Category Archives: Grad School Couple

Women in Science: Marginalization is Subtle and Very, Very, Real.

I’m an oceanographer. Oceanography, ocean science, physical science – however you want to put it, it’s a male-dominated field. That never deterred me in the slightest, and I never felt that I was disadvantaged by being female. Until my postdoc. It took my awhile to wrap my head around the full story, but in hindsight I was severely marginalized and type-cast from the outset. It would have been the end of my career if it wasn’t for my own tenacity, the incredible support of my science husband (Simon), and my the professional network that I developed during graduate school.

 To My Fellow Women in Science & Tech – Do Not Get Stuck in the Girl Box

I graduated from Scripps Institution of Oceanography with a PhD – a stellar school. I left with a great resume and outstanding reference letters. After an intentional break for maternity leave, I started a postdoctoral fellowship at an institution that will remain nameless in this post. My two children* both turned one year old during my postdoc, during which time I published three first author peer-reviewed publications. I only published one in which I was not first author, which was with my science husband Simon (my husband). That’s your first clue that something was off.

It took nearly the entire three years of my postdoctoral fellowship for me to realize how badly I had been placed into the girl box. It was a subtle slide that started off with an unfortunate combination – my enthusiasm and willingness to help out, coupled with an institution where the predominant demographic is white men over age 50, and some stereotypical attitudes associated with that demographic.

How It Happened:

I arrived on the first day of my postdoc eager to meet my new colleagues and get started on my proposed scientific work. There were a variety of hurdles to cross to get my computer, get my computer on the network, software installed, trainings completed, etc. My advisor did not make any major efforts to introduce me to the other scientists aside from those in our immediate research group, so I wandered through the hallways and asked people for help with various technical issues (Do you know where I can get a copy of MATLAB?) and tried to learn about what they do.

It should have been clear within a few weeks that I was in danger. I was asked to help plan a baby shower for a colleague, which I responded to with an enthusiastic yes thinking it would help me get to know people. More concerningly, no one had any interest in talking to me about science. I would ask them and incorporate others’ work in mine, but the curiosity and collaboration was not reciprocal. They were vaguely interested in my proposed project and said things like “that will be a useful study”. In hindsight, I now see they really couldn’t have cared less about my dissertation work on coral reefs and climate change. They didn’t know my advisor or colleagues from graduate school. Everyone had their own project or task, and almost no one was interested in deviating from that task. I was on a fellowship, which sounds great, but what it really meant is that no one had any investment in me or reason to loop me in to ongoing projects and research groups. I was on my own.

At the baby shower, the other organizers and I received accolades on the event planning. Several people, including my new advisor, had indicated to me that my new place of work sorely lacked the type of social events and mixing of disciplines that my graduate school did well. I like event planning. I am good at it. But I made a mistake when I started advocating the idea of the chili cook-off, which my advisor had suggested I do. People were excited! They were finally talking to me! About chili, but still – it was a start that would surely lead to scientific discussion and collaboration in the future.

Let’s cut to the chase here. The chili cook-off was great – a huge success by all accounts. Everyone up my chain of command arrived, brought chili, and thanked me for organizing. In fact, everyone including my highest superior liked it so much that they asked me to do another cook-off. Except they didn’t want another chili cook-off next year – they wanted another cook-off in three months. And another after that. Three cook-offs a year for chili, barbecue, and pies. Help planning the Christmas party every December. Organizing baby showers and lunches. Organize an elaborate potluck dinner for visiting external reviewers and also please make dessert. I worked in a place with very few women, and very few young people, so I was an obvious choice to spearhead and help with all of these activities. At every one, my praises were sung for party planning skills and ability to bring people together. I felt I couldn’t say no. I had become the token young female event planner. I was asked by my advisor’s boss’ boss repeatedly and in person to plan these events “or else the holiday party may not happen.” (Read – this extremely busy man went out of his way to personally track me down to ask me to plan a party, but not to congratulate me on my recently funded grant or publication or anything else pertaining to my actual job description, nor to ask how my job was going.)

I was not without party planning help – but my help had been at this institution longer, and was far wiser to not invest too much time or enthusiasm in these activities. (My help also came solely from the young female demographic, and you’ve probably ascertained by now that there weren’t many of us in this particular research division). I burned out on it too over time. It wasn’t fun, and the time commitment snowballed. People kept asking for more social events, and events with greater complexity.

