Saturday, March 26, 2011

Fiji Expedition: Another Goodbye and Photos

This post was written by frequent Global Explorers Blog contributor Keith Ellenbogen.

Nasavu Village, Nadi District, Bua Province
Keith Ellenbogen

Today is the day I dread most of all. It’s the day that I say goodbye to my new friends from far away across the Pacific Ocean. While I have been to Fiji before, I have never been fortunate to live and integrate into village life. The people were welcoming way beyond my expectations. Although I was only there for one week, as we shook hands to say goodbye I could feel the bond of friendship lasting a lifetime.

 Nasavu villagers (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

For me one of the most memorable experiences was powering up the generator each night to review the pictures of the day. Typically, I look at each picture alone. But life in the village is community-based and many of the people were interested in what we saw each day, particularly since no one in the village owns a camera. Photographs in Nasavu are rare, cherished possessions that hang on the walls long after they have faded and bent.

 Keith Ellenbogen with the Nasavu villagers (Photo: Rebecca Weeks)

Within the veranda of our small tin house, tens of men, women and children crowded over my shoulder to look at pictures both of themselves and the underwater world [as seen in the photos in this post]. Even though Nasavu village is located right next to the sea, for some of the people this was a first look underwater and for others it was a new way of looking at their coral reefs [as seen in the photos in this post]. The images sparked conversations that hopefully, in conjunction with the research, will lead towards marine conservation and a sustainable future.

 Navasu village (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

 (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

One of the best ways that this can be done is by making people aware of the unique species right in their own backyard, such as the Fiji fang blenny (Meiacanthus oualauensis) and the red and black anemonefish (Amphiprion barberi) [Image in this previous expedition post], that are native to the region. Not to mention these other amazing animals.

 Reef crab, similar to one photographed in 2009 (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

Nudibranch, other nudibranchs photographed in 2010 (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

 Bull sharks photographed in Beqa in 2011 (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

(Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

Until next time. I hope you enjoyed all the images and stories. As they say in Fiji, vinaka vakalevu (thank you!).


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Fiji Expedition: Miraculous Reef Builders

This is a guest post from Dr. Stacy Jupiter, Program Director for the Wildlife Conservation Society in Fiji. The photos are by frequent Global Explorers Blog contributor Keith Ellenbogen.

On several occasions, I have been privileged to introduce someone to coral reefs for the first time. In every instance, they have emerged from the water or from viewing through a looking glass with an ear-to-ear smile. Who would have imagined that under the flat blue surface there would be neon cities with Gothic cathedral-like constructions and canopies?

(Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

Most coral polyps are smaller than an ant, and like those industrious creatures, their collective labor can yield much more than the sum of its parts. Yet while ants are often preoccupied with dismantling some larger creature to feed their swarm, corals are specialist architects. For reef building species, the jelly-like corals secrete calcium carbonate skeletons outside their bodies. These skeletons are strong, like bone, and have actually been used to make a "bone paste" (developed by Dr. Brent Constantz at Stanford University) which can be injected into human patients with fractures to form an internal cast. I know this because my father, an orthopaedic surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital, performed some of the first experimental trials.

(Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

Coral larvae ("planulae") are free-swimming. After a few weeks of swimming around with the rest of the plankton, they settle down to hard reef substrate where they will spend the rest of their lives, which for some coral giants may be over a thousand years. Each type of reef builder receives direction from its genes on what type of construction to build, however, the overall form may be modified by environmental conditions. For example, a branching Acropora on the reef crest that is chronically bashed by waves may hunker down and thicken its branches, whereas the same species in a sheltered backreef lagoon may extend their arms as they grow quickly towards the light. [Dr. Randi Rotjan and Kathryn Furby posted about these stages of stationary and mobile corals from the 2011 Red Sea Expedition.]

(Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

Corals themselves do not need light to grow, but inside their tissues they harbor tiny plant-like algae (called "zooxanthellae") which require the sun's energy for photosynthesis. It's a win-win situation. The corals benefit from the food produced by the algae while the algae stay safe within their coral houses. This energy fuels the fantastic reef building that can create reef structures that stretch for miles. However, the process is slow.

(Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

While some corals can extend as long as my index finger during a single year, most deposit only small films of skeleton such that the entire reef platform may only grow less than an inch. It is important to put this into perspective when fishermen use dynamite blasts to catch fish: they are destroying coral platforms that have taken millenia to build and will not quickly come back.

(Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

Coral skeletons also provide us important information about changes to the environment. As corals deposit each layer like tree rings, the trace elements that become incorporated into the calcium carbonate scaffolding reflect the conditions in the water at the time the coral was growing.

(Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

I have spent many years probing coral skeletons to understand how changes to reef water quality can be related to changes in land use practices in adjacent watersheds. Other trace elements can also tell us how sea surface temperature has changed from the distant past before people began collecting records from thermometers. They thus enable us to have a long-term baseline from which we can assess the effects of global climate change. [Dr. Steve Webster of the Monterey Bay Aquarium described the affects of climate change on corals in the Indo-Pacific in this post from the 2011 Joint Aquarium Fiji Expedition.]

(Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

But these thoughts aren't on my mind as I plunge into the coral canyons. As many times as I have been diving, I never tire of their vivid colors and intriguing geometries. And I never forget that these corals form the important foundation for the thousands of other fish and invertebrate species that call the reefs their home.

-Stacy Jupiter, PhD

Fiji Expedition: Village Life, Nasavu Style

This is a guest post from Dr. Stacy Jupiter, Program Director for the Wildlife Conservation Society in Fiji. The photos are by frequent Global Explorers Blog contributor Keith Ellenbogen.

We've been living in Nasavu village for almost a week and are getting accustomed to its daily rhythms. The roosters crow when the tides go out--lately this has been starting from about 3 a.m. Before dawn the women are up preparing scones and cassava cakes for breakfast and we can smell the smoke of their fires. The kids peer into my tent to see when I will crawl out to face the day. Once the hustle and bustle begins, it is non-stop activity until the sun goes down.

(Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

Nasavu village is extra busy this week as guests have been arriving for a funeral today for a village elder who passed away on Tuesday night. On top of their regular household chores, the women have been weaving mats to present to the bereaved family during a reguregu, when formal condolences are exchanged. A cow has been slaughtered, a pig hog-tied, and men have passed by with hundreds of pounds of taro, which will all go into an earth oven for a traditional lovo feast. As I look through the wooden posts of our veranda, a chain of women and girls are walking by carrying colorful bula cloth draped between them like a long chain of flags.

A Fijian funeral seems less a sad remembrance than a celebration of a person's life, giving a reason for all of the neighboring clans to gather and reconnect. It would be inappropriate for us to conduct dive surveys today, so instead, to pay our respects to the family, we attended the church service and burial. All of the pews were packed and voices rang out in perfect harmony in hymn after hymn. Keith was invited up to the pulpit to get a better view from his lens and remained wedged between the junior pastors during the sermon.

Since it was Keith's last day with our team, in the afternoon we got permission to take out one of our boats so he could take the opportunity to photograph local fishermen in action. Most of the fishing from Nasavu village is done from a makeshift bamboo raft (bilibili), from which women cast hand lines and men thrust their hand spears.

Bilibili with fisherman (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

Some of the more intrepid men venture further offshore with their spearguns to free dive for their dinner.

(Photos: Keith Ellenbogen)

A skilled spearfisherman can be highly efficient at removing catch from the reef. In Fiji, many spearfishers deliberately target surgeonfish and parrotfish as they are resting on the reef at night, thus very easy prey. These fish are important grazers of algae on coral reefs, a behavior which provides a critical function to maintaining healthy reef systems. Studies by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) have found that when fishers have direct access to markets, these fish are caught at levels 3 - 4 times higher than all other catch. Although currently, levels of fishing in Bua Province seem generally sustainably, as there becomes more opportunities to sell fish in the future, it may be wise to begin implementing specific bans on harvesting these herbivorous fish which provide such a critical function to the ecosystem.

