mistake countries’ need for basic human rights and services for a desire to buy into the American way of life. What the people of developing countries want are the benefits that come with our lifestyle; they are not seeking to be American, and trying to help them by assuming this is a mistake. The comprehensive solution lies in separating “development” from the way we were able to achieve it. However, as individuals, the solution is in our actions. How do we prove the GDP-fossil fuel assumption wrong? By being more efficient.
Zach left us by redirecting our focus to our own personal day-to-day decisions. One example was eating less meat! Until next time, this is Lucas Oswald. Reporting on Uncommon Dialogues aboard the RCS.

-Lucas Oswald

Sunday, May 26, 2013

20:30 Somewhere Between Washington and Fanning Island

            Dark red squid dart about the port side of the Bobby C with many eager scientists hoping to catch one on their elaborate jigs. This species, Stenoteuthis oualaniensis, is characterized by a large dorsal photophore. Chilled squid tubes, or motels we jokingly call them, are ready to receive these cephalopods for respirometry experiments. I currently have an 80 lb monofilament conventional fishing outfit down 200 ft with a glow stick and whole flying fish in the hopes of catching a swordfish, Xiphias gladius. Hove to in the middle of tropical Pacific, fishing and science go hand in hand.

            Earlier today the whole crew surprised me with ice cream cookie sandwiches for my birthday. Some prior scouting by Frido and Anja let Sayzie know exactly what type of cake I love. A beautiful hand drawn card with fish and all from Erin and signed by everyone really made me feel at home. I can’t thank everyone enough for making my day special, even though we couldn’t drive towards the birds hovering above hordes of yellowfin tuna near Washington Island.

Between the five weeks ashore and the two already passed at sea, I feel as if we are all part of a family. The love and support aboard the ship make the tough days nonexistent and the great ones even better. We are all so fortunate to go on this unbelievable journey to learn oceanography, ecology, and nautical science in the tropical Pacific. Yet, what I find myself most thankful for are the people around me who make this experience so unique and fun. While there is still much left to do on this trip that I am eagerly awaiting, I also am looking forward to spending time with all of my new friends next year.

Tomorrow morning we will arrive at Fanning Island of the Kiribati nation. More project work will be conducted and visits to land will be cherished. Walter and I will be fishing buddies for Fanning and Christmas, searching after fish of the flats and shallow reefs.  Bonefish, trevally, triggerfish, snapper, and sharks will be our primary targets and if we find any that are as big as those at Palmyra Atoll then a few world records may be in store. If we catch any solid fish they will one day be celebrated with the drink Chief Scientist Jan Witting and I have been designing called the Black Pearl, which is made unique by a pearl of frozen squid ink suspended in coconut rum. Until then we will be conducting more science, setting sail, and all becoming better friends.
-Martini Arostegui

P.S. – Love you Mom, Dad, Dani, Ali, and Rossi!!!!

MacGyver Science

            From the beautiful paradise of Palmyra to the enjoyment of sailing it is easy to forget we are on the Seamans for a reason – we are sailing for science. It is that extra motivation we all need to get up at late at night and set up for a station and it is that driving force behind every mile we jet past. Yet science on a boat, especially a sailboat, looks remarkably different from science on land.
            Stuffy white lab coats are frequently replaced by bathing suits, high tech tanks are constructed mainly of colorful zip-ties and luck, and doing hundred counts on the microscope is a full-contact sport. I hadn’t quite appreciated how well adapted I was to the moving lab space until we anchored in Palmyra and the world stopped moving. I sat down in the lab the first morning we were anchored and positioned myself as usual – petri dish taped in place, knees locked in a knee-bar (for all the non-climbers, picture entrapping your legs in such a way that it keeps you from rocking), one hand bracing the microscope keeping the eyepiece a safe distance from my face, and another hand poised ready to switch between dropper, forceps, and pencil at the turn of a dime. These precautions seem excessive at best but time at sea has taught me what it takes to keep the pteropods in the petri dish and not in my lap. This seemingly awkward position came naturally to me as I sat down at Palmya after 10 days of working with the motions of a moving ship.
            Yet as I sat and started working through my sample I realized my knees were not suffering their usual bruising, my hand could relax from the microscope without the instrument becoming an impalement hazard, and I could count my species with an ease I had never before experienced on the ship. While I might have been a bit more productive when I didn’t have to fight my microscope every roll, I would never give up the fun we have making science work (and occasionally not work) on a moving vessel.
            From masking tape, to zip ties, to using the roll of the ship to help swirl down for pteropods, MacGyver would be proud of the perseverance and creativity in the science lab. It’s not always pretty, and it’s definitely not always easy, but it is always fun.

Until next time – we continue to sail for science!

-Anja Brandon 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Soap? Who Needs Soap?

