And the hits just keep on coming from the Phoenix Islands ...

We're here at W-PIPA playing the expedition hits. Coming up soon, we'll play the "best of" expedition highlights (don't change that channel!), including the "top 10 greatest hits." But in the meantime, a word from our in-the-field news correspondent (me) during our Fijian interlude.

It's another bright and sunny day here in Nadi (pronounced Nandi) in Fiji. Expedition members are slowly adjusting to land--experiencing various levels of "dock rock" and trying to find their land legs again.

Immediately upon arrival at our hotel, meetings began with International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) representatives to discuss our candid impressions of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, which has been nominated as a World Heritage Site. After a day of productive meetings, we had a wrap-up dinner at The Corner Cafe for some Indian Food. That was the last time the team met as a whole, but the hits just keep on coming. Field correspondents David, Tuake, and Tukabu headed off to Tarawa (back in Kiribati) to present our 30-page field report to the Kiribati Fisheries department and other government officials. The rest of us have another day in Fiji to unwind, analyze more data, update our blogs and, dare I say it, relax (shhh!) for a few moments before our hectic inter-continental travels.

In other important news, expedition members got their first glimpse at this blog, and were shocked that a) our almost-equatorial Central Pacific ramblings were semi-coherent, and that b) so many different things happened on this trip. Experiencing it was a whirlwind; re-reading the events feels like a dream.

Les Kaufman gets his first glimpse at this PIPA expedition blog (Photo: R. Rotjan)

A dream-like reminder of our trip--looking through previous expedition photos, we realize that we've had similar experiences, and seen most of the same critters. It's like seeing your own experience through someone else's eyes.


As we review the blog, organize our photos and compile our science for publication, we'll publish the top 10 greatest hits right here on this blog--the world premiere of all things PIPA Expedition 2009. We'll also be updating previous blog posts with new photos, so be sure to check back!

Don't change that channel, the expedition "top 10" will be coming right up.

We'll be right back!



Vinaka vakelevu, NAI'A!

Bula! (Hello in Fijian) It seems like it was only yesterday that we said "Bula!" to the NAI'A. It's strange to think that today we said goodbye.

This has been an incredible expedition. We've written a lot about the science, but the people are also deserving of mention. Without a doubt, this was an unusually smooth mix of personalities. Everyone (team and crew alike) worked extremely hard, and developed deep mutual respect and admiration for each other. With so many different expedition missions, and so many boat-related details, it's a miracle that so much was accomplished, with so much harmony.

The entire 2009 expedition team - Photo by Nai'a Captain Johnathan Smith. From left to right: David Obura, Rob Barrel, Jeff Wildermuth, Greg Stone, Alan Dynner, Randi Rotjan, Les Kaufman, Brian Skerry, Jim Stringer, Craig Cook, Tuake Teema, Kate Madin, Larry Madin, and Stuart Sandin. Absent: Tukabu Teroroko.

Let me paint a picture for you. We were on a pretty small boat, with very few (if any) opportunities to get a moment alone. We shared our lives with ~30 people (expedition members + crew), with little/no contact with friends and family. Truly, despite all of the blogging, email was a rarity and phone an impossibility in the remote Phoenix Islands. Contact was limited to short blog and photo uplinks (readers, I'm just letting you know how important you are!).

At any rate, we had to eat, sleep, and work together in a very small space for a pretty long time. We survived rough seas with respect (if not dignity), and learned to help each other with the intellectual and physical challenges of long field days. No yelling, no screaming, no drama. In fact, as if to celebrate our ship-zen, the seas became glassy calm and we were treated to a beautiful last sunset onboard with a Fijian mountain backdrop.

Glassy, flat calm seas (Photo: Greg Stone) and Fijian sunset (Photo: Randi Rotjan)

Let me introduce you to some of onboard characters and give you a glimpse into our last night. A warm vinaka vakelevu (thank you in Fijian) to the NAI'A staff for all of their help, support, music, and friendship. You helped to make this expedition extraordinary.

