The last three weeks zoomed by on this little island, and we are wrapping up data collections and switching over to conference mode for our last week in Hawaii.
We were up well before sunrise thanks to jet lag the first week, & enjoyed many beautiful mornings at the beach.
Joey & Blake love spending time with their grandparents
So how is it going? The short answer is fairly well. We (I) spent a huge amount of time prior to arriving carefully selecting a house that was suitable for kids and grandparents, planning travel to arrive a few days early so we could adjust & set up, finding local stores and restaurants, sussing out activities for them, and packing items like power outlet covers and night lights so we could quickly “baby-proof” the beach house. These efforts paid off, as the children made a fairly smooth transition to life in Hawaii. We had a very long day of travel and arrived after their bedtime, so thankfully they were tired enough to sleep until 5am local time the first morning (that’s 10am in Virginia- they usually would wake up at 7:30). Joey was good to go after that. Blake had a few tough nights and we had a little more trouble getting his nap schedule on track, but we are now cruising along with a good routine for everyone. The team agreed that the most crucial piece of planning to everyone’s happiness was the house – easy walk to the beach, bedrooms for everyone plus a lab, and a spacious backyard safe for the kids to play in.
The boys are getting very good at their job – clean dive/snorkel gear with hose
Group hike at Manoa Falls on a family morning
We got into work relatively quickly, sorting out instruments, unpacking gear, and connecting with local colleagues. We had tank experiments up and running within days. Weather kept us off of the water longer than we had hoped, but we managed to start collecting in-water data within a week of arrival and are now on track. Our first week was very busy and the boys started asking for more time with us. Thankfully we crossed off a few big hurdles early on (tank experiments!) and were able to adjust our schedule so that we had a fun family activity with them every few days. We are living in Kailua on the windward side of Oahu, so grand adventures like kayaking, hiking, and swimming are easily within reach for morning play before nap.
Papa & I out for a snorkel
Simon collects a shallow water acoustic recorder from one of the patch reefs in Kaneohe Bay
Joey & Blake love swimming, especially with Grammy
The boys love spending time with their grandparents, and the beach is a few minutes walk from our front door, so in general their days are spent playing in the sand, swimming in the surf, and enjoying our luxurious backyard complete with banana trees while Simon & I work. When the weather keeps us off the water and/or we are able to schedule half a day off, we take them further afield to different parts of Oahu for hiking, beaches, tide pool exploration, and a couple of memorable boat & kayak excursions.
A sea turtle glides past our boat as we approach a work site
One of our data collection sites in Kaneohe Bay
The NASA ER-2 aircraft flies over us collecting hyperspectral imagery of Kaneohe Bay, while we collect acoustic data & ecological surveys below the surface.
We have almost completed our data collections, both in water and in tanks with collaborators at the University of Hawaii. We have a few instruments still taking data that we need to pick up early next week before we ship our equipment back to NRL on Thursday, but otherwise we are starting to clean and pack gear. In terms of work, we have shifted to preparing our presentations for the ASLO Meeting this week. My talk is tomorrow morning, so I’m finalizing the details of my powerpoint presentation today while Simon takes the kids on a rock pool adventure (apparently the sea urchins were their favorite animal). We are also taking care to back up data, start running codes for quality control, and organize our notes and photos from the trip.
Joey scrambles over volcanic rocks without trouble
Blake is now a confident walker
A few highlights from our time here include Joey’s growing knowledge of sea animals. After reading a couple of books about sea turtles ingesting trash by mistake, he has led us on quite a few beach clean-ups. Blake is now walking confidently on grass, sand, and rocks. Both boys love to play in the ocean, and scramble around on dark black lava rocks in bare feet with smiles on their faces. We are very happy with our decision to bring them along, and are immensely grateful to the spoilers (Grammy & Papa) for caring for the boys so well and on an ever-changing schedule while we take care of our fieldwork requirements and juggle work needs with family time.
The boys explore rock pools with Daddy while I prepare my conference talk
Joey discovered many types of sea urchins & claims they are his new favorite animal.
Everything is wrapping up in DC as we prepare to fly to Honolulu tomorrow. Inevitably a few fires popped up at the last minute, but in general we’ve been quite organized as we prepare for our great family fieldwork adventure.
Our scientific equipment was shipped on Monday, which meant we spent a good chunk of last week packing. We’ll pick up two pallets of scientific equipment, ranging from a hydrophone array and underwater spectrometer to lab and office supplies, on Thursday in Honolulu.
Our personal gear was mostly packed the prior weekend. Since we are traveling to a different climate, I was able to pack everyone’s clothes well ahead of time. There are a few last minute things to add to the suitcases tomorrow morning (the baby monitor, my electric toothbrush, and the kids’ water bottles for example).
Tiny flip flops packed & ready
Car seat bags hide extra diapers
Traveling “light” has a different meaning with two kids….
We have detailed lists of data collection objectives, listed by priority. We have fancy schedules & dive plans that will inevitably be modified by weather. We also have children’s books and toys, a tiny snorkel set, and two little wetsuits. We have plane tickets for six people. We are, for all practical purposes, ready.
Both Simon & I have been chipping away at preparation tasks for the past month, and I have to say this is possibly the best job we have done to date with trip prep. We are both excited and anxious for family fieldwork v2 to go well!
Curious what we are taking for the kiddos? Two car seats (bundled with compostable diaper inserts and wipes), one double stroller, and two baby hiking backpacks (packaged as a stroller). About five days worth of clothing, with extra layers for wind, rain, and warmth after a swim. Cloth nappies for Blake. Wetsuits and lifejackets. Snorkel set for Joey. They each have a small carry-on bag packed with their favorite toys, books, and stuffed animals. All of our personal belongings have miraculously made it into three checked bags.