                I have not used soap in 6 days. In any other community, eluding a proper shower would liken us to untouchables of an old caste system or modern-day hippies letting nature’s smells take over. The main reason we can’t use soap during this port stop is that we’re not allowed to let any chemicals into the waters of the protected atoll. Any shampoo, conditioner, or body wash entering the delicate marine system would affect the ecosystem balance and potentially have a negative impact on the living organisms and nutrient flow. We also have to limit our allotted shower time because we can’t turn on the water-makers in this protected zone, so we won’t be able to produce freshwater until we’re back out at sea. As students of biology, earth sciences, and conservation, we completely understand this and obviously prioritize the health of the lagoon and reefs of Palmyra. However, under the scorching heat and penetrating humidity, we’ve all been yearning for a nice shower. Raised in a tropical island myself, I’m accustomed to taking several showers a day in this climate (my dad takes at least 6). Now the ship’s crew has transitioned from 60-second Navy showers to zero showers down below deck. Nonetheless, there’s a silver lining - we are able to take deck showers in our bathing suits on the forward deck, generously with saltwater and conservatively with freshwater. Though we can’t use soap, these showers are a real treat! I save this amazingly refreshing experience for the time right before I climb into my bunk to sleep, and treasure every drop of freshwater.
                Since I’ve been surveying coral reefs and running underwater transects for my project on coral disease ecology throughout most of my time in Palmyra, I was in the water more often than not anyway, so I didn’t start missing real showers until about the beginning of day 5. Plus all the minerals and nutrients in the ocean must surely provide a cleansing experience, right? The overall solution for most students has simply been to spend more and more time in the ocean – not a bad trade-off, especially when it means diving into the pristine, clean and clear waters of Palmyra.
                Before this trip I never would have thought I could survive for a week without soap. But it turns out it’s actually quite doable – especially if everybody smells the same. At some point in the trip our baseline for decent smells has collectively shifted, it’s all relative anyway. There’s all sorts of smells – food odors, trash smells, people – things pile up on the ship and we can’t just toss garbage overboard. Parents, relax, we do an excellent job of cleaning the boat everyday and these smells and contained. It’s just interesting to think about how nearly  everything is still on board… somewhere. Mildew has slowly been creeping  up on us and is now trying to take over. We also couldn’t do laundry within a 12 mile radius of Palmyra – but we’re underway now and soon enough we’ll be able to do both laundry AND take real showers! We’re even going to get to pump out the poop today after our first station stop. It’s going to be a great day.

                Though this whole situation might sound gross and grimy to anyone reading this blog from land, it’s totally fine out here at sea. In a way, the smells have brought us all closer, we’re all experiencing them together, battling them, and doing what needs to get done on the ship as we go. Superficial things like showers begin to seem meaningless when compared to the depth of our friendships, the significance of our scientific research, and the commitment to successfully sailing the Robert C. Seamans.

-Nicole Rodriguez

Highlights from Palmyra Atoll

A reef community in Palmyra atoll

For the past four days the Seamans has been anchored at Palmyra atoll and we have taken advantage of our time near land. Long hikes through dense Pasonia forests littered with Strawberry and Purple Hermit crabs with the occasional large land crab, snorkel transects on Penguin spit coral reef, rope swimming off palm trees into turquoise waters, and yes even venturing onto the internet. Atoll based project have taken off with flying colors. My research project comparing the change in herbivory and coral cover across the four islands has gone swimmingly. We finished three sites of transects on Penguin Spit coral reefs recording the abundance of reef herbivores, percent coral cover, and conducting focal fish follows recording the bite rates and amount of territorial behavior. Saying that the coral reefs were spectacular is an understatement. I have never seen a coral reef more vibrant with colors, large corals, and fish. Convict tangs schooled in the hundreds weaving between the heads of branching Acropora picking off the crustose and turf algae from the sea floor. Within seconds the school is bombarded with predators. Large iridescent blue fin trevallies dart into the fray trying to grab a late morning snack, snappers lurk from below the school waiting for the tangs to drop their guard, as a four foot black tip reef shark lingers over the school surveying the frenzy. As the school moves past, queen parrot fish the size of a small child begin to take the reef apart. You can almost hear the sounds of the corals screaming as their powerful beaks scrape the coral into rubble. Its any wonder how there is a reef even left intact. Beautiful red and green ruffled soft corals sway in the current surrounding a giant clam peering back into our masks with their dozens of eye spots. We watch in shear amazement as a hawkfish, as camouflaged as a ninja assassin, darts out of the coral to grab an unsuspecting damsel fish. Even as half the damsel fish is in the hawkfishes belly, it futilely tries to swim to safety, only to be swallowed whole with the next bite.

            Yesterday Martini and I went on an expeditin across the island to find the elusive coconut crabs. We assumed that these beasts which can reach a weight of 30 pounds a a length over over 3 feet would be quite easy to find, seeing as they make up a pecentage of the small atoll. However, despite our efforts of trekking through miles of palm forest we were foiled in our plans. However we did see a huge 7 pound Triton trigger fish, moray eels darting onto shore from 2 inches of water hunting damsel fish, the potatoe chip of the coral reef, and a black and white banded sea snake that darted into a layer of sea foam to never be seen again. In the afternoon I returned to the island to jump off the rope swing into the turqoius watrs of the swimming hole, collect cyanobacteria Lyngbia majescula for Jacob’s summer research, and begin a second expedition to the southwestern portion of Cooper and Strawn Islands. This time Frido, Anja, and Christina joined me in my mission in the afternoon tropical heat. We followed the trail to an abandoned movie theater with views of the whole island from the roof. We passed an abandoned WWII bunker as well but no coconut crabs insight. As we approached the end of the trail we found the endangered curlew and nesting red footed boobies hanging out around a marsh. The highlight of our expedition was hanging out with baby black tip reef sharks circling our knees before heading back to the Seamans. It was a great farewell.

-Zack Gold

Friday, May 24, 2013

Last night in Palmyra

We’ve spent an unforgettable four days at Palmyra Atoll. Between snorkeling, tagging manta rays, crushing coconuts, and swinging into the swimming hole, this is one of the first opportunities I’ve had to rest and reflect on my experiences here. A ship at anchor is very different from a ship at sea, not just in the ease of walking from your bunk to the galley without slamming into a wall, but also in the structure of our days and in our interactions with one another. Each morning and afternoon we sign-up for a “mission”, be it focal-following at Penguin Spit (keeping tabs on a single fish to observe its behavior for an extended period) or touring the lagoon with our ship’s Palmyra expert, Ana Guerra, one of our TAs. I had an incredible experience yesterday focal-following a blacktip reef shark, which wasn’t one of the study species, but I couldn’t resist. Observing one animal for more than just a quick glance provides insight into its ecology and behavior; you begin to develop an emotional attachment to your fish before too long! Back on the ship at night, we serve shorter watches, just two hours during the night with one shipmate, and this too has been an interesting way to experience the ship and to form closer relationships to some of the other students (I swear I’m not focal-following you, Jason!). It’s also great stargazing time – from here we can see both Polaris and the Southern Cross!