Captain Johnathan - getting ready to help us with our customs paperwork (Photo: Randi Rotjan)

YUM! Some incredible food came from this tiny galley. Wally is demonstrating... (Photo: Randi Rotjan)

A toast by Greg Stone; a song from the Crew. (Photos: Randi Rotjan)

In Fiji and Kiribati (and elsewhere), it is customary to celebrate good times with Kava. Kava root is an ancient crop of the western Pacific, and the NAI'A crew treated us to a Kava sing-along party our last night. Kava drink is prepared in a bowl (shown below), and served in coconut shells.

Kava preparation (left); "fish guys" (right) celebrate their successful data collection with some Kava and some fish tales.

Nataune ni gunuyaqona? (Is it Kava time?)

The Kava party in full swing. A special thanks to Moe! (Photos: Randi Rotjan and Greg Stone)

Rabbit ears, and cheers! Everyone had a moment to relax the last night on the NAI'A.

All packed up, no one wanted to leave the NAI'A.

Ni Sa Moce, NAI'A! we'll see you again soon!

However, our story is not yet done. Stay tuned for our brief Fijian adventures, our travels home, and our trip reflections. Because, it ain't over 'til it's over.


Bookends, Burritos, and Blogs - Wrapping up the Phoenix Islands

It's official--we are sailing back to Fiji--another long 5.5 day voyage. It's interesting to have our time on/in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area bookended by long sea voyages. Though our trip out was extremely rough (20 ft seas at times!), this time I'm happy to report that the seas are relatively calm, the mood is cheerful, and seasickness is but a distant, 3-week old memory. With all of this good luck, what are we doing with our time?

Believe it or not, we're still working. In between a few moments of sunset-watching and toasting, we've all been busy entering and analyzing our data, writing first drafts of a report (to be submitted to the Kiribati government, among others), and talking about the details of our experience--just trying to absorb it all and figure out what our main findings were, and what we'd like to pursue next time. In other words, we're trying to wrap this trip up (hence the burrito).

So, where are we so far? My colleagues and I have been discussing the remarkable fish density and biomass, the encouraging signs of new coral recruits and juveniles, and the importance of local versus global effects as we've been blogging about all along (David just posted his wrap-up). But here's an additional thought: the Phoenix Islands are a living laboratory, a place where we can study ecological, behavioral, and physiological processes on reefs and among reef organisms in their natural context. In other words, this is a place to study nature where nature still (mostly) calls the shots, instead of a place where humans (mostly) call the shots.

Here's some filling for that burrito: how many places are there left in the world where nature (mostly) calls the shots, and is it too late to save them? I remain optimistic that the fate of the world's coral reefs is not yet sealed. We've seen remarkable re-growth, both swift and systematic, that fuels my optimism.

A quick diversion: HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Brian Skerry and Kate Madin!

As we approach Fiji (we'll be arriving in port tomorrow morning), this blog will take on a new dimension. Thus far, we've been posting in real-time, giving you our thoughts as we have them. However, thoughts improve with time. As our ideas simmer, sizzle, and grow, we'll be sure to give you our refined view of the trip. The trip has been bookended, but we are left with a lot of possible burrito fillings and toppings ... and we'll continue to think about how to wrap it all up... here on this blog.



Coming Together To Protect Our Oceans: PIPA's "Sister Site" Agreement

We are now only one day from Fiji. All the diving tanks of compressed air are empty, the wetsuits, which had remained continuously wet during our whirlwind dives, are now dry; the cuts, sores and bruises on everyone's legs and arms, inevitable on a trip like this, are healing; keys are tapping on computer and boxes of gear are beginning to refill. As I sit here in NAI'A's salon typing this entry, I am swung up and down--like a the carnival rides I remember as a child (my stomach pausing a little behind the rest of me on each end of the swing), holding the table with one hand to steady myself against the large gentle swells of the South Pacific pushing along our starboard side in the rhythm of the sea.