More soon! For photo updates follow us on instagram @adventuretoddlers. Next stop, Honolulu 🙂
This expedition has been years in the making, from applying to proposals & gathering funds, sussing out a timeline, and making a plan where we could bring the boys, caregivers, and still get our work done. Here’s what is going to happen & how we got there:
Me & Simon (the science team), Joey & Blake (the nuggets), and Grammy & Papa (the caregivers) are flying to Honolulu on February 1 for one month. We are staying at a rental house by Kailua beach, a short drive from the Kaneohe Marine Corps Base and Coconut Island in Kaneohe Bay, where Simon & I will be working. In addition to space for the six of us, the house has a semi-attached “in-law suite” that will serve as our lab.
It all started with a NASA proposal two years ago that I developed with my postdoc advisor, to inform the HySPIRI satellite mission during an expedition to Hawaii. NASA will fly over the Hawaiian Island chain with hyperspectral remote sensing imagers to simulate HySPIRI data, and during the same time a science team will be collecting data on the ground to validate and test the imagery. We are on the coral reef team. My question is how well coral reef health can be determined from some of the highest quality satellite imagery, utilizing the relative proportion of coral and fleshy macroalgae as the metric of health. This proportion can be detected from space with the correct sensor, and is a well established indicator of coral reef ecosystem state. A healthier reef has more live coral, and a more degraded reef has been overgrown with fleshy macroalgae.
The Freeman & Freeman paper that came out in December was a thorough investigation of passive acoustic indicators of coral reef state in the Hawaiian Islands from our 2012 fieldwork. One of our most interesting finds was that different acoustic signals come from reefs with lots of coral (healthier reefs), versus reefs with lots of fleshy macroalgae (more degraded reefs). We were very interested in testing this further, and seeing if we could use remote sensing & acoustics together to improve the overall ability to determine coral reef state from afar. When Simon started his fellowship as a federal scientist in June, he was given start-up funds and has been able to dedicate part of them to his own, complimentary experiments in Kaneohe Bay in February.
The timeline was heavily constrained by flight time for the NASA aircraft and instruments, but thankfully it was confirmed with enough advance notice that we have been able to get all of our coordinating pieces into place. Simon requested and scheduled his experiment. My parents were able to take a month away from work & home duties, which meant that we could bring the boys. We can’t express enough gratitude to them, as neither of us would be willing to leave our kids for a month right now. The kids, in turn, are so excited for a month on the beach with their grandparents:
We have dreamed for far longer than we have been parents about conducting joint fieldwork and having our children along, a-la Rosemary and Peter Grant style. What an incredible experience for them – an opportunity to live in a new place, enjoy a new culture, and learn about the diversity of the natural world. Not to mention lots of QT with the grandparents. We are beyond excited that this is happening, and can’t wait to share it with you over the blog-channels in the next few weeks.
One of our long-term dreams as a science family is to take on “family fieldwork.” The idea is that Simon & I would conduct joint or collaboratory fieldwork in the same location, and bring along our kids and caregivers for them. We are so excited to have the opportunity to do just that during the month of February when we will return to Hawaii. In the meantime, Simon had a short work trip to Nags Head, North Carolina last weekend and we were able to put together a mini-version of family fieldwork to try it out.
We visited Nags Head to facilitate collection of large, fresh, whole pelagic fishes including tuna and wahoo. These fish subsequently traveled with Simon & a colleague to San Diego for high resolution scanning in an MRI machine. The resultant data are a key first step to Simon’s newest project at NRL developing a fish-inspired autonomous underwater vehicle.
November is the tail end of the season for the fish of interest, so a three-day window was allotted where Simon could assess the daily catch from his vendor fisherman and pick the specimens he wanted, then carefully package them for shipping to San Diego. Time was critical as he wanted to ensure the fish were whole fresh specimens (fresh is better when it comes to MRI) and never frozen.
The fish collection window fell over a holiday weekend, so I made plans to join Simon and bring the boys & their grandparents along for the ride. We rented a house in Nags Head across the street from the beach and brought along a stroller and sand toys. Overall, everything worked. The kids and I made it home safely, Simon is in San Diego proceeding with data collection from the fish scans, and the grandparents are still excited about our trip to Hawaii.
That said, we learned quite a few things to operate more smoothly next time!
Our children are still very young (3 years, 10 months) so having a safe space for both of them to play indoors is critical. When we travel to Hawaii I’ll bring/buy extra outlet covers, baby gates, pop-up toy storage, and doorknob covers.
Simon takes Blake for a sunset walk
Joey inspects a shark egg case that he found at the beach
This past weekend was REALLY hectic because of the aforementioned time crunch on getting the fish into the MRI as quickly as possible. We were only in Nags Head for three days. In addition, we had extra people coming and going from the house. This was definitely stressful for the boys. I was reminded (again) that we need to keep everything as simple as possible for them, and preserve their routine. I think things will be easier in Hawaii since we are there for a whole month, and they’ll have more time to get settled and used to the family fieldwork norm.
On the same note, buffer days are really critical for kids. I had a free day with them after arriving in Nags Head, and spent another day with them at the grandparents’ house in Williamsburg before returning to our home in Alexandria. That extra time really helped them re-group and stay happy.
The final challenge with family fieldwork is delineating my time between work and kids. At home, I never work when I’m with them – I reserve all work things for when I’m at my office, or when they are asleep. This is a harder line to draw with a shared house in a new place. We are still piecing plans together, but now will prioritize a clear schedule of work time as well as a separated office space in the house that the boys will not usually be allowed to access. I’m glad a have a few more months to brainstorm before we go so that V2.0 Hawaii Edition gets off to a smooth start!
