Fiji or bust!

It's official, we're all en route to Fiji. We're gathering from across the globe--Kenya, California, Hawai'i, Fiji ... and New England. There is a strong Massachusetts presence on this trip, with expedition members from Boston University, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and of course the New England Aquarium. Such a strong MA contingent means that we will undoubtedly be cheering the Red Sox from afar as they approach the end of the regular season.

It's a relief to be on the plane, after so much preparation. Far from traveling light, many of us have far exceeded the 2-bag, 50-lb. limit. Some of us have up to 13 bags! Personally, I've packed 6, totaling over 400 lbs. So, what on earth are we bringing with us, and why?

Here's a glimpse of what TSA staff experienced when they opened our bags. In the last post by Greg Stone, there was a photograph of the camera gear packing process. In addition to camera and video equipment, we are carrying an ROV, many computers, temperature loggers, GPS units, radios, epirbs, SCUBA diving gear and lots of sampling supplies.

Nothing featured here is for personal use. A waterpik is a great tool for personal hygiene, but on this trip, it will serve as a coral tissue removal device. Basically, coral tissue is embedded within a calcium carbonate skeleton (aragonite, to be specific), which forms the backbone of tropical reefs. To examine the soft tissue and the symbionts within (see Greg's last post briefly explaining the symbiosis between coral animal hosts and their photosynthetic algal symbionts), we need to strip off small portions of the tissue to isolate it from the skeleton. A waterpik provides a high pressure water source that does the job.

We have packed several pairs of pruning shears. In this case, the perfect tool for clipping off samples of macroalgae, sponges, coral branch tips, etc. to preserve for genetic analysis.
Flagging tape is universally useful underwater! We use it to flag sites that we're actively working on to make them easier to find from dive-to-dive, we can use it to label individual coral heads, or to flag a line to help us find our way back to the boat.

Specimen cups and tubes are the perfect vessels (light, strong, water-tight, and inexpensive) for collecting marine specimens on site for later analysis or transport. Other items may seem ordinary, but scientists often re-purpose everyday tools. In fact, your kitchen, hardware and gardening tools are terrific ad-hoc field instruments. Basically, you already own the tools to collect, store, stir, heat, dry or mix just about anything at home. However, I don't recommend it. Do you really want to use your wooden mixing spoon for both spaghetti and science?

The entire expedition team will rendezvous in Fiji within the next 24 hours to gather our tons (literally!) of gear, and to pack the ship and head off. Stay tuned, and we'll tell you what we're doing with our TSA-approved luggage, and how we're using waterpiks, pantyhose, milk frothers, clothespins and pruning shears (among other things) to learn more about coral reefs.

Happy trails,



  1. This is terrific!
    Are you able to analyze the data you collect on the boat right away?

  2. ...Thanks! We were able to analyze some data on-site, and we are also bringing home many samples for lab analysis. We're also bringing back some samples for collaborators, who will conduct additional research and expand our available expertise. Thanks for asking - feel free to keep the questions coming!