I love organizing and planning events, but if I wanted to be the party planner I would not have gotten a PhD in science and I certainly wouldn’t be applying for high level research and science jobs.

Things started to get ugly after about two years. I had written a proposal for funding which my advisor submitted on an idea that we came up with together, but heavily relied on my expertise in coral reefs. The proposal was funded! However, I was not offered a permanent job, even though there was now an obvious source of money to start paying me from and I had demonstrated an ability to pull in outside funding. Simon was more concerned than me, and pushed me to start applying for other jobs. Soon we were both fully entrenched in finding permanent science jobs – an exhausting process. The full details of our dual job hunt are a story for another day, but what you need to know is that we found pairs of jobs at a couple of places that represented a net improvement in work and quality of life for our family. We found those jobs without any help from either of our postdoc advisors or the chain of command at my postdoc. Instead, we did quite a bit of leg work on our own and relied on our extremely wonderful support system from graduate school and some folks at a funding agency, who came through for us in a big way on many fronts.

Without any support from my advisor, I published a peer-reviewed paper on my work as a postdoc. He told me in front of Simon to abandon the work after I had nearly finished, my first and so far only publication in a new field, but I submitted it anyway. It was accepted first go with minor revisions on the same day that my advisor’s boss’ boss, the same man who repeatedly gave me glowing accolades for bringing the division together, who told me with a straight face that he valued me immensely as a scientist and wished me all the best in my new position, who gave a sincere speech in front of others emphasizing that I should reach out to him for help if I ever needed it, notified me that he was uncomfortable providing reference letters for me for the faculty jobs I am currently applying for.

I am forgiving, and I give people the benefit of the doubt. Simon will say that I am far too forgiving and trusting. He has a point, because it actually took me the entire three years to realize that none of the folks I worked with ever valued or respected me as a scientist. They never had any intention of hiring me into a permanent position. They appreciated me organizing social events for them on my time, and thought I was a nice person. They were happy to give me an office and get credit for my publications and presentations when I was funded by a postdoctoral fellowship. They were happy to take the money I brought in. But I will go so far as to say that most of them pigeonholed me from the start as an idealistic young female that wanted to save the world, and to the subsequent conclusion that I was not a “real” scientist.

This is the trap. Simply by being an enthusiastic young female, if placed in a sub-optimal setting (and there are many – I now have a keen nose during job interviews), you risk being labeled as “not a serious scientist” and placed in the girl box. By being female, and particularly by being a younger female, you are at high risk of being asked to spend time performing historically female roles such as planning holiday lunches, which do not further your scientific career whatsoever. If you decline, people then think that you are both not that great of a scientist and mean. If you accept, you have to spend a bunch of time organizing events, and you’ve also given yourself a life sentence that significantly reduces the time available to you for your actual job.

It wasn’t obvious. I’ve heard stories from people involved in cruel or abusive relationships – everyone starts off with high hopes and good intentions, so it is harder to see the warning signs at the beginning – that remind me of the chain of events that occurred. Once you realize that you’re in trouble, you’re already in too deep. Let me be explicit that I did not experience anything at my postdoctoral position that would alarm an HR department or fall into the category of abuse or harassment. Rather, I realized over time that I had been marginalized, likely as a result of my demographic, which was harmful in the long term for my career.

I was naive. Our graduate school, Scripps, is a special place where most of the scientists and students are genuinely curious and want to hear about research outside of their area of expertise. Offering to help with social events is a good idea because lots of people do, so you not only meet the other people helping out, but you have more name recognition and a better chance of knowing your local expert on carbon chemistry or predatory plankton when you need them. I honestly thought that by instigating a few social events at my new place of work, I could foster that type of environment.

Experience as a student, postdoc, or professional scientist depends so much on the institution. I wish I had realized just how different attitudes are from place to place before I launched into my postdoc bright-eyed and expecting the same type of atmosphere I had recently graduated from at Scripps.

As much as I hate to say this, I am sharing my story as a cautionary tale. Avoid pigeonholes. Volunteer strategically. Learn to say no without being offensive. The more we do it, the more women in science will be seen as equals. Use caution when choosing a new workplace – entering a position where you are in an extreme minority is going to mean you have an uphill battle ahead of you. Really talk to other employees, especially more senior women (or more senior folks close to your demographic). Now I’m generalizing, but senior women have always been willing to take time to chat with me behind a closed door about the truths of working at a particular institution. I underestimated that battle in a big way. I hope that you learn from my mistake. I sure did.


