Monday, March 9, 2009

#10: The Closing Hours of the Expedition

Post by Steve Bailey

6:15AM- Another amazing sunrise. Wow.

Photo: Keith Ellenbogen

Within the hour, it'll be back into those wet and very ripe (quite amazing how funky neoprene becomes after 9 days and about 3 dozen dives) 3mm wetsuits to start our last day of dives. -sigh- All of us Aquarium Folks are trying hard not to think about work-esque things, and dwelling as long as possible on things Fijian, aquatic and soaking in every bit of this 82dF H2O and sweet smelling air. Nothing, absolutely nothing smells like the tropics.

A Nai'a crew member mentioned to one of our gang last night that when we are onboard it isn't like working for them. Geez. When I heard that I got all misty-eyed. Seriously. I'm comfortable enough with my manliness to admit that I love these guys. The high grades for these bi-coastal aquarium voyages in Fijian waters is 50% what we see and do, and 50% the incredibly genuine staff that makes this boat so unique. It's an honor that they feel that way about us.

group photo: Keith Ellenbogen

The day's first dive is Mt. Mutiny, a seamount rising up from 3000' to within 5' of the surface, no larger at the crest than a football field, and named with the ubiquitous Captain William Bligh in mind. Bligh managed to chart this seamount while heading to East Timor in his launch overfilled with loyal crew (very short on food and water), being chased by Fijian war canoes, with nearly 2000 miles under his keel after Fletcher Christian set him adrift, and another 2000 to go. Amazing. Talk about a multi-tasker.

'To-dos' for this dive include getting a new coral 20 meter transect mapped out near the reef crest to replace the multi-year study abandoned (due to persistently strong currents) on the Go Mo site. Dr. Webster, Keith Ellenbogen, and I will drape the marked surveyor's tape over the coral starting at 7' and ending at 55', in preparation for videotaping on the next dive. The pitch of this transect will be nearly 60 degrees! After all, this bathymetric feature falls quickly away to 3000,' and the length of our study is determined by the cliff. Beyond that edge, it'll be nothingness, only the indigo color of deep water and something resembling acrophobia (fear of heights- is that possible in water?!) for anyone hovering at the tape's end.

Photo: Mark Rosenstein

The rest of the gang is headed to 110' where silvertip sharks (Carcharinus albamarinatus) have on occasion been seen. Not a high probability exercise, but all feel it is worth using up valuable bottom time to head down there. It's a classic wall dive, and those not doing the day's more mundane science are really itching to get into the skiffs, therefore skipping 1st Breakfast.

1PM- Another terrific lunch; which is both a good thing, and a bad thing. Getting back to Boston means the start of caloric austerity for weeks to come.

The morning's dives hit on all cylinders. The 'deep-crew' saw 2 silvertips at 107' and Mark Rosenstein managed to snap a decent photo even though he had his macro lens on his camera for taking pictures of tiny critters. I'm very envious of them all.

Photo: Keith Ellenbogen

We succeeded on the transect as well (photo above). Both John Larkin and Keith swam four legs up and down that line slowly videotaping the abundant coral growth. It made my ears hurt just watching them. At this point of the expedition, my middle ears have required serious molly-coddling after every dive to keep me eligible for the next one.

Photo: Keith Ellenbogen

The transect footage will be analyzed once we get back to the States for percent cover of coral and the number of species. This same exercise will be done each time we revisit Mt Mutiny because repeatedly filming and analyzing this pristine stretch of coral will clue us into environmental change. Here's to hoping Doc Webster sees no change when he visits later this year!

Photo: Keith Ellenbogen

9PM- The gang just finished an expertly prepared meal of wahoo (freshly caught at 5 PM off the Nai'a 's stern) and rice by Chefs Penni and Ben. Immediately on its heels were Graham Connor's 71st Birthday Celebration (replete with a Fijian version of Happy Birthday sung expertly by the Crew), our last 'Diver of the Day Awards,' and the traditional end-of-expedition slide show. Everyone was pretty shaken up by the combination of our time here ending tomorrow, and the powerful images that we all captured during our expedition.

The days spent on this boat pass by at lightning speed. It's unfathomable that tomorrow we'll be listening to 'Mo and the UndeNai'ables' sing Isalei, the traditional Fijan farewell song. There won't be a dry eye amongst us.


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