After returning to the village to shower and eat, we headed over to the house across the courtyard for Keith's last kava session in the village. The men had been sitting around the tanoa for most of the day. Their eyes drooped and shoulders hunched as the let themselves slide down the wall. As the night grew later and we grew more weary ourselves, we bid moce (goodnight) to our new friends and stepped back out under the stars.

-Stacy Jupiter, PhD

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Fiji Expedition: Discovering Solevu Reefs

This is a guest post from Dr. Stacy Jupiter, Program Director for the Wildlife Conservation Society in Fiji. The photos are by frequent Global Explorers Blog contributor Keith Ellenbogen.

I had come to the chiefly village in Solevu District with Waisea from our team and the mata ni tikina (representative to the Provincial Council) from Nasavu Village, where we are staying in Nadi District, in order to present our sevusevu. [You can read a description of one of these welcoming ceremonies in this post from the 2011 Joint Aquarium Fiji Expedition.] When visiting a village in Fiji, it is traditional protocol to ask permission of the local chiefs before undertaking any marine survey in their waters. In Solevu village, their chief is a woman and she was particularly interested in how we could help her people restore their vanishing fisheries.

Preparing for a marine survey (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

Although illegal under the Fiji Fisheries Act, I learned that the women from Solevu village have been regularly using fish poison from derris root to obtain their catch. Lately, many women have come home empty handed.

"We're feeding our children [instant] noodles," the man next to me confided. "This is not healthy."

Dr. Stacy Jupiter preparing to survey reefs (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

As numerous bowls of kava were circulated, I listened as person after person recounted what they had heard about the positive benefits of management in Kubulau District, where the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has been working with communities since 2005. One man whose wife is from Kubulau was amazed on his last trip there when he snorkeled inside one of the marine protected areas. The Solevu communities were ready for help and they wanted us to start immediately.

Survey underway (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

Fortunately, that's why we are here. We are doing initial surveys of all of the reef habitats of Solevu District in order to make recommendations of where might be the best places to establish new protected areas. We will present all of the results back to the villages later this year. Then the chiefs will weigh the science against the costs of closing off areas to fishing to ultimately decide the size and location of the fisheries closures.

Coral transect (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

(Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

So far, there have been pleasant surprises, but also some worrying signs. The pleasant surprises have included a manta, a shovel nose ray, grey reef sharks, humphead wrasse and turtles--all rare, charismatic species which might draw dive tourism to the area.

(Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

The worrying signs on first impression are that the quantity and size of food fish are very low. However, there is opportunity to restore the fish populations. The corals are thriving across complex reef structure, which means that if the fish are given the chance, they will come back to feed future generations of Solevu children and bring them back to health.

-Stacy Jupiter, PhD

Monday, March 21, 2011

Fiji Expedition: Seeking Shelter from Tsunamis in Nasavu Village

This is a guest post from Dr. Stacy Jupiter, Program Director for the Wildlife Conservation Society in Fiji. The photos are by frequent Global Explorers Blog contributor Keith Ellenbogen.

At 8 p.m. on Friday, March 11, I got a call from Rebecca, our postdoctoral research fellow, asking if I was going to evacuate.

"Evacuate from what?" I asked.

"Haven't you seen the news?" she replied. "There was just an 8.9 magnitude earthquake off Japan and they have been hit with a 10 meter tsunami. All of the Pacific is on alert."

We hadn't been paying attention. Keith and I were too busy packing up our gear to depart with the team at 5 a.m. to catch a ferry to remote Bua Province on the western side of Vanua Levu. The Pacific Tsunami Watch Center estimated that waves would arrive in Fiji by 3:27 a.m.