* I have two small children. I do not think that being a mother played a major role in this story. The biggest thing that may have gone differently if we waited to have kids is that I would have been more willing to take one of the other postdocs I was offered, which were geographically further from Simon’s position but involved a more engaged group of scientists. I may have picked up on the issues described above sooner and been able to get out faster if I hadn’t been dealing with a newborn and associated concerns about job security.

On Grad School & Science Work With a Baby

On Grad School & Science Work With a Small Baby

In Summary:

  • The later part of a PhD program can be a great time to have a baby
  • If you are married to another PhD student, you can use the flexible scheduling to your advantage x2
  • Be realistic about your goals – when someone tells you that you can get 2-4 hours of work done a day when your kid is 3 weeks old, believe them. 
  • Having a supportive partner, family, and friends makes a huge difference
  • So does your own attitude. 
  • Take advantage of the help! If people offer to bring you a meal, take your kid for a walk so you can work/nap, run a load of laundry, etc – always say yes!
  • Pay it forward when you can – always offer to help new moms in a way that makes sense to you. If babies aren’t your thing, bring over food or do a household chore 🙂
  • Don’t be afraid of childcare – it is worth the money to not have stress over being able to get work done!
  • Your baby and family are unique – work with what you have.
  • Ultimately what your family does is up to your family – no one can tell you that you were wrong. It is your responsibility to make it work.
Joey's first TG - Scripps Friday evening social hour - exactly 2 weeks old.
Joey’s first TG – Scripps Friday evening social hour – exactly 2 weeks old.

It was part luck and part careful planning, but I wound up being able to take a full 9 months off of work to spend with Joey during his first year. When he was born, Simon and I were still PhD students at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. I graduated when he was 3 months old, and since then have been on self-proclaimed ‘maternity leave.’ I start my new position as an NRC Postdoctoral Fellow on August 25 – a couple of weeks after Joey’s first birthday.

We spent a good amount of time before getting pregnant thinking about the best time to slot in a baby or two with our career plans. Several of our professors indicated to us that the end of grad school is actually a great time – the hours are super flexible since near the end your main task is writing and editing your dissertation and associated manuscripts. This was a little tough to believe during our hectic first years of classes, but we decided to give it a shot!

Pregnant and didn't know it yet, last week in Hawaii after our six month field work odyssey.
Pregnant and didn’t know it yet, last week in Hawaii after our six month field work odyssey.

Soon after Simon’s and my joint field expedition to Hawaii, we found out we were pregnant with Joey.

Having a kid in grad school worked out very well for us. We had been in San Diego long enough to have a great support network, and at Scripps long enough to be established with our own shared office. We installed an electric baby swing, and within a couple weeks of Joey’s arrival we started bringing him into work with us. We would work during his naps, then feed and change him and periodically take him for walks along the beach.

Joey hangs out in a drawer traditionally used to store foraminefera samples in the Norris Lab while Simon writes his dissertation. Photo- Jill Harris
Joey hangs out in a drawer traditionally used to store foraminefera samples in the Norris Lab while Simon writes his dissertation. Photo- Jill Harris

We spent long hours at Scripps in the time immediately preceding our defenses. I remember still being there at 10:00pm on the night of Halloween and feeling guilty that I hadn’t gotten Joey a Halloween costume, so I took a photo of him wearing a dinosaur hat. He probably missed out on a few other things during his first few months since we were so caught up in work, but he was an incredibly good sport about letting us get what we needed done, and he also wound up getting to spend his entire days with one or both of his parents. We had some excellent friend babysitters that would take him for long walks when we needed to really focus, and my mom came to stay a couple of times before we graduated to help take some of the care duties so that Simon and I could both get our work done.

Joey's sort of lame first Halloween costume, pictured in our office well after sunset on Friday October 31, 2013
Joey’s sort of lame first Halloween costume, pictured in our office well after sunset on Friday October 31, 2013

I had always intended to continue working after having kids. Simon and I dream of a joint science job somewhere beautiful along the water down the road. But after careful consultation with my advisors and assessment of our life situation, we decided to take 3 months off as a family after graduating to travel and visit Joey’s extended family/fatherland, and I stalled on my job search so that I could stay home with Joey until he was 1 year old. I’ve gotten less science work done during that time than I had hoped (two submitted papers instead of four), but more life work – updating the family photos, organizing our new townhouse, spending time with Joey and my family, and other good stuff like that.

