We Do What We Do
by Brad Evans
We spent the night at the anchorage to the west of Pearl and Hermes Atoll that we had weighed in at on our first night. The sky was clear last night but since we weren't well as protected from an early season north swell as the night before, our sleep was a bit more bumpy than previous ones. Sunrise was clear and Rex got out of the stateroom that we share to snag his first footage of the new day.
Because of the large swell, the diving today was murky and most of the divers came back without their usual fish stories. Monte Costa went out with the Ground Truthing team on another long reconnaissance of the Pearl and Hermes lagoon. On her way back to the Rapture, she saw the breakers on the north side from afar and estimated the size of the sets at 15 feet - don't know how long the swell will take to hit O'ahu, maybe late Thursday, but the winter waves are certainly arriving here.
Now that we have posted nearly three weeks of news releases, daily journals, photos and other things from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands NOWRAMP Expedition, I thought it was a good time to give you an idea of how the system works. Since this is a scientific expedition, there is no shortage of cool technological toys on the Rapture - computers, digital video cameras, sedimentology equipment, video monitors, CD-ROM burners, and the list goes on. The stuff is expensive and very specifically tailored to the jobs that the scientists do.
The equipment that we brought as part of the Media and Education team is also pricey and specialized. Monte and Rex, a still photographer and a videographer respectively, brought sealed waterproof buckets full of cameras, underwater housings, film, tape, batteries, rechargers, scuba and snorkel gear. All so that they can follow the researchers as they work and document the progress of the expedition. Rex has been aboard Rapture since Saturday (like me) and already has hours of footage. Monte has had a one week head start on Rex, visiting Kure Atoll before the Rapture began heading back towards Honolulu. She estimates that she's shot at least 2000 pictures in the past 10 days.
The writing of news releases and daily updates fall to Aulani and me (before I joined the expedition, Dennis, Guy and Mary took their turns at the Daily Journal). We brought three laptops to write our stories and two small digital cameras to snap quick shots to mail back to the Bishop Museum where Lowell publishes them on the website ; ) Aulani sits in on the planning meetings that the scientists hold each night to get ready for the next days dives. We try to figure out where we can fit into the small boats that are packed with scuba equipment, measuring equipment, and divers.
At the end of each day Aulani and I try to get an idea of what has gone on with all of the 20 or so researchers, divers, crew, and documenters and sit down at our laptops to compose stories to send home. When we are finished with our stories and have decided which of the digital photos to send along, we queue them all up as e-mails. Connected to our computers is a satellite phone, which is in turn connected to a specialized marine antenna.
The antenna is mounted on the top deck of the Rapture above our cabin. We keep a close eye on the computer screen as the e-mails are transferred into the airwaves - sometimes the antenna loses contact with the phone or the server on the other end isn't happy with something. The connection is expensive so we need to make sure that the data is transferring smoothly. The modem connection in the satellite phone is very slow - only 2400 baud. To put that in perspective, most home modems are at least 10 times as fast. Since the connection is so slow, some pictures can take more than 5 minutes to send and at $3 per minute we need to be choosy.
Some days we use the phone to call people directly. We have made a number of calls to schools, radio and television stations in the past three weeks. Sometimes we answer questions from elementary school kids, other times from experienced journalists. Regardless of the audience, the calls help to remind us about the importance of scientific expeditions like this in informing the public about resource management issues, but also the deep, heartfelt curiousity that so many people feel about the natural world.
So as we sit in the cabin tonight finishing up our stories as it nears midnight, the nearly full moon rises over the lagoon and the waves seem to have settled down a little. Despite the murky conditions today, Duane, an invertebrate specialist, found a couple of striking mollusks, and one Rapid Assessment Team rescued a 24 inch lobster from a net that had become some of the thousands of pounds of debris that has washed up on the reef here at Pearl and Hermes Atoll. Tommorow we will have our last visit to the lagoon at Pearl and Hermes and plan to spend the morning snorkeling. At least one team will investigate the effects on the reef ecosystem of the wreck of the Swordman I, a fishing boat, that ran aground at the northeast side of the atoll early last June.
Those Amazing Researchers!
All right, here's the low down for today. Right now it's evening and we're motoring to a new anchorage on the other side of the atoll under a nearly full moon. We, the sediment team, spent the entire day out in the lagoon. The ride from the Rapture through the opening in the fringing reef this morning was like riding in a huge washing machine. It took forever so instead of returning for lunch we just stayed out and finished up our sampling sites. We brought along Monte with us today. She's one of the photographers documenting this cruise. We stopped at a couple of the more interesting sections of reef in the western end of the lagoon for her to get some shots. We had a terrific snorkel along this amazing ledge with loads of fish. I saw the largest lobster I've ever seen. He was the size of a housecat. Our dear sweet friends the trevalleys (ulua in Hawaii) showed up to. As a result, our bliss was tainted, but what are ya gonna do.