Since Rebecca and I both live directly on the coast in Suva, we began what became a four hour deliberation over text messages and phone calls. Leave and seek shelter on the higher ground and hardwood floors of the WCS office or enjoy a soft bed at home by the sea?

Nasavu villagers welcoming Keith and Stacy (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

Keith and I dropped the gear at the office but I opted to watch some more news before sentencing myself to a sore back and stiff neck. As I'll be out in the field sleeping on floors for the next 6 weeks, I couldn't bear to give up one last night of real pillows and air conditioning. Still, I made sure that I was awake prior to 3 a.m. to confirm that the alarmist predictions of CNN had not come true and island nations closer to Japan were still intact.

Nasavu villagers (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

I breathed a sigh of relief after 4 a.m. when it appeared we were spared. By 5, we were at the office, bleary-eyed, but ready to hit the road in a mini-van to Natovi landing, from where we would catch a 3 hour ferry to Nabouwalu, and then a truck to Nasavu Village in Nadi District.

We have been conducting marine surveys in Bua Province since 2005, but this is the first time that we have ventured farther afield from Kubulau District, where WCS helped communities establish Fiji's first ridge-to-reef management plan and establish a network of 20 marine protected areas. After hearing about the success from Kubulau in terms of fish biomass reeled in and income earned from the sale of tourist dive tags, other nearby districts have asked us for assistance to initiate similar management schemes. This trip represents our first foray into the reefs of Nadi, Solevu, Wainunu and Wailevu districts to see just how much fishing has impacted their ecosystems.

Stacy Jupiter with  Nasavu villagers (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

Nasavu village is located along a beautiful stretch of coastline with palm-tree and mangrove lined bays. It is one of only four villages in the districts, home to about 150 people and the district primary school. We had a rather quiet reception as most of the village residents were unaware of our impending arrival. Initially, Akuila, our logistics coordinator, arranged for us to stay in Solevu District, but plans were quickly shifted due to an outbreak of typhoid, a waterborne bacterial disease which appears to be increasingly plaguing rural Fijian communities, possibly due to human alteration of watersheds (something that WCS and collaborators are looking to investigate).

Nasavu villagers (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

Instead, our newly typhoid-vaccinated staff were greeted with surprised smiles that soon gave way to extremely warm hospitality. A tanoa (kava bowl) was brought out and we drank bilo after bilo (cup after cup) of Fiji's signature brew. [As described in previous posts from the Joint Aquarium Fiji Expedition here and here] Keith took the opportunity to snap some shots of village life, while I developed a new fan club (Nasavu branch) after being encouraged by the kids to sing. As Fijians themselves seem to all be born gifted singers, they are always looking for someone with whom they can raise their voices in song.

Now that we have thoroughly dried out and avoided tsunami doom, we are looking forward to getting back into the water tomorrow to explore some new territory.

Moce mada.

-Stacy Jupiter, PhD

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Fiji Expedition: Fishing for Photos

This is a guest post from Dr. Stacy Jupiter, Program Director for the Wildlife Conservation Society in Fiji. The photos are by frequent Global Explorers Blog contributor Keith Ellenbogen.

How do you engage students in coral reef conservation without getting them wet?

Fish at the Suva Fish Market in Fiji (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

Researchers and education specialists from the Field Museum of Chicago, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Area (FLMMA) Network have recently launched a pilot interactive digital learning project called: "Conservation Connection: From the West Side to the West Pacific." The program, winner of the 2010 MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competition, links high school students from the VOISE Academy of inner city Chicago with students from the Marist Brothers School in Suva, Fiji.

Marist Brothers Student with flip camera (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

Through WhyReef, an online virtual coral reef world, students learn how to identify coral reef species, build food webs and evaluate the effects of different reef threats. In addition, the Chicago and Fiji students can directly interact with each other through online blogs and sharing photography and video projects about coral reef issues on FijiReef, which operates much like the ever-popular Facebook. This is a particularly exciting opportunity for Fiji students who may not have ever been previously exposed to technology such as digital cameras and video recorders which are nearly omnipresent in the United States.