Mama & Daddy graduated vacation to the BVI to try out our dream yachting lifestyle
Mama & Daddy graduated vacation to the BVI to try out our dream yachting lifestyle

 Now that my start date is closing in, we are tackling the hardest parenting job we have faced yet – finding Joey suitable care while we work. The first daycare we visited us bluntly informed us that Joey would cry for the first several weeks after being dropped off at their house, may not eat, and probably would stop sleeping all night because he was so distressed by the change after being spoiled by a year at home with his mama. I imagine this was a poor example of a daycare provider (we haven’t visited another yet), but it was still a crummy first experience. We took the initiative to look into other daycares, nanny-shares, and part-time babysitters. We are still searching, but slowly honing in on the best choice for our family. Thank goodness I started this hunt six weeks before my job start date!

*UPDATE 11-20-14: Joey has a wonderful nanny that we all three love. She stays with him 3-4 days a week. On the other days, Simon & I work a split schedule*

I am so grateful for the extra time I got to spend with Joey, and also so excited to be returning to full-time work soon! Sometimes it is hard to keep the long-term perspective in our sights, but usually the other of Simon or I is quick to remind the distressed person why we are making these choices. The biggest key to our happiness is being realistic – how many hours a week could one work if providing 80% of the care for a small baby? What could one achieve in that time? If it isn’t enough, how can we pull in friends or childcare professionals to help us achieve our goals?

The academic and professional science environment can be a wonderful place to have a weird schedule, accommodate a growing family, and get in a lot of cool work travel. Ultimately it is up to you the scientist to be pro-active about making the situation meet your needs.

All newly minted Scripps docters sign the Surfside rafters after receiving their PhD. Joey is the first thesis baby to be included with this esteemed collection.
All newly minted Scripps docters sign the Surfside rafters after receiving their PhD. Joey is the first thesis baby to be included with this esteemed collection.

Hawaii – top picks from our 5 month odyssey

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.IMG_8369

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.IMG_8477

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!IMG_8470

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!

Marukame Udon

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.


Kalalau trail

IMG_8765This 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. IMG_8737The terminus is at Kalalau bay – a surreal place that really evokes the fantastical meaning of the word “Paradise”. IMG_8785The 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!

Tunnels beach

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

IMG_4122We 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

IMG_9162The 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.IMG_9240  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.

Simon insists that our Honda Odyssey can offroad with the best of them.  It proved itself yet again on the gravel access to Nu'u Bay today
Simon insists that our Honda Odyssey can offroad with the best of them. It proved itself yet again on the gravel access to Nu’u Bay.

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…

Big Island

Best dive shop – Sandwich Island Divers.

The kayak fits in very well with our rented Avalon.
The avalon at Sandwich Isle 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.IMG_0093 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.IMG_0314 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

IMG_0845Search “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). IMG_6793 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.IMG_6850  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?IMG_0907

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

IMG_9658This 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.IMG_9639  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 mantaDCIM100GOPRO

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. DCIM100GOPRO 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.IMG_6184  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. DCIM100GOPRO 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.

South point

DCIM100GOPROThe 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.DCIM100GOPRO 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.DCIM100GOPRO

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).

P.S….Baby F!

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!


Thanks to Our Mules!

Every moving day, all of this had to get into a car, out of the car, onto an airplane, off the airplane, into another car, and into a new house. It was so much easier with the extra help!
Dive buddies made times above water more fun too

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.

Rob, Sabrina, Lauren, and Simon on Kauai
Sabrina and Lauren

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.

Rob, Simon, and Sabrina, ready to haul and dive
Rosemary and Lauren on luggage duty on the Kauai to Maui move

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, psyched to be underwater in the tropics

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.

Rob uses his cable tie skills effectively for an ITC deployment off of Ahukini Jetty

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.

Team S- Sam, Steve, and Simon with a fully loaded car

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!

Mules moving gear over land
Mules moving gear underwater

The sea hawk, the donut, and the pelican.

The ski donut with our gear on board at Nu’u bay, Southeast Maui.

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.

The ‘sea hawk 300’ – our first trusty gear hauler.

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 sea hawk on that fateful day…

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..

The sea hawk at Three Tables, Oahu.

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.

Local kids jump off the pier at Maliko gulch as the donut drifts by.

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.

