Steaming Southeast to Honolulu

The Hi’ialakai makes a close pass by one of the dive boats.

I can’t believe this day is here already- we are embarking on a five day transit back to Honolulu!  Our amazing adventure to the Northwest Hawaiian Islands is drawing to a close.

We visited a total of four remote islands- French Frigate Shoals, Pearl & Hermes, Kure, and Lisianski.  Each had its own unique character, both above and below water.  Kure was by far our favorite, as you may have gathered from our earlier enamored blog posts!  A combination of beautiful weather, extra time, and perfect diving really sold us on Kure atoll.  At each island, we put out three different types of hydrophones to record acoustic data for two days, and 3-6 time lapse cameras.  We also completed surveys of the surrounding ecosystem, using photo mosaics, transect lines, and fish counts amongst other things to quantify the character of each individual site.

Lauren excercising on one of the ship’s bikes.

We have learned firsthand about some of the most pristine ecosystems in the world, and collected as much data as we possibly could with the amount of small boat time we were given.  We are both looking forward (really!) to analyzing it and turning it into scientific papers and PhD chapters.  It is far more meaningful to research something that you got to experience yourself.

We have also learned some of the ins and outs and eccentricities of living on a research vessel and working at sea.  It has been quite an experience in of itself!  Lauren’s feeling is that this was an incredible opportunity, but she doesn’t want to base her career on working in such remote areas.  There is so much planning, logistics, and time involved in collecting data, and at any moment technical difficulties or weather could preclude you from getting what you need!

Lauren with her friend, Mr Ulua. He took a special liking to Lauren’s fingers later on.

On our last dive at Lisianski, we had two casualties.  One was relatively minor- Lauren was bitten by one of the large ulua that have followed us around every dive site up here.  It was a small injury, but certainly a big reminder that we are diving with large predators, and that they are not afraid of people!  Much more significant was an incident that we began to suspect when the hydrophone array was not as buoyant as usual when we brought it up from Lisianski.  Upon getting back to Hi’ialakai and opening the battery and computer cylinders, Simon quickly learned that the computer compartment had flooded with seawater.  He is working hard to salvage as much of the equipment as possible, and will send the hard drive off for data recovery once we return to land.

The ulua was very curious… aggressively so.
Lauren’s hand after an altercation with the big ulua.

Equipment failure is a normal part of field work, but this was our first big hit.  We are now both working on developing modified field plans and experiments for our upcoming time on Oahu, Kauai, Maui, and the Big Island.  We appreciate all of the mentors who have reassured us that this is to be expected in seagoing work, and rather an important experience that comes with being a graduate student!

Simon at the helm of Malolo while our coxwain takes a short swim break

We are steaming back to Honolulu against swell and wind, so the Hi’ialakai is only doing 8 kts (she did 10.2 kts on the way out). It will still take four full days from Lisianski.  We are scheduled to make port at 0900 Friday, August 24 (Honolulu time).  Feel free to give us a call on our cell phones after that!  We are looking forward to catching up with all of our family and friends on the phone, skype, and facetime.  We’re planning a ‘vacation’ three day weekend when we return to rest and recover, and then we’ll be getting started on our next Oahu leg after unloading our stuff from the vessel.  We’ll also be back to public blogging when we are off of the NOAA ship.

A Hawaiian monk seal (only 1200 left!) inspects Lauren.

This cruise has given both of us some of the most amazing experiences of our life. The diving has been spectacular, in particular since we were in the water alone- never on a tour or as part of a large group, and often in places that may never have been dived before (or again!)  We were so impressed by the natural curiosity and un-altered behavior of all of the animals that we encountered. By far the most memorable were the impromptu ‘lunch’ snorkels with dolphins, manta rays, monk seals, and sharks.  We were completely alone in the sea with these beautiful swimmers, who were in their natural habitat and acting as they ‘should.’ (Before humans pushed these species out to the fringes, anyway).  Our sense of ocean wonder has only grown from this trip.

Aloha! Over and out from the Hi’ialakai.

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