Tukabu Teroroko and Greg Stone (Photo: Brian Skerry)

The transit back from PIPA has been much calmer than the outbound trip, but still there are waves and swell making meals an event where bowls are carefully passed out from the galley rather than sit down meals. But everyone has their sea legs now and no one is "green" and sick, moaning in their bunks, which was the condition of several members on the outbound.

NAI'A near Orona Island (Photo: Greg Stone)

Now all are hearty, seasoned sailor-diver-scientists. Now, each day is filled with us all analyzing data, writing reports and having lively discussions on a variety of marine conservation topics. Today, we talked about how, when and if aquaculture operations could replace wild caught fish to both elevate the collapse of wild fisheries, but also to help feed the world. A very important discussion for the world to have as our population grows, the need for food grows, but wild fisheries are finite resources.

(Photo: Jim Stringer)

We also hear some great news today! Something that Tukabu, the New England Aquarium, Conservation International and other PIPA partners had been working on for over a year. At the UN meeting in New York, the Government of Kiribati signed a "sister-site" agreement between PIPA and the Northwest Hawaiian Island Marine Protected Area; together, these parks represent 25% of all marine protected area in the world. Congratulations to Kiribati and the U.S. for concluding this agreement, which will provide an important framework for collaboration, allowing PIPA and the NW Hawaiian Islands to share common problems and seek common solutions to the challenge of managing vast open tracks of ocean wilderness.

Location of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area in the Central Pacific

It is an exciting time to be involved in marine conservation, which is some 100 years behind land. On land, about 12% of the area is protected, while in the sea it is less than 1% globally, we have a lot of catching up to do and PIPA is a large part of that.

We now need to look at the whole central Pacific Ocean in one context and decide what other management actions or what new protected areas need to be created. Kiribati has announced their intention to work, along with many partners (including Conservation International and the New England Aquarium) on this framework, which is being called the Central Pacific Oceanscape (CPO). The CPO will bring the tropics and sub-tropics of this region into one framework so that discussion related to oceans and islands concerning climate change, research, protection, fisheries, economic security for people, cultural security, food security--so that the whole way societies related and depend on the oceans can find a forum for thorough discussion, conflict resolution and progress. That is one of the key next steps in marine conservation for this part of the world upon which PIPA is a main and stable anchor.

-Greg Stone, PIPA Expedition Leader

Phoenix Islands Education Week Story: Technology Links Students to Fieldwork

During the expedition, team members have regularly responded to readers' comments and questions from the field. You can view those Q+A posts here. Education Week has run a story about those communication efforts and how they have connected students to researchers in the field. Here's an excerpt from that story:

(Photo: Jim Stringer)

Every school year, teachers across the country set out to make the work of scientists understandable and appealing to students, who might otherwise find it indecipherable and dull.

This fall, a New Hampshire educator was helped in that mission by a group of scientists--working from a boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Marajka Knight, a 15-year-old in Ms. Mueller-Northcott's class, was a regular reader.

"It makes you feel like you're there," she said. "You get to talk to someone who's actually doing what you're learning about."

Read Randi Rotjan's dialog with Souhegan High School students here and here.


David Obura shares his observations from the expedition

We're back in Fijian waters now and docking tomorrow. The 10 days of surveys in the Phoenix Islands were a whirlwind of observations, emotions and reactions to what we saw, trying to understand the message from the reefs. The best part of the story was that the reefs were clearly recovering from the massive bleaching impacts 6 years ago, and looking better than in 2005.

Coral near Nikumaroro Island (Photo: Randi Rotjan)

Overall, coral cover was almost halfway back to where it was before the bleaching, which is a phenomenal speed of recovery in six short years. This was an incredible affirmation of the expectation we have in the science and conservation communities that ecosystems that are not suffering from a range of different threats have a much greater ability to recover from any one. In this case, the lack of local human impacts has made the Phoenix Islands reefs able to recover faster from a global change impact than most of the reefs that I study anywhere else in the world.