The pelican twin – our new packhorse.
Simon swims out to meet the kayak/donut trailer at Kealakekua boat ramp.

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!

Launching the pelican kayak and its donut trailer at Kealakekua Bay. Local guy Daniel (right) helped us a lot.

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

The kayak fits very well atop our rented Avalon.

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.

Success at Kealakekua bay!

Maui Wowie

Hello Maui!

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.

Haleakala Crater at dusk

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.

Sunset from Haleakala over the clouds

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.

Simon photographing the sunset
Evening picnic on the mountain
Sunset picnic atop Haleakala
Friendly turtles abound in the waters around Maui

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!

Lunchtime- green sea turtle hunting for algae

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.

Simon checking out another Scripps graduate student experiment- herbivore exclusion cages at Kahekili

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).

The triton shell at La Perouse Bay

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.

Black sand and patch reefs at La Perouse
The windsurfing show on the North Shore- here sailors take advantage of both wind and waves, and the result is spectacular

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!

The road to Nu’u, along the remote southeast coast of Maui
Patchwork asphalt – we still can’t quite figure out how this happened
Views along the way- from above, Molokini Crater is dwarfed by Kahoolawe Island

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.

Simon insists that our Honda Odyssey can offroad with the best of them. It proved itself yet again on the gravel access to Nu’u Bay today

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.

At the Republic of Hawaii (Maliko Bay), we had a fan club hoping we would come back with fish and lobsters to eat

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.

Fall diving in Kauai

There are so many turtles around Kauai.

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.

The end of the road – anticlockwise around Kauai (the island has no ring road).

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.

Lauren with friend

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.

Rob, Simon and Sabrina with the hydrophones, camera, and survey equipment ready to go out at Tunnels reef.

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.

Lauren, Terry, Simon, and Rob at Tunnels reef.

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

Divers exiting one of the caverns.

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.

Swimming through a cavern at Tunnels to get to our hydrophone deployment site.

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.

Rob happy with himself at Kalalau beach.

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).

Hawaii Fieldwork Photo Update – Oahu & Kauai

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

The Perks of Shore Diving

Two hydrophones recording away at Electric Beach, Oahu

Initially we thought we would be spoiled rotten during our time on the cruise.  The idea of working from a small boat with a tender seemed so much easier than lugging all of our heavy equipment between car and beach, and beach and dive site.  Such luxury would be hard to come down from, and we weren’t sure how we would handle it.

Turns out that some of those original assumptions were wrong.  Fortunately, it wasn’t too big of a shock- since our original assumptions often turn out to be wrong!

These urchins were so animated. I am feeling increasingly fond of them, despite their intimidating form.

Working from the Hi’ialakai was awesome, and we got to visit some of the most amazing underwater places on earth.  However, it was also extremely difficult.  We had to move heavy equipment between decks, and on and off our small boat every day.  The small boat was often out in rough seas, which made dealing with our gear challenging. We were both looking forward to begin shore diving operations this past week to see how it compares.

The Perks of Shore Diving:

1- All gear (diving, photographic, and acoustic) can be assembled on land.  It may be sandy, but it will definitely not be rocking, and no one will be seasick over the side while putting hydrophones together.

Look at all of the space to spread stuff out around the car!

2- No one uses our car except for us!  Unlike the small boat, which had to be emptied every day, our car can be the semi-permanent home for clean gear, removing one of the lugging stuff around steps.

OK, I admit that this is not a perk. Our hot water ‘showers’ from the car are difficult to keep at a comfortable temperature and often reach scalding levels. The trick is to keep the bottles out of direct sunlight…

3- Towing a raft full of stuff isn’t much harder than towing an empty raft.  We had to tow a surface float at all times on the cruise, so our trusty SeaHawk raft doesn’t seem very different in terms of effort.  It does serve a much more functional role as the main gear transportation device, however.

Simon towing SeaHawk out for a dive

4- Surface swimming is great exercise, and you get all the pros without much risk of serious injury. At least, not much risk compared to lifting 50-100lb piece of equipment or bracing oneself against 2-3 meter seas in a small boat.

Screwing in sand anchors is also great exercise! The underwater part of our routine hasn’t changed

5- I get to pack our cooler!  With whatever I want!  Instead of sifting through the same array of potato chips and crackers that weren’t particularly appetizing on the first day (much less the 21st), we fill our cooler each morning with foods we like for lunch and snacks.  What a great idea.