After spending almost half a year in the Hawaiian Islands we’re on our way home! We’re excited to be back in San Diego with good friends, an apartment we can call our own, and reliable Mexican food…but we’re still sad to say goodbye to the Hawaiian Isles…for now.
Now that we have the luxury of hindsight we thought we’d write about our favourite experiences in the main Hawaiian Islands. If you’re ever thinking about paying a visit, maybe these places will be just as fun for you?
Surprisingly good hiking: out the back of Niklas’ house
Honolulu was perhaps our least favourite place in the Hawaiian Islands (but still very nice). The melange of third-world squalor and ultra-trendy tourist hotspots detracted somewhat from the idyllic beaches and spectacular views from Diamond Head. That said, there were some great experiences we had here, both on and off the beaten path. The most unbeaten path was the hike from the back of Niklas and Sharon’s house, where we were staying.
Honolulu and Waikiki Occupy a narrow strip of relatively flat volcanic rock between the ocean and a steep mountainous ridge, formed as erosive forces cut away at the volcanic cone that initially created Oahu. Walk inland a couple of miles from the beach and you’ve gained about 200 feet elevation. Walk a couple more and you’re at more than 2000 feet. Such is the steepness of the mountains behind Honolulu. The houses stop at the line between habitable land and steep mountainsides. Incredible wilderness beckons beyond.
The Schneider residence is right at the edge of the jungle. Walk inland and you’re instantly amongst groves of strawberry guavas and mountain apples. A steep and poorly maintained track winds through the trees and up ridges, climbing all the way to the top of the chain of peaks behind the city. A glorious view awaits atop the cloud-shrouded mountains. Honolulu city is but a small inhabited region to the South. The reclaimed land around Pearl Harbour and Pearl city are visible to the west. Facing North, Kaneohe bay and the “windward side” is visible beyond an immense precipice. It appears so shear that it seems you could lose 2000 ft in altitude by just stepping off the ledge. Luckily, most of the time the wind is so strong you couldn’t really fall off by accident!
Haleiwa and Aoki’s shave ice
Haleiwa is a quaint surf town on the North Shore of Oahu that still feels reminiscent of big wave films like North Shore. It was the first place we visited on our journey that really felt like Hawaii, and it is a great way to get out of the city. Near Haleiwa we enjoyed excellent diving and snorkelling, the Dole Pineapple Plantation, and Sunday afternoon polo by the beach, complete with live music. The gem of Haleiwa town, however, is Aoki’s shave ice. This is the second best shave ice we had in all of Hawaii, and is probably the best for ambience. The shop doesn’t appear to have changed much since its inception 50 or so years ago, the ice is fluffy soft and melts in your mouth, and the array of flavours is excellent. This was one of our favourite places to go after working (or fun!) dives.
Kaena point from the south side
During a scouting trip around the southwest side of Oahu, we decided to drive as far as we could to the West. We drove past electric beach and continued northwest. Eventually, we got to Kaena Point state park – the westernmost part of the island. We heard that one could walk all the way to the end of the point, but we did not (not a suitable hydrophone deployment site). However, just the ocean conditions at Kaena were very interesting. Past the last beaches, the shoreline was made of rough volcanic terraces. The water seemed exceptionally clear – its often very calm on the leeward side of the island, and Kaena Point park is on the inside of an “L” shaped portion of coastline. There didn’t seem to be any rivers to mess up the visibility and not many buildings to speak of. It looked like a fantastic place to dive, although we never got the chance (we deployed our gear at electric beach instead – one hour’s drive instead of two). We’d like to go back and dive Kaena one day, especially now that Simon has seen so many youtube videos of giant Uluas taken in those parts!
Search yelp for ‘cheap dinner’ in Waikiki Beach, and this shop is one of the first to come up. Nearly 5 star average with hundreds and hundreds of reviews, we figured it must be good. The concept is simple and executed perfectly. Thick Japanese wheat noodles (udon) are made fresh on one side of the tiny kitchen. They follow an assembly line from being rolled out and cut, to being placed in individual serving sizes, to being added to broth of choice. Every time we went we waiting in a 20-50 minute line out the door, and it was always worth it. It is always fun to watch your food being made, and although simple, the udon was delicious. You could buy tempura fried eggs, seafood, and vegetables to add to the soup. Even with that, we never spent more than $10 each. Excellent when you’ve just lost a $360 set of rental car keys.
This was certainly the best nature hike (with the exception of the lava hike on the Big Island, which was more about the lava) we did during our stay in Hawaii. The Kalalau trail is 11 miles each way through steep cutbacks and dense jungle and a full day’s work if you plan to do the return walk straight away. The terminus is at Kalalau bay – a surreal place that really evokes the fantastical meaning of the word “Paradise”. The mountainous surroundings are difficult to believe unless seen: Giant, unbelievably thin spires and sheets of rock rising more than 3000 ft from the ocean covered in lush green jungle and roaring waterfalls cascading down their sides. No wonder many people out here basically live “off the grid” – camping out for months at a time, growing their own food, living an idyllic lifestyle. Clothing optional. Simon and Rob Grenzeback made the walk out and back in a day, but regretted not staying. Next time we’re in Kauai, we’ll be sure to bring a tent!
Imagine a calm tropical beach with white sand and palm trees. Imagine wading into the water and snorkeling over corals from about waist deep. Swim out to sea about 50 m and witness the coral reef disappear from beneath you as you swim over an underwater precipice overlooking deep blue water. Such unusual bathymetry exists at Tunnels beach, but why the odd name? Dive down the underwater cliff and discover the massive underwater caves that reach far back into the cliff. Swim inside and observe snorkelers through the small holes in the ceiling. The underwater caves at tunnels beach are ancient lava tubes, formed when liquid rock flowed through and cooled from the outside-in. Once the flow stopped, the hot stuff in the middle flowed out to leave a hollow tube. Local divers say that some of these tubes go back under the beach, under the houses by the beach, and out under the road! Amazing stuff, but we didn’t dare go back too far without cave reels and lights.