(Photo: Jim Stringer)

This alone is a great result that needs to be better known to help support people and places that are trying to limit damage to ecosystems and reefs. But the story was very nuanced, and some parts difficult to absorb still. It's like watching a loved one recovering from a major illness--even when its clear they are recovering and out of the main danger zone, their continued suffering is heartbreaking. Looking at the reefs in Phoenix we could see reefs still struggling to get firmly on the road to recovery, held back by local factors that differed from site to site.

Nikumaroro Lagoon (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen from 2012 Expedition)

One factor confirmed a long-standing suspicion that has been growing in my mind--whereas reefs on sheltered reef slopes near lagoon entrances can be the best developed and most spectacular and diverse when mature, when they are knocked back nearly to zero it can take a lot longer for them to recover. It may be that lagoon water, which tends to be warmer, has higher nutrient levels and a higher sediment load, is less supportive of settlement, growth and survival of small corals because it fertilizes algal and microbial growth. In a mature community this is not critical as adult corals have passed their most sensitive stages, but when recovery depends on successful colonization and growth of young corals, the lagoon effect may be critical.

Litter seen during the expedition (Photo: Randi Rotjan)

Another more insidious factor seems to be pollution by iron … remote islands are a magnet for shipwrecks. Ships are drawn to them for shelter and the resources they provide, and the litter of shipwrecks around them can be mind-boggling. Having spent more time in the Central Pacific in the last 4-5 years with more experienced scientists such as Jim Maragos, who strongly advocates removing shipwrecks immediately from remote reefs to prevent them from poisoning the small vulnerable reef communities. We saw clearly this effect--large wrecks on Kanton and Nikumaroro had a clear effect on reefs downstream, with almost no live corals and near-100% cover of the black algal turf. On Orona, at a site that back in 2000 I thought was impacted by eutrophication, turned out to also be degraded by a shipwreck that was mostly broken up and not visible from the surface. What the islands do for us is help distinguish the action of different factors from one another--climate change, lagoon waters, shipwrecks--in many ways this is clearer than along a major populated coastline where pollution, eutrophication, fishing and climate change impacts are all mixed in with one another. It'll take some months to really understand what our results are saying.

But for now, with the dives behind me, at least there's the satisfaction of having returned after so many years, re-visiting these magical islands in the middle of the largest ocean on the planet. A real privilege, and now the mission to get the story out about these islands rising again from the ashes of the worst coral bleaching event I've ever seen, and hoping we can make this happen for other reefs around the world.

-David Obura


What is a coral transect? How do researchers collect coral data?

Note: Students from Souhegan High School in Amherst, New Hampshire posted questions for Aquarium researcher Dr. Randi Rotjan in the comments section of this post. Here is the question with Randi's answer in light blue:

What an amazing adventure you have been having--we feel so fortunate to join you virtually! Your posts have been excellent--yesterday we started class with a discussion regarding your "Points and Lines" entry. They had lots of questions about whether your "lines" actually existed in a quantitative form. I think they are having trouble conceptualizing what the data that you are collecting actually looks like. Maybe some examples of the types of things you record along your transect lines might be helpful for them.
-Souhegan Marine Lab, Souhegan High School

Hi Julianne and students -
Sorry for the delayed response--I did not get your message until now (we're working on multiple computers, and it gets confusing, even on a relatively small boat!).
So, let's talk about points and lines.

By "lines," what I mean is a trend line through data points. On our transects, we are measuring lots of things. I'm an ecologist, which means that measuring the diversity (who) and abundance (how many) of organisms in an ecosystem is my bread and butter. It's the logical starting place to quantifying any ecosystem or habitat.