The camera ‘windmill’ was more challenging than expected to get to the surface while snorkeling, but Lauren eventually pulled it off. Our time lapse cameras captured quite a few of those damselfish!

6- If someone becomes sick and can’t dive, the other one can just pick the gear up snorkeling- no lost equipment!  This happened today when Simon’s cold was still too persistent for diving, and I recovered the two small hydrophones and camera tree from a dive site.  He helped from the SeaHawk, which incidentally also works well as a small rowboat.

Lauren snorkeling to recover hydrophones and cameras. It’s called Electric Beach because of the proximity to the power station.  The water is significantly warmer by the outfall.

7- Shave ice. Instead of celebrating another successful deployment with increasingly stale cookies, we can each select our own preferred flavors of Hawaii’s best frozen treat.

Since arriving in Hawaii, this is our new favorite dessert

All of our experiences in Hawaii have been incredible, and our time on the Hi’ialakai was nothing less.  We both learned so much and got to see the most amazing things.  But the challenges of really working at sea were real.  We learned how to take it all in stride and had an awesome time, but being relieved of those challenges makes us appreciate what we doing now that much more!

After a month at sea, we feel even more appreciation for Hawaii’s beautiful coastlines and geography. This is the view from our dive site at Electric Beach, looking towards the west end.

Back on Land, Working Hard

On the Pineapple Express train at Dole Plantation

Monday August 27:

Making port- the crew work to anchor the Hi’ialakai to the docks at Pearl Harbor

We’re back!  Hi’ialakai docked on Friday morning, depositing us on the surprisingly not rocking island of Oahu.

The thing we were most excited to go out and consume after a month at sea- frappucino

Last weekend was a mandatory ‘vacation’ for both of us, to recover from the cruise and get our land bearings again.  We spent most of Friday dealing with base passes and unloading, so the fun didn’t start until Saturday.  At first we made a bit of a hash of things, driving around aimlessly and wandering through the aisles of grocery and big-box stores for hours, contemplating different things we could buy for dinner. Freedom to choose at last!

The pineapple farm had gardens with many species of the foreign fruit

We slowly improved our game, and had some very fun adventures including a visit to America’s pineapple experience, the Dole Pineapple Plantation on the North Shore.  We also enjoyed a myriad of icy treats and nice coffee, including frappucino and shave ice.

We went to the pineapple farm as a joke- it is a very popular tourist destination, and typically something we would pass.  However, we couldn’t help having a good time riding the Pineapple Express train through the fields, exploring the giant pineapple-shaped hedge maze, and enjoying a mostly pineapple-based lunch in the cafeteria.  The grounds are free, and have a nice fish pond and well done gardens with all different kinds of the spiky fruit.  We each paid a nominal $5 fee for the activities, and Simon easily ate $20 worth of pineapple in free samples distributed around the Plantation.  It was really a wonderful day!

The amazing view from our new digs

We have also been enjoying the view from our new digs, which is high enough up that we can see IN to Diamond Head crater.

Simon whipping up something tasty in the fancy kitchen. We love the Schneider’s home!

Now that the fun vacation is over, we are back to the daily grind.  Lauren’s priority is getting meeting abstracts and a paper submitted, and Simon’s is downloading data, dealing with a mysterious Unix compiler, and fixing the flooded hydrophone.  In a week or two, we will begin staging our shore-based experiments for Oahu, soon to be followed by Kauai, Maui, and Hawaii.

Updates from Monday September 3:

Happy Labor Day!  In the midst of unloading, getting back into work, and settling in to our new room, we rather forgot about this blog post 🙂  As summer draws to a close in Honolulu, the weather isn’t changing but the tourist load is lessening and throngs of University of Hawaii undergrads are back.

View from the top- hiking behind the Schneider’s house to Lanipo peak
Sunday afternoon polo. A last minute decision resulted in a fun-filled afternoon and a truly Hawaiian take on the traditional sport
Sunday afternoon polo, played on a field between the mountains and a beautiful beach

Although our biggest concern is the flooded hydrophone computer, we are currently waiting (sort of patiently) to hear from the data recovery people before deciding if the hydrophone array can be fixed or not.  In the meantime, we have plenty of other work to keep us busy. All of last week was spent typing and coding furiously, and this week promises to be more of the same.  We are both itching to get back into the water soon!

The Honolulu skyline appeared over the ridge as we hiked back down late in the day.