Terry Lilley and Hanalei
We met great characters on every island, but Terry takes the cake for us. Without him we couldn’t have done much on Kauai – the dive store owner recommended we dive only one site on the entire island! We desperately needed local knowledge if we were to find worthwhile sites at which to do our work. Terry was our man – he’s done more than 1000 dives around Kauai and is out almost every day. Terry calls himself a marine biologist and is not affiliated with any university. Many people discredit him as he ‘only’ has an undergraduate biology degree. This is truly a sad thing, because Terry is more passionate about the ocean than 99% of the “marine biologists” we have ever met. Having known all three, we would put terry in the same basket as people like Lisa Levin and Paul Dayton.
Terry showed us how to dive Tunnels beach – ripping currents can take you away here if you’re not careful. He also dove Ahukini jetty with us, showing us how to avoid the strong swells that almost constantly bash that place. His emphasis was safety but not at the sake of adventure and scientific appropriateness. We’re indebted to Terry for helping us so much and hopefully we can meet up again…if he’s still around, that is. Terry and other residents of Hanalei (of “the descendants” movie fame) are fighting a big housing development that’s planned for the bay. The developers are extremely disliked by the locals, but official corruption on Kauai (which, when compared to the lawless Western U.S. of the 1800’s, isn’t so different in some regards) and other factors are driving the plans forward. Fearing the worst for the marine environment, Terry is an outspoken critic of the plans and local officials. Presently Terry is apparently recovering from having his arm broken. We hope things stay small in sleepy Hanalei.
The best shave ice (Ululanis)
Hands down the BEST shave ice in Hawaii can be found at Ululani’s on Maui. We tried a whole lot of shave ice during this trip, and the unbelievably fluffy texture here could not be matched elsewhere. The syrups were made from real fruits and had few ingredients, and were kept at a frosty temperature to keep them from disrupting the texture of the ice. You must go if you are on Maui!
Nu’u bay diving – our favourite in the MHI
The best place we reckon we dived over the entire main Hawaiian Island chain is Nu’u Bay on the southeast side of Maui. The combination of extremely clear water, remoteness, relative sheltwe from the trade-wind induced swell, position on the flank of Haleakala, and excellent marine life made this place #1. Nu’u was a challenge to get to by car along the lesser-known southern road to Hana. The road is not always paved and most of it is one windy lane. The real trick comes at the end, when we had to identify the correct gate along the road (which is never locked), open it and drive through, and navigate down a rocky drive that would have been moderately difficult for a 4wd.
Our Honda Odyssey was barely up to the task but we only managed to get it stuck once. Bring planks of wood to use as leverage. Other times we elected to remove heavy items like scuba tanks and carry them to keep the ground clearance as high as it could be. We never saw more than one local fisherman at Nu’u, despite gorgeous views, a pristine black sand beach, and unbelievable diving and snorkelling.
The north shore of Maui is famous for big wind and big waves. Some days we would see more than 60 kitesurfers and 40 windsurfers in the same bay. We sat there and counted the kites/sails in amazement. The steady alongshore trades and onshore swells make conditions ideal for fast sailing and wave carving, which looks extremely fun.
Along the “road to Hana” on Maui’s northeast side is a reef that only breaks when giant storm-driven swell from the Aleutian Islands of at least 25 ft in height rolls in. When these big waves arrive, they strike this deep reef in such a way that amplifies the breaking wave and creates the famous break known as “Jaws”. Although we didn’t witness the break under the right conditions, we had our own adventure driving out to one of the headlands overlooking the break. A search on google maps showed us that there was a dirt road that lead to this headland. We parked right where the turnoff on the satellite image was…and didn’t see it. The entire road had been overgrown with sugarcane. It was gone, but another dirt road a little way down the road appeared promising, so we took it. Some way down, we came across a burnt-out truck parked across the road with no wheels. It looked like it had been placed there deliberately, so as to keep people out. However, other vehicles had bravely forged a path around the truck, which we followed without questioning the abilities of our Honda Odyssey one bit. Soon the track became rutted to a level Simon would call “significant”. Our only hope was to keep the wheels out of the ruts, the depth of which now greatly exceeded the ride height of our minivan. Some problems arose when the ruts criss-crossed, but aided by the fact that the clay on which we were driving was dry (and therefore not slippery) we managed to fight our way to the end of the road. We drove on to a verdant green pasture of coastal grass that ended abruptly at a cliff overlooking the ocean. Some locals were hanging out and had recently deployed a kite, from which they were about to hang what looked like an entire eel affixed to a 12/0 hook. “Big Ulua” was their reply when we asked what they were going for. Penn International reels showed they were serious: Ulua are very powerful fish. The coastline was rugged but the ocean was an inviting clear blue. Giant boulders could be seen strewing the bottom. Simon imagined them teeming with lobster. Swell pounded some nearby offshore reefs but “Jaws” was too deep to create white water in this weather. This looked like a fantastic place to dive, but even Simon conceded that the cliff walk down to the beach was “a challenge”. Several rickety iron stakes were hammered into the crumbling cliff face. A series of ropes were tied to them, allowing you to semi-abseil down the “path”. In an effort to check out the path, Simon discovered that the ‘ropes’ were in fact either garden hoses or scrap wire. It might be possible to get down the cliff with scuba gear, but a safer option would probably be to either A) bring your own rope ladder or B) go elsewhere (which we did, to Maliko Gulch). Later, we talked to some local spearfishers who spoke of occasionally having to pay the fishing tax in this area. The currency was usually fish that had just been speared and the taxman usually wore a grey suit…
Best dive shop – Sandwich Island Divers.