An expedition diver hard at work on a coral reef (Photo: Randi Rotjan)

When we lay out a transect here in the Phoenix Islands, we lay out a 25 meter line, and count every coral colony within 1 meter of that line. So, we count diversity (what coral species or genera we see), and abundance (how many of each coral species we see), in a known area (25 x 1 meter belt). This allows us to determine how one site differs from another (spatial comparisons), and when we measure the same place year after year, this also allows us to determine how things change over time (temporal comparisons). 

Corals visible beside a transect line (Photo: Randi Rotjan)

There are other expedition members collecting other types of data (fish diversity, abundance, and biomass, for example). We put all of these data together to try to as sign a trajectory to the Phoenix Islands Reefs. Are they degrading? Recovering? Sick? Healthy?
There are lots of other ways to collect data, of course, but I hope this gives some insight into how we measure the state of the reef, and how scientists turn numbers (points) into a story (lines) that helps us to understand where things are, and where they are going.

Thanks, as always, for the questions!

Best fishes,


This is the second time these students and Randi have been able to communicate during the expedition. Here's their first exchange.


At the edge of existence

We have just come from Phoenix Island (also known as Rawaki Island), which is a tiny, bird-filled island at the edge of existence. This is going to be a short post, since we were only there for 1 day and will soon be on our way to Orona--our last stop in the Phoenix Islands chain. Anyway, I got to spend some brief, precious time ashore this stark island in between the usual dive-eat-dive schedule. I was struck by the harshness of the island. With no freshwater, hundreds of thousands of birds (with quite a diversity!) manage to survive, and beyond that, roost!

(Photos: Randi Rotjan)

I walked most of the perimeter of the island, stepping over smoothed clam shells and coral rocks, all the while wondering: if I were marooned here, could I survive? The answer is undeniably "no"--the lack of shade and freshwater would be the two killers. But, I was surprised at the things that would come easily. First, food. Between bird eggs and sealife, there is plenty of protein to be had. Though guano-covered, there was also plenty of shrubbery--some of which was edible (the pickleweed, for example).

Walking along the island, we also found a disturbing amount of trash--styrofoam, plastic bottles. With some rain and some forethought, one could easily bottle plenty of freshwater. Most surprising, however, were the flip flops. You might think that shoes would be hard to come by (and they are essential!) in these rocky places. The coral rock would chew your feet to bits without shoes. But flipflops, as it turns out, have remarkable ocean voyaging ability, and amazing staying power. They do not degrade, and they are abundant on these remote shorelines. Good luck finding a matched pair, however.

Rawaki beach with coral rock and garbage (Photo: Randi Rotjan)

All of this rambling (my apologies) is merely to make the point that it's hard to eek out a living on the edge of existence. Yet, thousands of organisms manage just fine. As for the humans... well, the NAI'A makes it possible (and easy! And enjoyable!) to be out here. With delicious meals, dive capabilities, and our every need attended to, it's sometimes easy to forget exactly how remote we are.

Nai'a and the skiff off the shore of Rawaki

But as this trip is winding down, I am reminded of the 5 plus day steam that we will have back to Fiji. In the meantime, it's nothing but blue ocean, isolated islands, and abandoned flip flops here at the edge of existence.


Living a Dream, Part III - Alan Dynner reports on diving near Kanton

Kanton Island is a classic coral atoll: a huge blue lagoon surrounded by a narrow rim of sand, scrub and palm trees, connected to the open ocean by a channel. Every change of tide, water from the lagoon rushes out, or the ocean rushes in with the incoming tide--all at speeds of 8 to 9 m.p.h., like a white water river. Let me tell you about one breathtaking dive there.

Kanton Island

We were dropped off on the ocean side in 120 feet just as the tide was about to come in. As we hit the water, flipping backwards from the zodiac, we were surrounded by a huge school of barracuda. These beautiful but intimidating eating machines were 3 to 4 feet long, their enormous mouths studded with razor-like teeth. They circled us, but we felt more out of curiosity than menace.

