Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Fiji 2013 | A living above and life below the water

For the past several years, the New England Aquarium has participated in a joint expedition to Fiji, along with the Monterey Bay Aquarium and other conservation-minded groups and individuals. The last expedition took place in Spring 2012

Today's post about the joint aquarium Fiji expedition comes from the Aquarium supporter and Boston Harbor Cruises Vice President Alison Nolan. (Our partners at Boston Harbor Cruises present the New England Aquarium Whale Watch.) Photos by Keith Ellenbogen.

Lionfish (Pterois volitans) at the wreck of the Nasi YalodinaPhoto: K. Ellenbogen 

87 years ago a relationship began with my family, my heart and the sea. My great-grandfather followed a singular passion determined to forge a living doing what he loved when he founded Boston Harbor Cruises in 1926.  Shortly thereafter and farther north, my maternal grandfather headed to the new world from Newfound Land with the promise of plentiful fishing and a day’s wage from the Boston Fish Pier at the young age of 14. He found both aboard the schooner Adventure as a career dory man. Both taught me much about life on the sea, vessels, fishing, and both shared amazing tales of foul weather and the struggle of making a living both on and from the ocean.

Reef crest at Lion's Den Reef off Wakaya Island, Fiji
Photo: K. Ellenbogen 

Today, I carry both in my heart as I make my way as a fourth generation Principal at Boston Harbor Cruises. Having spent countless hours on the ocean aboard passenger vessels it wasn’t until just recently that I started to spend some time within the ocean. As I write this blog, 633 minutes underwater to be exact.

Roughsnout ghost pipefish (Solenostemous paegnius) at Cat's Meow, Namena Marine Reserve
Photo: K. Ellenbogen

It is hard to explain what it is like to be a new diver within the opportunity I have been given aboard the NAI’A. Not only am I aboard a beautiful vessel in a beautiful country, I find myself surrounded by some of the most knowledgeable and contagiously enthusiastic minds in the fields of ichthyology, invertebrate zoology, marine biology, amateur naturalists, underwater photography as well as a captain who would impress both my great-grandfather and grandfather alike.    

Bailey and Alison (right) | Photo: K. Ellenbogen

Did I mention that more often than not my dive buddy has been Steve Bailey, the Aquarium's Curator of Fishes? In my 633 minutes, a short list of what I have seen would include; three species of shark, two turtles, a coral head estimated to be 4,000 years old, a field of sea eels, Spanish mackerel, lizardfish, ghost pipe fish, dragon in paradise, trumpet fish, giant clams, blue ribbon eel, whip goby, a wide field of lettuce coral, yellow edged lyre tail grouper, a devil ray, pygmy seahorses and yes, I have found Nemo.

Fijian triplefin (Helicogramma sp.) at the Kiobo Village Reef
Photo: K. Ellenbogen 

I have come to understand that many of these are rare and unique finds even for a group as knowledgeable and experienced as this. Usually first indicated by an enthusiastic fist pump from Bailey while underwater. It makes me understand how rare and special an experience this is, as well as how rare, special and delicate these places and environments have become.

Photo: K. Ellenbogen

What we can see above the water is only a small fraction of the wonderful, diverse, colorful and amazing things that life has to offer. These places and things are also often among the most fragile as well. Much has changed in 87 years regarding conservation and awareness of the underwater world. I for one will take away from this experience a renewed passion for protecting the marine environment that has been such a close part of my life but now newly inspiring.

Undescribed flatworm (Family Euryleptidae) at Cakaumomo Atoll
Photo: K. Ellenbogen 

And to Mrs. Nolan’s Biology classes at Manchester Essex Regional High School: Keep at it, have fun with science and listen to my Mom, because it turns out she really does know what she is talking about!    
Stay tuned to this blog to follow the team as they dive to collect data on the health of the coral reefspick up trash where they find it, check in with the villagers to see how some conservation initiatives are faring and further develop connections with the people that live on these beautiful Pacific islands.  

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