Keith Ellenbogen with Marist Brothers students

In the 21st century, learning how to communicate through digital media is an essential tool. Not only does this program teach students about coral reef conservation issues, they learn how to script, produce and film their own documentaries about reef species, threats and management strategies. How lucky, then, that we have Keith, a real live professional photographer who was more than happy to provide videography tips to the Marist students.

Stacy Jupiter with Marist Brothers students at the Suva Fish Market in Fiji (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

After a brief demonstration, we loaded up the students in a mini-bus and took them straight down to the fish market at Suva Wharf to practice their newly acquired skills. Their task was to interview the fish vendors about what kind of fish they sell, where they are caught, and how fishing conditions have changed in the past ten years.

Marist Brothers students interviewing vendors at the Suva Fish Market in Fiji 
(Photos: Keith Ellenbogen)

Without hesitation, the boys approached the men and women sitting behind their colorful catch to discover that the fish have come in from all around Fiji, particularly from the areas of Lau and Kadavu. Meanwhile, I tried to get the boys to think critically about the conservation message of their footage and other WCS and FLMMA staff filled in the interviews with fun facts about the fish on offer, such as what part of pufferfish are toxic (answer: the liver and sometimes the skin).

Marist Brothers students with Keith Ellenbogen and Stacy Jupiter 

At the end of the day, all of the kids left smiling, excited to have practical experience outside of the classroom. Who knows, perhaps we have set some of these boys on a path to become documentary filmmakers, reporters or marine biologists? Only the future knows what is in store, but equipped with knowledge and skills, these students will hopefully have many doors open for them in years to come.

-Stacy Jupiter, PhD

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Fiji Expedition: Putting a good spin on it (spinner dolphins)

This is a guest post from Dr. Stacy Jupiter, Program Director for the Wildlife Conservation Society in Fiji. The photos are by frequent Global Explorers Blog contributor Keith Ellenbogen.

Keith and I were headed to Moon Reef, home to at least two resident groups of spinner dolphin (Stenella longirostris). It was late. We were hungry. And we had no idea where we were.

 Spinner dolphin (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

It was pitch black and we were being pitched forward and backward over ruts, holes and bumps along the four-wheel drive track that could hardly even be considered a cow path let alone a road. In the midst of repacking cables, chargers, cameras, hard drives, plugs and dive gear, we lost track of time and the sun set long before we could reach our destination.

Mode of transportation (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

I stopped to offer a lift to a young pregnant mother of three guiding her barefoot brood and to ask directions. We seemed to be going the right way, but without street lights, moonlight or signage, it was near impossible to tell. After finally deciding we had gone too far, we backtracked and finally found the sign to Natalei Ecolodge.

"Does anyone here know Jay?" I asked a group of young Fijian men sitting on a stoop carving wooden combs. "We're trying to find Takalana and we're lost."

Seemingly simple driving directions to the Takalana Bay Retreat (source)

They put us in touch with Jay Bau, who runs both Takalana Retreat and the Natalei Ecolodge situated between Nataleira and Silana villages in Tailevu Province of Viti Levu. He and his sister cater for intrepid researchers, photographers and travelers wanting to get a close look at the spinner dolphins.

It is quite rare to see dolphin in shallow, coral reef waters. Research led by Dr. Cara Miller of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society and Flinders University suggests that the spinner dolphins forage for food in the deeper oceanic waters at night and come to the sheltered lagoon of Moon Reef to rest during the day. On average, there are at least 31 dolphins resting in the lagoon on any given day, as measured by Timothy Hunt, a student of Dr. Miller's.