Reef shark (Photo: Jim Stringer)

Below I caught sight of two grey reef sharks. And off to the left a big manta ray cruised past, looking like a graceful, futuristic stealth fighter-bomber. Then, suddenly, we felt the current pick up and Greg Stone, Larry Madin and I were swept away as if pulled by a gigantic liquid vacuum cleaner. The bottom became more shallow, to about 50 feet as we entered the channel, and seemed to sweep by us as if we were in an airplane taking off while watching the runway. At first the bottom was just rubble; the current was so strong that rocks as big as bowling balls were rolled along towards the lagoon. We had to kick a bit to keep together, trying to stay at the same depth and retaining control. After a while the bottom changed to white sand, studded with the nests of triggerfish at 15 foot intervals, each guarded by its agitated resident. A few minutes later we entered a huge area of coral hills.

Corals in the Phoenix Islands (Photo: J. Stringer)

Back in the 2000 expedition this area of the lagoon was named "Coral Castles" and Greg remembered the immense 10 to 15 foot coral plates that were unmatched in beauty. Now some of the coral was dead because of the 2002 El Nino coral bleaching that impacted some parts the Phoenix Islands. We were gratified today to see that many of these coral plates had survived and were healthy and impressive (more about this area in this post by Brian Skerry). Finally, half way across the lagoon, the current slowed to a crawl. We surfaced, put up a 6 foot orange plastic "sausage" so that the zodiac could find us in the choppy lagoon, and were soon back on the NAI'A, happy and exhilarated.

Our first dive today, having traveled overnight to Enderbury Island, was a dramatic contrast. Here the coral reef around the island is totally healthy, unaffected by the bleaching event. As I entered the water I was surrounded by a school of 15 or 20 baby gray reef sharks. These babies are not exactly cute, but rather each is a exquisite sleek miniature of its formidable parent. The reef was covered by gorgeous plates of brown, tan and blue coral (More about this area in this post by Les Kaufman).

Colorful reef fish

Everywhere were colorful reef fish--wrasses darted here and there, pairs of bright yellow and patterned butterfly fish grazed, schools of snapper cruised, dazzling red damselfish defended their territories, parrotfish nibbled on corals, schools of silver jacks patrolled the wall, and curious spotted pufferfish with pouting lips swam awkwardly. After an hour and 10 minutes of this undersea fantasy, I surfaced, thinking how wonderful these dream dives have been. And I felt secure in the knowledge that the Phoenix Island Protected Area means that my grandchildren will be able to dive in this paradise some day if they wish.

-Alan Dynner


The Final Frontier: Deep Sea Exploration of the Phoenix Islands

Imagine a world where no one had ever seen a penguin because it lived too far away; where bacteria were unknown because it was too small to see and eagles were unimagined because they flew too high above the clouds. That's the world we live in today when it comes to the deep seas.

Orono Island, site of the ROV dive described in this post

Earth's oceans are by far the planet's largest habitat, covering more than three quarters of its surface and averaging two miles deep with the deepest point over six miles down (not all that far from where we are here), yet most of this environment is unexplored. We know more about the surface of Mars than we do about the sea floor of our own planet, even though our oceans provide 98 percent of the biological zones where organisms can live, produce most of the atmospheric oxygen we breathe from photosynthesis in microscopic oceanic plants, supply food to one in four people every day and shape powerful forces in our climate. We urgently need to know more about our oceans and this is one of the driving reasons for our expedition to the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA).