We were invited to dinner at the station last night by staff from The Nature Conservancy and US Fish and Wildlife, who now control the marine park. Katie, the resident steward (aka cook), and Sayzie, the amazing steward of the RCS, prepared ahi tuna steaks fresh caught by our tuna tagging team! After dinner, we said goodbye to our visiting scientists Joe, Elliott, and Kakani with a bonfire at North Beach. After a moonlit game of soccer, everyone gathered to sing “Leaving on a Jet Plane” along with a handful of ukuleles and guitars our crew’s musicians brought aboard. Their flight left today from the Palmyra landing strip, which was constructed during WWII when the atoll served as a Navy base. Each has provided wisdom and guidance to all of us (not to mention Joe’s amazing focaccia), and their ever-present smiles will be sorely missed.

Tomorrow morning we set sail for Fanning Island, and though we will miss those who have left the ship, we did manage to pick up a hitchhiker along the way: Professor Gilly, our squid expert! I’m sure his warmth and laughter will fill the void that we now feel so acutely.

-Caroline Ferguson

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Moonlight BBQ

We took the familiar steps up the doghouse staircase only to be greeted by a fresh torrential downpour to the face.  No need for a cup coffee, the thousands of drops that pellet you in face were a sufficient wake up.  The ITCZ had moved straight over us and with it came intense periods of wind and rain.  Despite the weather project groups still mustered and went out to the various corals, another group went to tour the lagoons and handful stepped onto land.  

As the moon the rose in the sky the real festivities began, a Palmyra bbq that would serve both as a celebration and farewell to friends.   When we say bbq of course we mean tropical bbq.  We did not have angus burgers but fish burgers,  no chips but instead sashimi soaked in a ginger soy sauce.    We sat and feasted together in the Palmyra galley with its roof giving everyone reprieve from the rain but as our bellies satiated the rain dissipated and we moved the bbq to North Shore.  With no rain in sight we built a bonfire furled with a combination of spare wood and coconut husks.

 As soon as people got settled and flames of the fire danced around the pit,  Walter Torres pulled out his soccer ball and soon the first ever Palmyra North Shore Soccer Game began.  The goal posts were sprouted coconuts and the boundaries were the ocean and a line that marked the high tide. Students  dribbled the ball dodging not only the opposing team but hermit crabs that littered the beach.   With only moonlight lighting the pitch the game went on for an hour with students rotating between the game and gazing into bonfire.

As the night was drawing to an end and moonlight futbol finished we all gathered together for some closing thoughts.  With the first leg over Its time for a few of our friends and mentors Joe, Elliot, and Kakani to say goodbye.  With the rays of the moon serving as pseudo spotlight loving goodbye and speeches were spoken.  Shortly afterwards with all musicians assembled Elliot and the others lead us in beautiful rendition of “I’m leaving on Jet Plane”  and the crackle of a dying  fire masked all of our own crackled voices as the reality of goodbye finally sank in.   

-Francisco Martinez

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

First Excursions on Palmyra

            While I’m jealous I didn’t get to be the one to yell “Land Ho,” I’m happy to be the one to share with you all about our first landfall and first excursions away from the ship.
            Last night, as we sat anchored in front of Cooper Island, bungalows and satellite dish in view, the antsy-ness was palpable. Walter wanted to run, Soda wanted to swim, and many others wanted their Wifi connection. After a good night’s sleep, we woke up to a rainbow over Penguin Spit, a popular project and snorkel site, shining a good omen for the day. And a good day it was.
            For those studying island-based projects, progress was made. Zack, Laura, and Erin laid six coral transects, Jason secured his hydrophone and is currently recording acoustic soundscapes of the reef, and John saw eleven manta in one day – the number of rays he hoped to see for the entirety of his project. On the ship, Frido processed blood, Anja caught up on pteropod swirls, and others continued to stand watch to ensure safety and security of the vessel. As for me and a few others, ahead on project work, taking a break from project work, or pretending we didn’t have project work at all – we went ashore. 
            Being ashore was surreal. I took a dip in the swimming hole, admired crab on North Beach, and after much inner conflict about whether or not I wanted to stay off the grid (because really, it’s only been eleven days), I indulged myself in a few minutes of email catch up. First of all, the swimming hole is the image of paradise. The weather is warm, the water is clear, and palm trees are rampant. Then, there was North Beach – a place where every pretty seashell was inhabited by crab, the sand lively with crustacean traffic.
However, even a paradise in the middle of nowhere still feels the long reaching fingers of civilization thousands of miles away. Washed ashore, we found plastic bottles – the kind I’m sure many of us have enjoyed a cold drink from on a hot summer day or served soda out of at birthday parties and barbecues. Thankfully though, the disruption in landscape was minimal. We only found and properly stowed six or so bottles, letting the sand caress our toes all the while.
           Not many people get to experience the beauty of Palmyra Atoll, but I hope that my blog and those written by others in the following days adequately share with you the splendor surrounding us as well as the importance of Palmyra’s presence. Once a naval base during World War II, transformed into a wildlife refuge since, Palmyra may be the closest example of a pristine coral reef ecosystem left on the planet. I’m excited to be here. Tomorrow, weather permitting, I will snorkel for the first time and I will see my first coral reef. Beacons of climate change, I’m excited to finally see the subject matter I’ve learned about in many a lecture. Wish me luck.