We encountered the same challenge with every new island: find a dive store that would lend us lots of tanks, cheap! Our place in Honolulu was great at $5 per filled tank per day but the signs on their front door telling us how Obama was destroying their business made the place feel strange. The only dive shop on Kauai that would rent us tanks was great, but at $7 each they weren’t cheap and we felt sad when the owner told us we should only attempt to dive one place on the island. Luckily he gave us Terry’s contact details. The place on Maui was inexpensive (only $4 per tank!) but the owner was gruff and seemed to like the female component of the team much more than everyone else.
So, when we arrived on the Big Island we expected the usual pros-better-than-cons deal. Calling around, few dive stores seemed equipped to deal with us. “$10 a tank, as many refills of that tank as you want” was one reply. We explained we didn’t want to drive an hour each way just to fill up but no luck. Others didn’t call back or have enough tanks. Then we found ‘Sandwich Isle Divers’ in Kona, owned by the Myklebusts. They knew what we needed and were very accommodating, even allowing us to store our kayak at their store. So we found it, “best dive store in Hawaii” – from people who actually went through dive stores over the entire archipelago.
Kalapana lava walk – coolest non-dive activity
Search “Volcanoes national park” on the web and you’ll get all sorts of images of spectacular lava flows, giant eruptions, and people standing right next to flowing lava! Visit and the story is very different. Red tape everywhere, no approaches to lava allowed (unless you pay $200pp for a chopper ride, that is). Safety rules over excitement and experience. The only lava scene visible is the overlook of Kilauea caldera, where you can see the reflection of red light from lava on the steam and smoke billowing out. Boooring! Go to Kalapana, where you can walk a couple of miles and stand next to real flowing lava on public land, outside the park! One small caveat – you can save about 3 hours walk by paying some locals $100 to walk over their private land. Is it worth it to you? It was to us. This is how we ended up going with ‘Kalapana Cultural Tours’ – an outfit that takes tourists to the lava. This company is unique because they operate out of the “Hawaiian Nation” – a group of native Hawaiians trying to reclaim the islands as a republic/monarchy. Simon thought they actually have a strong case: there was a documented military takeover, it was against the will of the locals, no compensation has ever been negotiated. Maybe the NZ Maoris and their treaty lawyers should get together with the Hawaiians?
Anyway, after a walk over some land that was younger than us, we got to the fantastic lava flows. Totally worth it, and bring some sticks for roasting various campfire foods over the lava. Childhood dream realised.
Place of refuge snorkelling
This was probably the best easy-access snorkelling on all of the islands. The Place of Refuge was a temple that native Hawaiians could flee to if they broke a kapu (taboo). If you were able to reach a Place of Refuge and perform the rituals before you were caught, you escaped the rigid death penalty. This is just south of the marine park at Captain Cook monument, and often frequented by locals who use the boat ramp, swim, picnic, and lounge on the rocks. We found the snorkelling and diving here incredible, both in terms of coral health and sheer numbers of fish.
Morty the manta
The single most astounding thing that happened during our five month journey was our encounter with ‘Morty’. We were with Lauren’s parents touring the northeast side of the Big Island, and had stopped at one last beach for a short snorkel before heading home. We puttered around near the rocks, where the water was somewhat cloudy and the fish shy. As the parents were headed in, they asked Lauren if she had seen the manta ray! Lauren and Simon quickly confirmed that there was in fact a manta ray swimming around in shallow water over sandy bottom. He was filter-feeding on tiny animals that seemed to hover just above the sand, and was swimming back and forth at medium speed in regular rows, like you would mow the lawn. It literally looked like a winged vacuum cleaner was sweeping the sand clean! All four of us were able to swim with the manta and watch him find dinner for as long as we wanted, while the regular beachgoers and families nearby had no idea that they were within a stone’s throw from one of these magnificent animals. We were so impressed that we named him Morty. Native Hawaiians later told us that he was a manifestation of one of our Aumakua, or guardian spirits, which might help explain his unusual behaviour.
The southernmost point in the USA is South Point on the Big Island. The land just ‘ends’ here. No beach or anything like that, just a cliff face into deep water. The wind roars constantly, so much so that the trees are all bent over and there is a wind farm just up the road. The windward side of the point is always rough, but the leeward side is excellent for swimming, provided you can get in/out. A boat hoist serves as a diving platform where groups of teenagers dare each other to jump in. A steel ladder up the cliff offers an easy return. The water is very deep here, dropping quickly to >100 m about 100 m from the cliff edge. The cliff meets the water and keeps on going to about 10-15m, from which the rocky bottom gently slopes away at first. The water is always extremely clear as it hasn’t met land for thousands of kilometres before currents transport it briskly past South Point. It’s real open ocean here, and this is well known by the locals: dozens of guys with big game rods and ‘kites’ (black rubbish bags) run huge baits downwind, hoping for strikes on Mahimahi, Wahoo, and big Ulua. We saw a line get ‘taken’ while we were there but the hook let go before the fish was close enough to be visible.
We found a place where we could climb down a gully in the cliff and get in/out of the water easily. A huge, tightly circling school of bigeye trevally awaited us just past the boat hoist. The school was relatively skittish, so Simon was particularly excited about the possibility of some big boys showing up… but no luck. Lots of life adorned the cliff edge and we even found a few Hawaiian lobsters in some of the deeper holes (apparently this place can get picked clean because of the relatively easy entry).