From left: PIPA director Tukabu Terooko, Expedition Leader Greg Stone, and Kiribati Fisheries Scientist Tuake Teema operating ROV from NAI'A (Photo: Larry Madin)

On this trip, we are continuing a long-term study of the shallow coral reefs, but we are also exploring and studying the open ocean with blue water dives (described earlier) and deeper regions with a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), an underwater robot with cameras and a collecting claw that can dive beyond the depth of SCUBA divers to 500 feet. The reefs are key and at the heart of PIPA, but only occupy a tiny fraction (<0.01%) of the space where organisms can live in PIPA. The reefs are very high in biodiversity and must be protected, but the deep sea is a true frontier in PIPA and an area that needs much more extensive study. Our work with the ROV is just a start.

The ROV is tiny, maybe the size of a large toaster. It is connected by A 500 foot tether to the control panel on the ship. I can drive it, using a joy stick and other controls from inside NAI'A, and see what it sees through a camera that feeds a video image to the surface.

Today, off the coast of Orona, Tukabu, Tuake and I conducted the first survey ever of this region. We found coral growing deeper than we imagines (300 feet) and lots of sharks.

-Greg Stone, PIPA Expedition Leader


Brian Skerry responds to a reader question about poaching and Bohar snapper

Reader Shari posted a question for Brian Skerry in the comments section of this post. Here is that question and his response (in blue).

Hi Brian,
I'm glad to see the coral is coming back but surprised that there would be so much bleaching in such a remote and mostly pristine archipelago.

The Phoenix Islands, I have learned, are located right in the middle of the place where El Nino events begin; the genesis of hot water spreading out into the Pacific Ocean. The scientists on this expedition state that the hot water event that occurred in 2002/2003 was the most severe and intense thermal event and longest lasting that has ever been recorded on Earth. So the reefs here were substantially stressed in a way that no other reefs have ever been. And still, they are showing signs of recovery becuase they were healthy prior to the event.

Dr. David Obura measures a new table coral growing amidst fields of dead coral at Kanton Island in the Phoenix Islands (Photo: Brian Skerry).

Do you think the effects of long lining are from before the Islands were protected, or could there still be poaching going on?

There clearly has been a lot of shark fishing here too. Long liners have hit several of these islands hard in recent years, prior to the creation of the Marine Protected Area. So the combination of these things has obviously had a devastating impact. But this place has the resiliency to bounce back and is already doing so. I think this is the important story here. Protecting intact ecosystems is the best way to insure their survival from events that we have little control over.

Gray Reef shark cruises in to check out photographer Brian Skerry during as sunset dive on Nikumaroro Island in the Phoenix Islands. (Photo: Brian Skerry)

And finally where is my good friend the Bohar snapper? They are conspicuously absent from all the photos, an anomaly for the Line Islands! I'm enjoying diving vicariously through the blogs!

Best, Shari S.O.H.

As for your friends, the Bohars ... they are here for sure! I must say that they were far and few between on a few of the islands, but plentiful on others. I sent them your regards!


And now for something completely different ...

We've have two brief days on Orona Island, and so far they have been action-packed. In our dives so far, I've managed to re-discover an old shipwreck, find salps on a blue water dive with the Madins, check out the "deep" sea with Greg using the Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV), complete 5 transects of coral cover, coral diversity, and corallivory and observe giant humphead parrotfish (Bolbometapon muricatum) take many bites of live coral. Bliss! (Read more about direct feeding in David Obura's post.)

Left to right: Randi Rotjan, David Obura, Greg Stone and Les Kaufman surveying the Phoenix Islands using a Remote Operating Vehicle (Photo: Larry Madin)

I am writing this post in between dives, and thought it might be fun to relay a few items that I've somehow neglected to write about. Please forgive the oversight, and allow this entry to be a collection of miscellaneous tidbits that I thought you might appreciate.

90% coral cover and fish (Photo: Randi Rotjan)

1) Statistics. It's been 11 days on-site, complete with 33 meals, 37 dives and 89 bruises. Just FYI.

(Photo: Randi Rotjan)

2) Another day, another moray: on every single dive, I've seen no less than 2 moray eels. This means (with 37 dives), that I've seen at least 74 moray eels this trip. Amore? A moray!?