Penguin Spit awaits,
-Christina Morrisett

Team Manta

The ventral side of manta 11 (nicknamed “Manta V” because of its distinctive markings).

            Today was day 1 of Team Manta, and what a day it was. In total, we saw 11 manta rays. We were able to deploy acoustic tags on three of those rays and got video footage of 6 of them. Making all this manta spotting happen requires quite the production. We deployed in the ship’s rescue boat with a team of five: our chief scientist, our expert tagger TA, our bosun who piloted the boat, and two students. Once we arrived at the channel, all eyes turn to the water where every dark shape looks like a manta. To get an underwater view, we take turns hanging on to the side of the boat while snorkeling. Onboard, we have acoustic tags and GoPro cameras at the ready.
            “MANTA!” the shout goes up and we spring into action. GoPros start rolling, tags are passed over the side and everyone dives for the manta. We only have a few split seconds before the ray will disappear again into the murky waters. Confusion and coughing up seawater are common occurrences, but by the end of long hours of motoring back and forth along the channel, we had been wildly more successful than I had imagined we possibly could be on our very first day.
            Tomorrow, we will deploy acoustic receivers that detect the specific frequency emitted by the tags we deployed today. This will give us real-time data about manta movements through the channel. All of the mantas we observed today appeared to be transiting out of the channel, so I am especially curious about when the mantas enter the lagoon. We also plan to deploy more acoustic tags and continue to photograph the ventral (underside) of the manta. Like a whale’s tail, a manta’s ventral spots are individual to each ray so capturing footage of the bottom of mantas is helping researchers around the world to identify the mantas they see.
            We head out again bright and early tomorrow and then will have a few more manta spotting sessions before we depart Palmyra on Friday evening. Check out the pictures below for some stills from today’s Team Manta deployment!


Walter Torres from Palmyra

Palmyra Atoll is paradise. Offshore of Palmyra, wave crests break violently over the coral reef surrounding the island. These corals protect Palmyra’s serene inner lagoon by dissipating the furious energies of ocean waves and tides. This outer coral reef separates the unforgiving cobalt sea from the tranquil turquoise waters welcoming those entering the lagoon. Tall coconut trees loom out of the dense forest and cast dancing flowery shadows over white sand. Entering Palmyra Atoll was truly unforgettable.
            Now what? It turns out that science must press on and maintaining the ship doesn’t stop when the anchor hits the sea floor. We are still organized in watch squads that collectively are responsible for ship duties 24 hours of every day. Even in paradise we remain “eternally vigilant” as Captain Pamela Coughlin constantly urges us to do. We conduct half-hourly radar and anchor checks to make sure we remain in a fixed location and we strive to keep the boat in top condition. As assistant scientist Mitch Schrimpf says,”On the ship, cleanliness IS godliness”. The crew of the boat stays busy repairing the boat, updating and organizing nautical charts, and unloading the huge load of supplies we brought to the Palmyra station (this makes me think our voyage is a glorified UPS service). Our scientists toil away at the delicate chemistry involved in processing phosphate and nitrate samples gathered from our hydrocasts. As students, we are responsible for assisting our scientists and crew with these tasks on top of helping our wonderful cook Sayzie in the galley with preparing food.
            When not occupied with watch though, we have some truly awesome opportunities to explore Palmyra. Our crew operates small craft that take us on outings to land or snorkeling spots each morning and afternoon. Some of us help out with other student projects in the reef environment and some of us just go out for recreation. People have told tales of the awesome megafauna spotted in the reef including blacktip sharks, manta rays, and huge snappers (that if caught on rod and reel would be all-tackle world records according to our resident IGFA representative Martini. However The Nature Conservancy owns and protects Palmyra so no sport or commercial fishing is allowed). Land expeditions have also been thrilling and full of discovery. I went on one land expedition that witnessed one of the most bizarre animal interactions I have ever seen.
            Eels occupy nooks in the shallow reef environment and are generally ambush predators. Eels have small fins on a flexible undulating body, which aerodynamically and physiologically limits their proficiency at hunting in open water. Instead, eels coil up and blend in with the sand and coral and wait to devour unsuspecting prey swimming by. Or so we thought.
            The north shore of Palmyra is as ideal as a postcard and is only marred by ruins left by the U.S. naval base from World War II over which hordes of crabs now scuttle frantically. Our land expedition was passing one of these old navy bunkers when Nicole suddenly yelped and pointed at a 3-foot spotted moray eel slithering out of the water and onto the beach snaking its way directly for her. However the eel paid no mind to Nicole and instead lunged for an oblivious ghost crab catching some sun and seized it between its jaws. The eel proceeded to tie itself in a half hitch and used the torque to audibly crack the crab’s shell, sealing its fate. The eel then widened its jaws and swallowed the crab whole all on the white sand under the hot tropical sun. It then casually slithered back over the sand into the shallows without even glancing at the four of us documenting this remarkable event. Holy shit that was cool.