 Spinner dolphins (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

 The locals of Silana village believe that the dolphins are their ancestor spirits. Thus, Moon Reef has very strong ecological and cultural significance for the Fiji people. It is just one of the many reasons why the Wildlife Conservation Society is looking to nominate the entire Vatu-i-Ra Seascape area, including the waters of Tailevu Province, for World Heritage listing. [As mentioned in this previous post.]

A little chop and swell (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

We awoke in the morning to gusting winds, blinding rain and frigate birds on the horizon, which for mariners have often signalled more bad weather to come. Yet, we had not travelled all this way to be thwarted by a little chop and swell. Jay took Keith and I out to the reef to get an up close look at the dolphins. To everyone's great pleasure, the clouds lifted soon after we pulled into the lagoon. As we picked up speed, the dolphins came towards the bow, playing in its wake. Every once in a while one of us would give a loud whoop as off in the horizon we caught a glimpse of one of the breathtaking creatures breaking the surface to twirl in its characteristic spin.

 Spinner dolphins (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

Much more research still needs to be done about just why the dolphins have chosen Moon Reef as their resting location. By understanding the links between habitat and dolphin behavior, we can we better identify areas for cetacean protection and management across all of Fiji and the region. In the meantime, we will encourage the local communities to designate Moon Reef as a protected area while promoting dolphin-viewing as an ecotourism venture that provides jobs and income for local residents.

- Stacy Jupiter, PhD

Friday, March 18, 2011

Fiji Expedition: Shark Fin Soup

This is a guest post from Dr. Stacy Jupiter, Program Director for the Wildlife Conservation Society in Fiji. The photos are by frequent Global Explorers Blog contributor Keith Ellenbogen.

Peter Benchley, author of Jaws, felt remorse for his portrayal of the great white eating machine. The book and subsequent movie did indeed stir panic and fear in beachgoers, swimmers and surfers around the world. Benchley repented during the last decade of his career by becoming a strong advocate for shark conservation. He published several non-fiction works about the plight of sharks and how media sensationalism can lead to senseless killings of these majestic creatures that have critical functions in marine ecosystems. [Note: Wendy Benchley wrote for this blog about her husband's dedication to ocean conservation in this post during a 2008 expedition to the Sea of Cortez.]

 Bull shark at Shark Reef in Fiji (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

But sensationalism is not what is currently driving shark populations to the brink of extinction. They are being slaughtered on the scale of 50 million per year . . .  for shark fin soup. In China and other parts of Asia, shark fin soup is served to celebrate success or to honoured guests. As China's middle class grows, so does the demand for this luxury item, which fishers around the world eager to sell high value catch are happy to provide. [Note: New England Aquarium Explorer in Residence and National Geographic photographer Brian Skerry wrote this post about shark finning and other threats sharks face.]

Bull shark at Shark Reef in Fiji (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

In Fiji, indigenous people traditionally revered sharks as gods. Some fishermen still pay homage to Dakuwaqa, the Shark God, by pouring a bowl of kava in the sea before embarking on a fishing trip. It is not in Fijians' nature to destroy their totem spirits, and until recently, the inshore reef sharks were largely not a targeted fishery. But with rising costs of living and growing numbers of middlemen willing to pay top dollar to sell fins to feed the hungry Asian market, even small scale fishers are actively hunting the white tip, black tip and grey reef sharks that once had free reign over the coral gardens.

Bull sharks at Shark Reef in Fiji (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

Conservation organizations, such as the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), are struggling to find solutions to the rapid disappearance of these ocean giants that are critical for maintaining ecological balance in marine systems. With help from the Pew Charitable Trusts, some Pacific Island nations such as Palau and Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands have recently passed national legislation banning shark finning. While these are great conservation successes, they are only a first step. Without resources for enforcement and prosecution, the bans may only drive the finning further underground.