We came home from Hawaii with a little souvenir… currently in vivo but it will be out and about in early August! Thanks for reading our blog, hope to continue this the next time we’re on an adventure!
We’re starting to wrap up our science operations in Hawaii! It’s been so long since we arrived, its hard to believe. We’ve been on our own for the last two weeks on the Big Island, and are wiped out. As a result we’ve been feeling more and more grateful to our friends that came to help us out on Oahu, Maui, and Kauai. We lovingly call them ‘our mules,’ (Simon has called them slaves) because in reality they all did a lot of hauling for us. All of our helpers made a huge difference to us, and meant that we could accomplish all that we have this summer.
Sabrina spent several weeks with us on Oahu and Kauai, and developed a number of invaluable skills including memorizing each person’s odd sandwich requirements (Simon for example wanted half of the bread with nutella and half with jam, but they could not touch) and communicating seamlessly with Lauren underwater using sign language. She helped us through the lost car key debacle and was an ace with the sand anchors and transect tape.
Rosemary made the big trip all the way from New Zealand to be with us on Kauai and Maui. We really appreciated her visiting us and helping us out not only with the work on these two islands but the move between them (15 checked bags…seems our gear inventory has been steadily increasing). We also really appreciated the Tim Tams, still unavailable as the real deal in the USA!
Rob was with us in Kauai and researched more local things to do than the rest of us combined. We were amazed/appalled when we did a somewhat average dive at Koloa landing, Kauai (a boat ramp) as a warm-up. Rob came up exclaiming that it was the best dive he had ever done! We guess that’s what happens when you dive in San Diego, then in zero viz in North Carolina..Rob also secured the equipment to the reef far more thoroughly than Simon or I had been doing. Simon recalls when he vaguely signaled to Rob underwater that one of the hydrophones needed to be tied off, and watched as Rob meticulously secured the device extremely well and with great care, understanding that the site we selected periodically sees massive swell. We had to buy extra cable ties after he left, but it was worth it.
Sam and Steve visited for a short time on Maui, but were lucky enough to be there to help us lug everything on moving day. They also helped us create a new line of bagel shaped toppings to go onto bagel burgers. We were fortunate to dive the fantastic Nu’u bay with them. They were troopers when our 2WD van got stuck on the 4WD-only trail, moving gear out of the back to lighten the load and then helping to push the car out of the volcanic rubble it had buried itself in.
Everyone hauled a LOT of our stuff in and out of the water, and helped once we were underwater. We like to tease them, but having extra hands was invaluable. It is a lot harder to get it all done without them! The company wasn’t half bad either. Thanks to all you guys!
We’ve almost never deployed or collected our instruments without additional flotation of some kind. A raft helps us transport heavy and large equipment from shore, and when equipped with a dive flag, signal to others where we are. We’ve had to swim out quite far in many places – the beach at Nu’u bay is far from deep water, hydrophones needed to be distant from the boat traffic at Maliko gulch, and we needed to show where we were to the boats coming in and out of Kewalo basin.
Our first ‘vessel’ was the “Sea Hawk 300” – a toy inflatable boat complete with plastic oars we got for $30 (what a bargain!). Apart from its tendency to occasionally leak it was a great help, hauling equipment from the beach to dive sites and back. It even served as a real boat when Simon had a cold and followed Lauren as she snorkeled to retrieve the instruments at Electric Beach, Oahu.
We had a few problems with the sea hawk. We left the car keys inside while we were down which didn’t go well on one occasion when the waterproof plastic bag with the keys inside took flight over the side. If anyone ever finds a floating bag on a pacific beach with a new-looking Volkswagen keyfob inside (which should be in perfect working condition), its worth $370 when returned to Enterprise.
The line connecting the sea hawk to us was fairly thin and had the disconcerting tendency to break. This happened three times at Kahekili bay on Maui’s west coast. Luckily, each time the stiff tradewinds were blowing along shore. As soon as it was discovered that the boat was gone the drill was the same – everyone surfaced and swam to the beach, whoever got there first would dump their gear and run downwind. After running a kilometre in a full wetsuit and then walking back upwind with the sea hawk in tow several times, we upgraded the line to an anchor warp. It was hoped that the extra hassle of carrying a heavy line like that underwater would be offset by never having to retrieve the boat again. We were right about never having to retrieve the boat again, but wrong about the rope..
Our deployment at La Perouse Bay, southern Maui, involved a swim of a couple of hundred metres offshore into water between 10-20 m deep. The tradewinds were fairly strong this far from shore and we could feel them constantly tugging on the sea hawk while we were underwater with the heavy line clipped to our belts. During the last survey of the day we clipped the sea hawk to one of the anchors that was already screwed into the sand. When we came back…it was gone! The line hadn’t snapped. Instead, the spring loaded swivel snap had somehow come undone – something very difficult to replicate (as we tried many times) but possible under the right conditions. We surfaced as fast as we could (which was fairly slowly, as we had equipment and an ascent rate to watch) and looked for the boat. If it was close enough we could make a dash for it, or so I thought. I will never forget the view on the surface: a wild and windswept sea, a glowing sunset over Molokini, and the sea hawk flipping over and over wave crests far in the distance, forever freed from its anchor and on its way to the deep ocean via the Lanai channel. If it made it past Lanai, Molokini, and Maui, its three independent floatation chambers may mean that sea hawk will voyage over the north pacific gyre for many years.
Both of us were rather upset. It was sunset and we had to swim back to shore with all our stuff. We had become used to the convenience that sea hawk provided. What shall we do? We swam back to the beach and discussed/commiserated on the way home. Could we find an inexpensive replacement on Maui? Craigslist was consulted and sea hawk #2 (A.K.A. ‘the donut’) was found.