-Walter Torres

Rambling On with Lucas Oswald

I’m going to be rambling on for a little bit here, so don’t mind me! It’s something I’ve gotten quite good at here while sailing the seven seas, except this is a unique and rather sane opportunity for my ramblin’ as I actually have an audience. Normally, my ramblin’ takes place in the wee hours of the night under the star spangled midnight sky. I can always count on a good conversation with myself to keep myself wide-awake, alert to what may come on that horizon, and in good spirits!
And anyway, sometimes its not ramblin’ as much as just singing. I may have just not had a good opportunity to try it out before this, but as it turns out, singing is a fantastic way to entertain yourself while clipped into the bow of the ship on the long midnight look outs. Whether I’m squealing out in a disgraceful replication of Robert Plant,
“Hey-hey Mama, I said the way you move,
“Gonna make you SWEAT,
“Gonna make you GROOOOOVE!” soon followed by a copious amount of “Wah-wah-wah’s!” and “Duh-nuh-nuh’s!”
As if I weren’t already sweating enough out here. Or perhaps during my more desperate and shameless moments, wailing out to Neptune with a voice crackly,
“What if GOD was ONE OF USSSSSS!
“Just a FOOL like ONE OF USSSSSS!”
These episodes usually last as long as it takes for one of the daily miracles of life, beauty, or science to emerge and distract me from my singing, as they do frequently. Like, for instance, noticing that out in some special spots of the Pacific, stars shine not only from above but also from below, with bursts of neon bioluminescence trying as hard as they can to mirror the sprawling Milky Way from the depths. Or maybe that daily phenomenon is a new and mysterious creature pulled up from the blackness beneath us, now blobbing about indifferently in a jar of formalin.
Anyway, now for the important stuff. As part of our Marine Conservation class, we are each giving what we call  an Uncommon Dialogue, a talk hosted by the students on the deck of the ship as we traverse the worlds largest ocean. My own Uncommon Dialogue, however, will take place with you, our family and friends back home, as I will be reporting on the talks we have with occasional blog posts.
On our way down to Palmyra Atoll (a unbelievable place that certainly merits a later blog post of its own), our very own Evan Clark started us out with a fascinating talk about conservation from a planetary perspective.
Evan told us about one moment during the Apollo 9 space mission, during which an astronaut was given the opportunity to observe earth from afar for 5 minutes while he was alone, floating in space. During this time, the astronaut realized that the planet he was seeing beneath him was nothing less than a perfectly sustainable space ship, possibly the most successful one in existence. With this in mind, conservation is not only a social and scientific movement but also the maintenance of our very own global life support.
Evan then posed as interesting question. We as conservationists feel the responsibility to care for the life on our planet, but would we have that same responsibility to care for life if it were discovered on another planet? And what do the answers to this question tell us about our role as the stewards of life here on earth? How far do our responsibilities extend, and what gives us those responsibilities? After all, as Evan told us, it was a single photograph of the earth rising over the surface of the moon from afar that began the green movement.
Following Evan, Caroline Ferguson started us off on a conversation about the farming and manipulating of marine organisms, which spun quickly into a class wide debate on the potential, and also the limits, of aquaculture.
From the perspective of feeding the planet, aquaculture is a great accomplishment for the human race. But, as Caroline reminded us, the situation is not so simple. Aquaculture entails the confinement of fish to a small and usually enclosed area in contrast to the vast oceans they are evolved for and used to. The result is in an unhealthy buildup of byproducts and waste that pollute our waters to a dangerous degree. And the problems do not end there. Aquaculture comes hand in hand with selective breeding, where fish are chosen for their abilities to mature quickly, grow large, and also develop at a favorable feed to size ratio. What this means is that we are fundamentally changing the species we grow, and all this is aside from the so-called “Franken-Fish,” which are explicitly genetically modified salmon that are awaiting USDA approval.
So the question remains, how far can we take aquaculture? As more and more selectively bred fish escape into the wild each year, competing with the already depleted wild stocks and also potentially muddling their gene pool with unnaturally selected traits, the problem is growing exponentially and may soon get out of hand.
As we sail, each week will bring about a new round of uncommon dialogues, which I will do my best to summarize and bring to you via our blog here at sea. This is Lucas Oswald signing off, and until our next report, be sure keep an ear to the wind. Who knows, you may just hear me singing us down to Christmas Island. 
-Lucas Oswald

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Nicole's Arrival at Palmyra

This afternoon we sailed into Palmyra Atoll. At around 1500h, our standing bow-watch, Lucas, yelled ‘Land Ho!’ with excitement upon discerning the silhouette of the island. Standing on the tip of the bow, a group of us then gathered with binoculars to confirm that we did in fact see land ahead. We were subsequently guided into the magical atoll by flocks of gracious sea birds, and welcomed by energetic dolphins leaping in the water off the starboard side.

As we approached the pristine atoll, we began to see individual trees and several islets, surrounded by multi-tonal turquoise water, lush green vegetation, and wispy skies painting a picture with colors of brightness so high they cannot be captured through a camera lens. Students and staff swarmed to the forward deck to witness this moment, and for the quietest period of time I’ve ever experienced on the deck of the Robert C. Seamans, there was complete silence as we all gazed in awe at the surreal image forming in front of us. Palmyra had us all in a trance, a fixation that was only broken by the rush of students to the portside quarterdeck, where someone announced a sighting of manta rays as we were anchoring in front of the marine research station.

Approaching Palmyra was like entering a wild virgin land of a different era. We felt like true explorers encountering what seemed like a mirage in the middle of the Pacific after ten days of purely open seas.

This thirst for exploration is a unifying theme in our diverse group. In one way or another, we are all driven by a powerful curiosity to understand the world around us. Through scientific pursuits, and through individual reflection. This innate yearning for discovery is what brings people out to sea in the first place. We are participating in a fascinating marine research excursion and engaging in a riveting sailing adventure, but we are also on a transcendental journey of deep personal growth and life re-evaluation. Altering the baseline of reality has forced us to discover our truest self, unhindered by society, standards, work, or school – just the ship and the open ocean.