Whitetip reef shark (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

Keith and I took the plunge onto Shark Reef in Beqa Lagoon to observe how one local dive operation, Beqa Adventure Divers, is promoting shark conservation through green tourism that provides direct benefits to the local communities in terms of payment for each diver who visits Shark Reef. On the boat ride out, we had the opportunity to chat at length with owner Mike about his take on the issues. Mike has been working with the Fiji Department of Fisheries for several years to develop similar nation-wide bans on shark finning. However, he is rightfully adamant that unless the ban is coupled with staff and resources to conduct surveillance of shipping containers being exported to Asia, the law with never have teeth.

Blacktip reef shark (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

The sharks did not disappoint. We descended first to 30 m where over forty bull sharks took turns parading on their catwalk (top three photos). Granted, they were more interested in the severed fish heads being served up than showing off their sleek leather, but the fall line was still quite an impressive display.

Blacktip reef shark (Photo: Keith Ellenbogen)

Next we moved up the reef wall to 10 m where the grey reef sharks took turns showing off while the blacktips (photos above) and whitetips stole in where they could for a nibble. They got their chance to take center stage on the reef flat, amid Acropora table and finger corals and a spectacular turquoise backdrop.

I left Shark Reef today feeling hopeful that the passion of individuals can inspire change in the world. Whether that change is to convince donors to provide necessary training and capacity to Fiji Department of Fisheries to police shark finning or to convince an entire generation that responsible seafood choices are imperative to maintaining healthy oceans, they are all part of the solution. [Note: Dr. Jupiter posted about Fijian conservation efforts in this post from the 2010 Joint Aquarium Fiji Expedition.]

Stacy Jupiter, PhD

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Signing off from Indonesia

This post is written by Indonesia Expedition team leader Dr. Greg Stone. He is a Senior Vice President and Overseer of the New England Aquarium and Senior Vice President and Chief Scientist for Oceans at Conservation International (CI).

Our wetsuits are dry, the hard working able ROV is packed away, most expedition members have made the long trip home, and we now begin the process of pouring over pictures, video, specimens and vast amounts of data to understand what we have learned about ocean life and seamounts, from shallow, to very deep in Raja Ampat. This expedition was blessed with a wonderful Ship, ROV, Helicopter, scientists and crews on both vessels (PLAN B and PUTRIPAPUA).

Looking up at the Plan B from 80 feet, with a skiff to the side and the ROV teather leading to the surface (Photo: Greg Stone)

Because of these remarkable assets and people being deployed in a remote and also remarkable part of the world, we made great progress in conservation and science: discovering several new species and recorded new location and depth records of many more species, especially during the multiple ROV dives to over 900 meters—we revealed a new new world in the deep waters of Raja Ampat.

Brian Skerry photographing the ROV (Photo: Greg Stone)

This expedition may result, or at least support, the creation of a new MPA, as described in Crissy Hufford’s post. Brian Skerry and I made progress on the seamount story for National Geographic Magazine, especially a seamount we named it “spoon mountain.” We also did a flight to document illegal logging in the region, which really helped the terrestrial conservation efforts of CI.

Giant clam on seamount (Photo: Greg Stone)

This was an amazing expedition of exploration, research and conservation, one that I will never forget. I want to acknowledge the wonderful crew under the leadership of a consummate captain, David Passmore. No request was too small or too large. Everyone on PLAN B and at the Waitt Institute made sure this was a very successful endeavor. The crew really worked hard, 24 hours a day. Thank you, thank you, It was great to work with PLAN B and the Waitt Institute.

Frog fish at 2,000 feet taken by ROV (Photo: Greg Stone)

Finally, my thanks also go out to the New England Aquarium, Conservation International staff in Washington DC and in Indonesia, Alan Dynner and the New England Aquarium's Akiko Shiraki Dynner Fund for Ocean Exploration and Conservation, Ted Waitt and the Waitt Institute, National Geographic Magazine, The National Geographic Committee for Research and Exploration, the Monterey Bay aquarium Research Institute, and all of you who have read this blog and care about the oceans.

-Greg Stone