Reef canyon (Photo: Randi Rotjan)

3) We've been close to the equator. But to my surprise, the Southern Cross has only been visible for a short while; it sets really early. We're been too far north at the wrong time of year. I actually haven't seen it while out here. Go figure.

Napoleon wrasse (Photo: Randi Rotjan)

4) Most people on the trip have seen an insane amount of big wildlife--manta rays, turtles, dolphins, sharks, etc. I've seen mostly coral.

Banded humbug on Pocillopora (Photo: Randi Rotjan)

5) On my one blue water dive, I had a "master of the obvious" moment. There's not much in blue water near oligotrophic (nutrient-poor) reefs. That's why they are considered nutrient-poor. Duh!

David and Randi joke about spilling coconut juice all over the boat (Photo: Les Kaufman)

6) They feed us too much on this ship. Have I mentioned that yet?

NAI'A near Orona Island (Photo: Tuake Teema)

7) Orona Island is lovely and tree-filled, with lots of coconut palms. Also, some old Polynesian ruins, and some more recent remnants from a 2003 settlement. The island is currently uninhabited.

Giant clams (Photos: Randi Rotjan)

8) The Orona Lagoon is filled with baby giant clams. They are brightly colored, and in a word: awesome.

Nai'a crew serenading, and helping us with our dive gear and boat transfers (Photos: Randi Rotjan)

9) The crew on this boat are spectacular. They are the most well-educated, thoughtful, strong, helpful and musical group of people that I've come across in a long time. They are definitely members of the team, so I would consider our expedition-group doubled because of the crew. Bula!

Whitetip reef shark (Photo: Randi Rotjan)

10) We've seen a lot of small sharks this trip (which has been fantastic!). We've also spent a lot of time quoting (and re-watching) Jaws. Brian Skerry and Greg Stone are particularly deft at this game--they know every line. Quoth Brian: "You'd like to prove that, wouldn't ya ... get your name into the National Geographic," originally spoken by JAWS character and oceanographer Matt Hooper (played by Richard Dryfus). [Note: Author of the novel Jaws, Peter Benchley, was a close friend of Greg Stone and a prominent supporter of ocean conservation. Wendy Benchley continues to be involved in the Aquarium's global research and conservation efforts.] Speaking of National Geographic, look for a story on this trip (coming soon). Featuring the photographic prowess of Brian Skerry, with Jeff Wildermuth on the assist and an essay by Greg Stone.

(Photo: Randi Rotjan)

11) Did I mention how many cuts and bruises I have so far? Battle scars! Ouch.

David Obura and Randi Rotjan doing coral transects (Left photo: Randi Rotjan; Right photo: Jim Stringer)

12) I've only briefly been on-shore on 2 of these islands. This means that I've decidedly spent more time IN the Phoenix Islands than ON the Phoenix Islands. Cool, huh?

(Photo: Randi Rotjan)

13) As we were completing our most recent dive, it rained for the first time while we were at sea. It was delightful, actually, and a fish jumped into our boat on our way back!

David Obura returning the rogue needlefish to sea (Photo: Randi Rotjan)

14) The NAI'A is 120 feet long, by 30 feet in beam, by 11 feet draft. 240 tons. She is a Dutch-built motor sailor, built in Amsterdam in 1979. She was re-built by Rob Barrel in Fiji in 1992. She's a terrific ship, and this is her 8th trip to the Phoenix Islands--4 scientific expeditions, and 4 trips looking for the remains of flyer Amelia Earhart (mentioned previously by Brian here and by Rob here). We're making more progress on the science. Amelia is still missing, and presumed dead. RIP.

Randi climbs to the crow's nest on the Nai'a (Photo: Captain Jonathan)

Sorry for the random assortment of thoughts, but a well-packaged essay is just not in the stars today. I promise a more thoughtful post following a long, well-deserved nap. But until then, dive on!