I wanted to write a piece about all the different groups of researchers we have on board but I'm so sun baked I don't think I'll do it justice. I did use sunscreen. I was just up on the very top deck enjoying the view with Yuko.
She's from Japan, went to school in Hawaii, and she and her husband our both scientists working on the ship. She lives in Oahu and has spent the last several months living on Midway so she was a big asset when we were surveying the reefs there. She's really sweet and has been helping me with my Japanese. Right now I'm trying to explain to my co-worker Michelle (nickname Queenie) the difference between a pompano and permit. Man, what a rookie!
The cooks, Troy and Brian from Pensacola, made stir-fried chicken for dinner. Those two guys are hilarious. Between 'em they've got more stories about more places than the rest of us put together. They're unfailingly cheerful, which helps on long trips like this one.
Well, it's been a long trip but the days have gone by nicely. I've only been on since the first stop at Midway so I can imagine that some of the others might be getting' a teensy bit antsy. The nurse said she woke up this morning and did the "8 days to go" dance. She's been frustrated in an odd way since everybody's been in good shape, except for a few small cases of seasickness.
We're heading into our final week out here in the trackless blue Pacific. We all miss our families and friends and it's especially difficult since we can't contact them but the amount of information that's being gathered and the importance of the work, not to mention the sheer adventure of it all, makes it worth while. I would like to take this opportunity to give a "shout out" to my peeps: Hippie, Ruby, Tasty, Kid, Munky, Floaty, Shorty, POD, Bunny, Hugey, Boz, Shaznay, LutherX, Hot, Dayg, Peat, Super, Shania, Z, H Trish, DDT, Stanhalford, Roseco, and last but not least, Taum. Queenie and I'll be home soon! Aloha and goodnight from Pearl and Hermes atoll.
Tomorrow's Installment: Shootin' the Curl!
Pearl and Hermes Atoll
The job of the expedition nurse is to be ready--just in case something happens. The busiest part of my job was getting ready to be on the boat. I worked with Dr. Robert Overloch, the Medical Safety Officer for University of Hawaii, to write standing orders for procedures that usually require medical supervision. I got a quick update on marine medicine, being able to differentiate a number of ear problems, learning how to neutralize coral nematocysts, and completing an in-depth review of decompression sickness (the bends). I spent two days observing in the Emergency Department at Oregon Health Sciences University to brush up on some not-so-basic first aide skills: how to explore a wound for a foreign body (I can get out sea urchin spines so wounds won't fester) and putting in stitches (theulua are huge and curious).
So far, I've been gleefully underutilized, watching everyone else go out to dive, collect sediment, or explore the sand islands. They come back to the boat with tales (and videos) of circling sharks and swarming ants (but no injuries). OK, two folks have had ear infections and there have been a couple nasty coral cuts. Erica woke me up at 1:30 to take sand out of her upper eyelid. I briefly saw myself standing next to her eye with a poised Q-tip on a boat that rocks (she's fine). I've mostly had run of the mill nursing duties--fingers slammed in the heavy metal doors, shins scraped getting out of the small boats, and erosions from fins worn too many hours (moleskin works well for padding and stays on better than duck tape). Ginger tea does wonders for sea sickness. Shore leave on Midway Atoll has provided me the most business with bike crashes and volleyball strains.
I've picked up a few sailoring skills along the way--I can braid line back on itself (called eye-splicing) and fill scuba tanks. I spend more time on the boat than most of the other folks--and was here when the anchor broke off and we drifted too close to the margin reef (and I was also here when the tow-boarders spotted the anchor chain in 108 feet of water and when the divers attached a rescue line to the anchor and when the anchor got lifted out with the crane). I've seen lots of dolphins and an amazing assortment of sunrises and sunsets, including the green flash!
The deckhands and I escaped one lunch for a snorkel trip in French Frigate Shoals (everyone else was on the boat and weren't expected to get hurt). We saw lots of colorful fish darting in and out of pukas in the reef. The real treat was watching four huge manta rays, each more than seven feet across, moving in slow figure eights as they fed on plankton. Just elegant! This is why I've come on the trip.
And I'm still ready for shipboard emergencies.