|Sea turtle photo by Heidi Hirsch|
As the constellations faded away among rose-tinged cumulus clouds this morning, we saw it. Caroline Atoll, Millennium Atoll, Karorina—whatever you call it, the tiny atoll is a top contender for being the most pristine and remote place on earth. I watched the ship approach it from halfway up the foremast, and could see several dense green strips of land embroidered by sand. It could have been a postcard for a tropical getaway—except there are no people on Caroline. On the open sea a gathering of more than a few seabirds at a time was a spectacle, but boobies, turns, frigatebirds, and others fly above Caroline Atoll by the hundreds.
It took us several hours to anchor, because the sea floor drops off so steeply. We finally made a temporary anchorage close to the reef, and a group of students working on reef-related research projects were the first to enter the water. The reef here is a snorkeler’s paradise. The coral crackles a loud symphony below the surface, and covers almost every inch of the bottom. Sharks and fish are everywhere. A few later groups saw large yellowfin tuna, others saw turtles. Some fish and other animals we saw are larger than our smallest student. Even the professors were amazed. This reef makes Tahiti and Rangiroa look bland by comparison.
Everybody on the ship got 30-50 minutes in the water, but the presence of one the world’s most isolated coral reefs is not enough to stop the day-to-day running of the ship. Most of us are at the point where can set and strike sails without a mate supervising. The togetherness of our 38-person universe coalesces more each day. If I don’t know a knot or seaman’s term, I can count on my fellow students to help me (B watch!) Phrases like “Haul away fisherman halyard” or “Get the pig blanket from the wet lab” make perfect sense to us by now. Everyone has acted as somebody’s alarm clock, everyone has squeegeed the sole (floor), everyone has become familiar with the engine room’s many gauges and valves, and everyone knows how to deploy a net 600 meters below the ocean’s surface. It has been five days since I’ve seen any sign of human life outside the ship, aside from occasional satellites at night. We count on each other because we have to, but also because we’re coming to trust each other and our own abilities more each day.
Hoping all is well back home,