While the sea has helped us discover ourselves, we’ve also been discovering the complexities of the sea throughout our expedition. Students on the trip are all pursuing independent research projects to answer innovative questions about marine biology and oceanography, aiming to explain an aspect of the ocean they’re fervently passionate about. Guided by world-class scientists whose pursuits have also been driven by this same unquenchable desire for exploration, we’ve been exposed to different ways of viewing discovery. Discovery can involve evaluating a phenomenon through a different lens, finding out something completely new, encountering an unnamed species, or synthesizing data and attempting to make sense of the wonders of nature. We are mesmerized by the magnificence of our planet and use science to decipher its beautiful intricacies. Charles Darwin made his greatest discoveries regarding speciation on the voyage of the HMS Beagle when he was about 22-years-old.  There is something remarkable about this period in our lives, where vitality, open-mindedness, and the curiosity of youth perfectly merge with intellectual development, critical thought, and scientific exploration. Everyone on this ship exhibits this insatiable curiosity and I know great things are to come.

For me, arriving at Palmyra felt like I was on the brink of discovery, I was discovering a mystical new place and about to begin my exciting research project on coral reefs, where I’ll be delving into the largely unexplored field of coral disease ecology and trying to figure out how coral disease might be transmitted and propagated. Hopefully I’ll discover something new and shed some light on disease dynamics through my studies in this magnificent atoll just waiting to be explored. I am excited for all the discoveries we’ll make on our voyage, and am thrilled to continue this adventure with such a phenomenal group of young explorers!

-Nicole Rodriguez

Arrival at Palmyra

The Seamans closes in on Palmyra
Robert Seamans has arrived at Palmyra and the first leg has ended after 1000 nm- the weather is perfect, the scenery is grand and we're all looking forward to coral reef observing and exploring this island in paradise.

-Dr. Barbara Block

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Rob Carrera on the end of the Fist Leg

                As we leave the oxygen minimum zone behind us and the frenzy of hydrocasts and net tows along with it, everyone is looking ahead to Palmyra, which we should be greeting with a LAND HOY! sometime tomorrow evening. But today was also a time to look back on the southern open ocean leg of our voyage.
                We’ve been on the Seamans for nine days and have been sailing for eight, and we’ve come almost a thousand miles. Most of us came aboard knowing nothing about sailing, especially sailing on a tall ship. I think most of us, when we first looked up at the mess of lines and canvas that we were soon supposed to be able to operate by ourselves, had an “oh shit, there’s no way” kind of moment.
                Since then, we’ve not only learned all the sails and lines, but we’ve learned how to be efficient and (for the most part) punctual crewmembers (real deck monkeys), even when we need to be on deck and ready at 3am. We’ve also done a lot of science. Every one of us has classified hundreds of zooplankton, dragged the five hundred pound carousel out on deck and operated the winch that lowers it six hundred meters down into the ocean, found the biovolume of our net tows, and used our spectrophotometer to find the pH of our water samples. Martini and Robby caught a sailfish, a spearfish, a wahoo, and a skipjack tuna, from which we drew blood samples for Frido’s project (and the last two made excellent sashimi). Alessandra’s been busy dissecting these big catches, and we’ve captured lots of smaller but still awesome creatures, like salps, nudibranchs, and a weird, transparent fish with a black center that our professors couldn’t identify, and which may be a new species.
                Today, knowing that we were past most of the science deployments, was one of the most relaxed days I’ve had so far. Some of the crew played their ukuleles and sang the Weight, Wagon Wheel and, just for kicks, Puff the Magic Dragon. Some people hung up their laundry and just chilled on deck. I stood bow watch and got some pretty nice pictures of our full stack of sails (course, topsail, and raffee), which we set for the first time today. It was definitely a good way to end this first oceanic portion of the trip.
                 The past week has been full of hard work, sleep deprivation, and general craziness, but it is most definitely a week that we can be proud of. Tomorrow, we’ll arrive at Palmyra a little saltier and with some very real experience under our sailorly belts. Even better, we can expect a whole new set of experiences after landfall that will be just as alien (at least for me) as the past week on the Seamans.
-Rob Carrera

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Laura Crews on Watch Duty

Our primary job onboard is standing watch. The Robert C. Seamans uses the modified Swedish watch system to divide our days into five blocks of time. The two daytime watches are six hours long, and the three night watches are four hours long. Students, mates, and assistant scientists are divided into three teams, allowing each team to rotate through all five watches every three days. The watch system takes some getting used to. As around half our work is completed during hours of darkness, the division between night and day has lost much of its importance. We eat, sleep, and work at all hours. Captain Pamela said she feels that each “day” ends up taking 72 hours, the time needed to rotate through all watch times. This means that the days run together into a patchwork of darkness, dawn, high noon, and evenings playing music on the quarterdeck.
                This unique schedule also means that our watch groups are the nuclear families of the larger shipboard community. Though we have an all-hands meeting for afternoon class each day, it is sometimes difficult to interact with members of other watches. This division leads to friendly competition between watch groups, and watches were put to the test by this afternoon’s “line chase”.
                On a ship, ropes that do work are called lines. The Seamans has lines for lifting sails and handling sails, controlling sampling nets, and raising and lowering the small skiffs. In total, there are 83 lines on the boat! The line chase pitted watches against each other in a relay race to identify lines.
                The line chase began with the three watches lined up on the back deck. The first member of each watch was handed an index card with the name of a line, and then other members of the team were allowed to call “warmer” and “colder” to help guide their teammate to the correct line. Once the line was identified, the student walked back to tag off their next teammate. Running was not allowed for safety’s sake, and racers caught running were required to crab walk all the way back to the team members. The deck of line cards also contained a few wild cards. In one instance, the card mandated that the student tell a pickup line to someone in order to identify the correct line. The game ended when a member of B watch (my watch!) received a card ordering “congo line”, at which the students danced around the ship in victory.
While memorizing the location and function of all 83 lines was arduous, it will enable us to better function as a team of sailors. We do not use lights on deck at night, so it’s critical that we can quickly and unthinkingly find lines. The better we know our lines, the more readily we can take down sails in a wind gust or storm. Our ability to effectively manage sails will give Captain Pamela the confidence to set more sails, allowing us to sail faster. For now, we’ll continue our way south, with an anticipated arrival at Palmyra Atoll on Monday evening.

