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.