The donut is actually a ski tube (or ski biscuit in NZ). Bought for the humble sum of $25, it proved its worth the first time we used it – in choppy seas on Maui’s north shore where the sharp rocks might have pierced the thinner hull of the sea hawk.
Sometimes however, the distance between shore and where we want to put our equipment is just too far to swim. We have a permit to do our work in the marine reserve at Kealakekua bay on the Big Island, about 2 km from the nearest shore access. Although almost no-one swims, hundreds of kayakers make the trip every day to view the monument in the place where Captain Cook was killed and to snorkel the reef. We were tempted to use a kayak. But to rent or buy? The going rate for a double kayak is around $60 a day. We would need one here and at two other locations, so we would end up spending at least $300, which was roughly how much used double kayaks were going for on Craigslist. To cut a long story short we bought one – the “Pelican apex 13 twin”. Whether or not we save money depends on whether or not we can sell it in a couple of weeks!
Regardless, it works very well after a few quick mods (there were no porthole lids, so some real estate signs were sacrificed). The one exception was when we tried to take our scuba gear on board with us. With the tanks in the footwells, the centre of gravity is dangerously high. If you neatly put your mask away in the foot pocket of your fin (which sinks), its impossible to find everything on the bottom when the kayak tips over and spills all your gear! Luckily this occurred in a shallow safe place during our ‘sea
trial’ deployment at Puuhonua o Honaunau (Place of Refuge) Bay and a short swim to the car (to get a spare mask) meant that we recovered everything. We now tow the donut (with our dive gear inside) behind the kayak as a kind of trailer, which works very well. Needless to say we get quite a few comments from the other kayakers.
We have just recovered gear from our third site (out of four) on Maui, and are falling in love with this island all over again. It is so striking how different each of the Hawaiian Islands is from one another, both above and below water. Our previous stay on Maui was focused in Lahaina, which is one of the main tourist centers. This time we are visiting much more of the island and finding all kinds of fascinating and wonderful things.
Maui doesn’t have free range chickens in the same numbers as Kauai, but there are a few. It boasts many other introduced land critters that run wild including goats and mongoose. We visited the most recent lava flow (~1790) which terminates at La Perouse Bayfor our second dive site, and found a stark, mostly black landscape. However, continue driving down the road and the sides of the large volcano are becoming steeply eroded into dramatic valleys, just like those that we hiked through on Oahu and Kauai.
The highest peak here is Haleakala Crater, which is 10,033 feet at the summit. We spent a pleasant evening at the top, warmly ensconced in many layers of fleece, with a picnic. We watched the sunset over the clouds and stayed around to see the sky change colors from light pink to orange to dramatic red and purple… and finally dark dark blue. The subsequent star show was incredible.
The water is bluer here and the visibility is an improvement over Kauai, although this could be entirely due to the weather. We are finding more coral, and more invertebrates are popping up on our overnight time lapse cameras too. The number of turtles here is very high – we jokingly refer to one bay we visited as “turtle dumptruck bay”. There are so many turtles in such a small location that at times it seems that they had been dumped in the water there!
When we visited most recently the water was rather murky, but we still enjoyed the experience with our friend and UCSD supercomputer guru John Helly.
Each of our dive sites has had its own unique attributes. The first, Kahekili, is a site regularly visited by Scripps graduate students, and some of our friends have long term experiments running there. It was fun to leave our equipment next to theirs for a few days! Last time we visited this site we were shown an unusual individual – a giant frogfish. Extremely hard to make out due to their almost perfect camouflage, the frog eluded us on this visit (although we know he’s there – divers see him year round in the same approximate location).
Our second site was at the end of the lava field, and had black sand with young, healthy looking corals and a huge array of fish. A large number of peacock grouper (‘Roi’ in Hawaiian) were seen, as was a large triton conch. The conch was a good sign – they are usually quickly taken as the shells are worth hundreds in the tourist trade. A large milkfish – about a metre long – came by to inspect our work.
The third site, Maliko bay on the north side, is in one of the only bays sheltered from the ripping trade winds that draw windsurfers and kiters from around the world to the north shore. Maliko bay is a little west of a famous surf location – a reef break known as ‘Jaws‘, which is said to break only when the swell is larger than 5 metres. Luckily for us it has been calm on the north side the last few days! A sign by a boat ramp proudly proclaims that the area is part of the “People’s Reclaimed Republic of Hawaii”, drawing attention to the United State’s overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and the desire of some of the locals to create a new country. We were a little nervous about working here, but everyone we talked to was extremely friendly and curious about what we were doing. They only seemed a little disappointed that we didn’t exit the water with bags full of fish and lobsters to share!
We checked out our fourth site today, a remote southeast location called Nu’u bay. It is a long and somewhat arduous road to get there, but the views and isolation are completely worth it. A narrow band of asphalt winds along the lower reaches of Haleakala, with black cliffs cascading into blue sea on the other side.
Eventually the road turns to patchwork and finally dirt, then we go through a gate (which is never locked), navigate a rocky trail, and walk the rest of the way down to the beach. The water seems extremely clear and the dramatic lava rock formations on shore appear to continue underwater. We are both so excited to get in the water here tomorrow and see what this isolated little bay has inside.
In addition to hosting a sizable group of Hawaiian Nation advocates, there are some notable names that have taken up residence nearby. We hear that Jean-Michel Cousteau comes around periodically to snorkel and check out the reefs. Alice Cooper runs a nightly radio show on one of the local stations and somebody from Fleetwood Mac runs a tavern named “Fleetwoods” in town. Although Maui is more developed than Kauai, it still seems to be a haven for the well-heeled.