     -Laura Crews

Friday, May 17, 2013

Experiments are Under Way!

The Stanford@SEA 2013 Cruise has travelled over 600 nm due south of Hawaii on our way to the Line Islands with a first stop at Palmyra Atoll. Sailing has been superb as Force 5 winds have pushed us hard to the south. We have a remarkable group of student/sailors on board and the energy, enthusiasm and creativity is overflowing on the decks of the Robert Seamans. The Scientific and professional sailing staff have been amazed at this year's Stanford class, and together with the  Professors and visiting scientists they are carrying out an ambitious oceanographic sampling plan that includes two stations a day with CTDs, two net tows and a variety of other sampling gear in the water. 

Evan and Nicole learning to take the first fixes at sea

We’re measuring pC02 with a set up Dr. Rob Dunbar has provided, and examining the distribution of animal sentinels such as pteropods, examining their biodiversity and distribution. This species which is a critical member of the pelagic food chain is important as an indicator species for environmental change. We did a fantastic eddy project early on as we hit a anticylonic eddy south of Hawaii and captured wonderful data that Walter Torres will use in his project, Kakani Young’s team a Woods Hole Oceanographic visiting investigator has been able to image particles around a variety of critters- despite all odds (imagine a moving ship hurling up and down) and sophisticated imagery capturing how small invertebrates and vertebrates move abounds despite the circumstances.

Laura, Alexis, Brian and Walter enjoying a great afternoon of sailing

Other projects include sampling the blood, stomach contents and biomechanics of fish brought on board (spearfish, mahi and a wahoo so far), and now we’re moving into the focus on the OML. Nightly squid jigging has produced a few successes but we are currently in the low productivity area of our track. Currently a lot of emphasis is on the rapidly shoaling oxycline and the interest in the oxygen minimum zone of the central Pacific. A series of 4 daily stations over the next few days will help us discern the relationship between the physical oceanography and the biology. 

Mystery fish caught in an evening tow - may be an angler of some sort

The big news is this cool new fish we found- we don’t know what it is- it seems to be somewhat like an Angler fish, but then I think maybe a baby Opah! But none of us on board know what it is!  Just another day aboard the Bobby C!

-Chief Scientist Barbara Block

In the Galley with John Butterfield

So many things are different when your home moves at 6 knots powered only by the wind. Little things that you don’t think about. Like food. On our third day at sea, I was assigned the job of assistant steward. The steward is the name for the person assigned to craft 3 meals and 3 snacks for 40 people, every single day of our voyage. It’s quite the task. Each day, one student is excused from standing watch and helps out in the galley instead. (It’s not a kitchen on a boat... it’s a galley.)

Sayzie and Erin in the galley with the latest lunch creation

            During the summers, I work at a science camp for 9-12 year olds, and one week per summer, each staff member helps out in the kitchen. When I showed up in the galley that third day of our voyage, I was transported right back to the summer camp kitchen, with a few notable exceptions. First, the menu. Ship lunch that day was lettuce wraps filled with Pho noodles that had been mixed with carrots, peppers, broccoli and sweet chili sauce. Dinner was fried rice with a side of bacon and onion grilled brussell sprouts. Our campers would have taken one look and run screaming the other way...

Jason is our resident model

            The second major difference was that at summer camp, when you go to chop something, it stands still. Not so on the Robert Seamans. I had the exciting task of chopping the onions for our brussell sprouts dish. First, I got to find the onions. We call it going to the grocery store because I took a plastic grocery bag and climbed up on deck. Then I made my way forward to a box stuffed between one of our life rafts and the science winch where I found crates of red and yellow onions and potatoes. Food storage is a big problem for us right now with just under 4 weeks left onboard. The refrigerator (called the “reefer” onboard) is so full that we have to contort ourselves into very strange positions to reach lettuce in the back, and we have no room for fruit so there are strings of pineapples and hammocks of oranges and limes all over the deck.
            Once I successfully made it back to the galley with the onions, I got my cutting board and knife ready and then had to corral the onions while the boat pitched back and forth. This situation was complicated by the fact that after the first cut, my eyes were watering profusely, and the onions and the cutting board continued to slide back and forth on the countertop. Plus, I had to keep myself from falling over when we ran into particularly violent swells.
            The pitch of the boat complicates cooking in ways I had never imagined. Our steward, Sayzie, explained that it’s almost impossible to cook anything in a normal cake pan. As the boat heels, all the batter runs to one side and you end up with burnt crust on the windward side and raw dough on the leeward side. So instead, we often use cupcake pans. Much better for cooking brownies, much harder to clean, as our B-Watch dish crew will tell you.

Erin catches up on some reading for our Marine Conservation class

            Overall, I really enjoyed my day in the galley. It was a great way to get an inside scoop on how our food gets prepared. And it gave me a day to rest the blister I got from hauling on sail lines the day before. We are now four days from Palmyra Atoll and quite a few of us are pretty excited to finally get in the water, rather than just looking at it all the time. Look out for my next blog in a few weeks to hear about how the manta ray tagging project goes when we do make it to the atoll.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Christina Morrisett Shares Her Thoughts

            On the first day of the shore component of the program, all squished and seated around a table in a virtually windowless room, we were told not to fall in love with one another. We were told to create communal relationships rather than exclusive ones, to shy away from cliques and romance, to participate in the shipboard community. And yet, despite all these exhortations, I think I may be falling in love. Of course, this love is obvious, unsurprising, and basically expected by those left ashore. It’s a love for solitude from society, a love for being beneath the unadulterated night sky, a love for sailing, a love for sea, a love for introspection and reevaluating me.

            When I stand as lookout at the bow, I usually start off the night singing sea shanties – or rather, the two verses of the one sea shanty I know. Singing soon dissolves to humming, humming into thinking, and then thinking into being. When it’s just me, the horizon, the pitch of the ship, and the fog of the Milky Way, I am able to escape from the inner noise and simply exist. As a rather gregarious person who many can attest rarely stops talking, it’s strange for me to be comfortable with such silence and solitude. But I am - and I’m loving it. I’m loving being both with myself and outside myself. I’m loving being with the sea. I’m loving what I’m learning and the more I learn, the more I love what I’m studying.

To my older sister Cynthia, Happy Wedding Day. I apologize for not being able to share in this moment with you, but thank you for understanding and wishing me well. I’ll be chasing love while you dedicate yourself to it, but know that I love you, miss you, and hope today went swimmingly.


Erin Dillon Reflects on the First Week

It’s been a whirlwind first week aboard the Robert C. Seamans. For me, it’s been one of mental and physical adaptation. Living on a sailboat is no less of an “abroad” experience than visiting a foreign country – and it’s perhaps more challenging. In addition to adjusting to the culture and lifestyle aboard the ship and learning a new language (I’m sure “Make fast the Fish Peak Halyard” doesn’t mean much to most folks), there’s the physical and psychological strain of our erratic sleep schedule and the ongoing work to keep the ship in tip top shape. And all of this is occurring while the ship is rocking from side to side, which makes even the simplest of activities exceedingly more difficult. There’s never a dull moment! For example, our first dinner on the gimbaled tables was outright terrifying. I kept thinking the squash soup was going to slide right off the table, but we all survived and the soles remained clean. These challenges have made each day a rewarding learning experience. From learning the lines to helping deploy the hydrocasts and meter nets, our teamwork has gotten us far – in terms of distance travelled, accomplishing our research objectives, and getting to know each other even better.

Bizarre mesopelagic fish

Getting the opportunity to actually participate in some of the oceanography that I’d previously only heard about in lectures and textbooks has been incredible, particularly when it has culminated in new discoveries. Last night, the meter tow we deployed captured a bizarre and potentially undescribed fish from the mesopelagic zone. It was amazing to think that I was possibly one of the first people to ever observe this species. Just gazing out over the vastness of the ocean while off watch has brought to mind the infinite number of unknowns and a sense of how truly immense this environment is, a self-evident truth that has never really sunk in until now. Our oceanographic deployments are only scratching the surface, and there is always more to learn. This has made the science side of the trip extremely exciting, since we’re at the forefront of beginning to understand how the physical environment contributes to its biology. I’m also looking forward to reaching Palmyra, where I can begin work on my own research project. While I’ve travelled to the atoll before as a research assistant, seeing its silhouette rising over the horizon while sailing will be an entirely new experience. So far, this trip has been an onslaught of new skills to be learned and adventures to be had, and I’m loving every moment!

-Erin Dillon

Felicia just off watch

I just got off watch to report that it’s been another exciting day on the Bobby C!  Chock full of new challenges to conquer and lessons to learn.

We tangled with a couple of light squalls today, but it has otherwise been picture perfect.  A great morning to be on bow watch, we crossed paths with many schools of flying fish that made for a great spectacle.

A few highlights from class today: A loverly science presentation from C watch (Walter, Soda, and Martini representing).  They discussed the observation based on current profile data that we have been generating with onboard ADCP that we passed through an anticyclonic eddy over the last day and a half.  For those who don’t know, anticyclonic eddies cause downwelling, which is bad for supporting life, but good for keeping our physical oceanographers happy.  And it looks like the temperature profile data we’re generating corroborates with this downwelling story, as the thermocline appears to have lowered while we’ve been inside the eddy.  Another effect of the eddy is that it has slowed forward progress to Palmyra.  In that vein, we ended class with a hands-on lesson in line and sail handling with the thought that picking up the crew’s efficiency will help get us to the Line Islands on schedule.

Something that I’ve been thinking about quite a bit since we got off the dock last Friday is that this cruise is a wonderfully rare opportunity to live in a near approximation of a closed system.  With few exceptions, while out at sea we are limited to what we bring out with us, heightening awareness of personal consumption.  More interesting still, we’re in the middle of a fabulous social experiment.  For these few weeks, we are 40 individuals who have unified together in a common journey for biological research and self-growth.  Packed like sardines, we trust our lives in the hands of one another.  We are living in a shrunken world, where cause and effect become clearer and it’s impossible to ignore the consequences of our actions.  It’s a chance to trust in the kindness of others and show it in return… and to test that kindness and patience with little sleep, a busy schedule, and competing interests.

Thankfully, I find myself sailing with 39 kind, interesting, and wonderful people that I am lucky to share this opportunity with.  I can’t wait to get to know everyone better and am excited to see how this community develops and flourishes!

Even though time is beginning to seem nebulous, I think it’s about time for me to sign off and get some shut eye.