We’re on Kauai! We arrived a little over a week ago and it has been a very full schedule since then. Our hydrophones are currently in the water for the third and final time on this island. Retrieval will take place on Friday, pack up Saturday, and it will all be flown to Maui on Sunday where this whole shebang will repeat itself.
Arriving at Lihue we were relieved to find that all our stuff made it here safely. Although Go! Mokulele airlines were very accommodating to us regarding our 15 checked bags, they were also very thorough, giving us little leeway on the ‘max 50 lbs per bag’ rule. Next to our tickets ($80 pp), the $400 in excess baggage fees were quite an eye opener.
We’re staying in Princeville, a golf-course-and-condo type place on the north shore right next to Hanalei bay. I’ve been to all four main Hawaiian Islands now and it’s still a toss-up between here and the Big Island, but for now I can certainly say Kauai’s north shore is one of the nicest places I’ve been to in the state. Rural, little development, friendly people, and stunning scenery make this place stand out. The condition of the environment is made clear when one snorkels the fore-reef at night. Rock lobster can be seen moving about the top of the reef and can be caught easily. We hope this area stays as it is – we hear the locals talking often about big-money developers moving in and destroying the wetlands.
The sea conditions around Kauai aren’t influenced by the local weather. Instead, swells come from far offshore. There is no barrier reef around Kauai so what arrives via the deep ocean strikes the island directly, making for strong currents, large surf, and poor visibility. We initially planned, then abandoned, diving the West side. Not only are there no roads to take us very far there, what we can access is limited to a raging surf beach adjacent to a restricted missile test range. In the northern hemisphere summer, the northern Pacific is relatively calm while storms rage in the southern ocean. Consequently the south shore is battered by swells. In the winter the opposite is true, with swells from Aleutian storms bashing the north shore. In the fall, or right now, it can either be the best of both situations or the worst, depending on timing. Fortunately we have had the luxury of time in addition to lady luck being on our side. In the last 10 days it has been rough on the north shore then rough on the south, allowing us to first deploy and collect our hydrophones and cameras at Koloa landing in the south, then Tunnels beach in the north. Currently, swell is arriving from the south and northwest, allowing us to deploy instruments at Ahukini jetty on the east side. We hope that the conditions remain as they are until Friday, when everything comes out of the sea.
None of us had been to Kauai before, and critical to our success here is local knowledge. The dive store owner mentioned that there was only one reliable shore-based recreational dive site on the island (Koloa) and that this time of year was ‘dicey’. Fortunately he gave us Terry Lilley’s contact details. Terry is the kind of guy you’d expect if you met someone walking around in the bush with no shoes in rural New Zealand. He is a marine biologist, running his own non-profit here in Kauai. He lives in a mobile research station by the beach and drives a battered 1994 Toyota previa. He used to own a reptile zoo in California before making the move to Hawaii eight years ago. Terry has dived more often than many biologists we know, and his observational experience is second to none. He is found underwater almost daily, and always with his HD video camera. His knowledge of the underwater regions around Kauai is incomparable – no one else has dived this island as often or as broadly across such a range of weather conditions. Finding Terry, who was very enthusiastic about helping us, has been a godsend and has allowed us to 1) deploy our instruments in the places we wanted and 2) stay alive. As a bonus, we’ve been introduced to some of Kauai’s best diving.
One location has been particularly memorable. Tunnels beach is around 20 mins drive West from Hanalei. It is where Bethany Hamilton famously lost her arm in a tiger shark attack (As seen in the film ‘Soul surfer’). It appears to be a normal looking beach with a reef break offshore. Hundreds of pale tourists can be observed snorkeling just off the beach, swimming over a rocky region between waist and head-deep. Swimming out about 20 m further than that, the rock…disappears. A steep drop into deep water occurs all the
way along the beach. Why does the sand and rock end so abruptly? The answer lies in the positioning of the offshore reef and the winter swells. During storms, waves wash water over the outer reef, creating a ripping along-shore current that scours the underwater rock face. Currents of up to 7 kts can be experienced only 50 m from shore, even if it looks calm inside the reef. This is a dangerous place for the unwary. Even with a 4 ft swell on-shore we felt a 1 kt current pushing us along after we recovered our hydrophones. Without Terry we would never have known about the currents…and that this underwater cliff was perforated with an enormous, complicated maze of interconnected caverns that go back under the beach, under the beachside properties and under the road! In fact, much of Kauai’s underwater coastline is highly porous. Wherever we’ve dived in more exposed areas on the north shore, we’ve seen spectacular caves at around 10 – 20 m depth. There must be thousands of unexplored caverns out there.
During one of our rest days, Rob and I walked the Kalalau trail. Seeing as we only had one day, we figured we could do the 11 miles to Kalalau beach and back if we left before sunrise. This was both a good and a bad idea. Good because Kalalau beach was extremely beautiful and the walk took us through some spectacular terrain – reminiscent of Cape Brett for me.
Bad because 22 miles is around 35 km. This didn’t sound too bad until it became clear that it was virtually all up or down steep terrain. We got back at 9 pm or so and were rather sore the next day. Next time, we’ll camp at the end. The camping is so good in fact that many of the friendly campers we met seemed to be semi-permanent residents out there. With ample fresh water from the many waterfalls and an abundance of fish, prawns, and jungle fruits such as strawberry guavas and passionfruit, who wouldn’t want to stay until the park rangers come in on helicopters and drive the vagrants out? (apparently this happens more during summer).
We’ve been so busy between Sabrina’s arrival, finishing up data collection on Oahu, and moving to Kauai! We spent the last week wrapping up data collection in Oahu and packing. On Saturday we moved to Kauai. We are now settling in to our rental condo in Princeville and gearing up for our first dive day today. Here’s a photo gallery update of our most recent activities