Friday, August 27, 2010

Farewell, Volunteers!

In their last few days at Midway, our Mitsubishi volunteers finally explored the island on a historical tour led by FWS Visitor Services Manager Tracy Ammerman.  She started with the Cable Station (at left with Crystal and Mike), 5 buildings completed in 1904 and comprising the first structures built at Midway as the connection between Honolulu and Guam for the first worldwide communications network.  She also led us to Midway's only cemetery (with graves dating back to nearly 1900), World War II bombed powerplant and seaplane hangar, gun emplacement, Ave Maria shrine, and the Midway theater.

On their last night at Midway, the volunteers (and other island people) celebrated Mike's birthday with a carrot cake kindly baked and decorated by the Clipper House staff.  Anne loved it and ate about half of it!!

Later that night, the party moved to the All Hands Club so the Mitsubishi volunteers could finish their ceiling tile for the All Hands Club, a tradition for groups and residents at Midway.  This year, the tile was a work of art with cartoons and photographs.

On Thursday, the volunteers packed, prepared to leave, and took a few last photos, including this one below with all Coral Reefers and most of the FWS staff and volunteers.  FWS manager John Klavitter and his wife Leona left on the plane with them, although they'll be back in three weeks.

We'll definitely miss the volunteers because they made huge amounts of work possible.  Anne worked with them to do lots of sediment sampling, and they helped Don do three days of coring on the reef crest.  They helped Kristin collect and re-deploy temperature loggers and check her spat collectors.  They helped Kristin and Don collect Kristin's pearl oyster growth and survival cages and tiles and looked through the tiles for coral recruits.

Now that it's just Kristin, Anne, and Don (with Wendy to join us next week), the real work begins!  Anne and Don will leave on Sept 16, while Kristin and Wendy remain until Sept 23.  We have a lot of work and projects to complete in the next few weeks!

P.S. Kristin posted a ton of photos from all these social and research activities to the Picasa web album at  Check them out!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Collecting Sediment

Labmate Kristin has finally twisted my arm into writing a blog entry on the sediment sampling and analyses that I have been doing at Midway for the past three summers.  So here goes…

In 2008 and 2009 (map at left), I collected nearly 200 sediment samples from across the atoll, leaving only a few regions that need better coverage this summer.  This past week I have enjoyed taking out Seiji and Crystal for shallow sites that can be done free-diving with snorkel gear (10 – 25 ft depths), plus 10 SCUBA dives at deeper sites in the central channel (up to 70 ft).  I hope to collect another 15 – 20 samples at deep diving sites and another 12 – 15 from shallow sites near Eastern Island and the Sand Island piers.

Sampling consists of dropping a quadrat, photographing it in all four directions, pushing a 500 ml jar into the sandy bottom to collect a mini core (pictured right and below), and observing/photographing the area (e.g., habitat, species observed, sediment characteristics, oceanographic conditions).  On land, I wash each sediment sample in fresh water and spread it out to dry on plastic wrapped trays for 3 – 4 days.  We collect six pieces of representative rubble (pictured below) at each site as well.

Once back at Santa Cruz, I sieve a portion of each sediment sample to determine the relative percentage of different grain sizes (useful for describing atoll circulation patterns and the wave/wind energy acting upon bottom sediments).  A second fraction is cast in resin and thin-sectioned for identification purposes under a petrographic microscope.  I identify sediment grains on a 1 x 1 mm grid (coral, coralline algae, Halimeda algae, echinoderm, mollusk, foram, intraclast), which allows me to relate composition to source area and oceanographic factors within the atoll.

I am putting thoughts of this more tedious labwork out of my mind while I savor my time out on the water, collecting samples.  I enjoy exploring the atoll and seeing so many different spots!!  We’ve seen lots of seagrass and big patch reefs with Porites compressa (finger coral) this year, as well as many different species of fish and even a few sharks!  Stay tuned for results from analyses later this fall.

- Anne

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Saving Endangered Species!

Our volunteers arrived Thursday, and they’ve been keeping us busy every day!!  Our volunteers are: Bret, Seiji, Mike, and Crystal.  Crystal and Mike are from southern California, and Bret and Seiji live in New England.

This group is very pro-active about marine debris and entangled endangered species.  In 3 days, they’ve already rescued a sea turtle entangled in a net and removed a couple small and one very large net conglomeration from the reef that might entangle monk seals and other organisms! 

Yesterday, while Anne and I were checking spat collectors at our Hook site (western backreef), our volunteers Mike and Crystal and Thai herbicide technician Bob (AKA Kittipong) found a green turtle tangled in a net.  Anne came to help and cut the turtle free while Bob and Mike held the turtle still.  Crystal played photographer and took some amazing photos of the sequence of events.  For more photos of the events, check out our 2010 photo collection on Google’s Picasa:

The turtle was overgrown with algae and bleeding where the net cut into his “shoulder”, so we think it had been entangled for a while.  It was very lucky that it was shallow enough that it could reach the surface to breathe.  All involved were very happy to watch the turtle swim away happily afterwards. 

The very large net conglomeration was on the exposed reef crest at one of our main sites on the east side of the atoll (site 172).  Island residents on a fun snorkel last week first reported the net, and Anne and I observed it as well.  When we went there on Friday on our first reef snorkel with the volunteers, we observed two monk seals lying on the net.  One was even briefly entangled, but managed to disentangle himself.  After they left, we cut a few obvious entanglement hazards, but vowed to return and remove the whole thing. 

Today we returned and removed most of it.  We took a variety of knives and snips and towed an empty dinghy behind our boat.  All four volunteers, visiting construction inspector Todd (who is now an honorary Coral Reefer!), and Don, Anne, and I worked very hard to remove the net, get it into the dinghy, swim the full dinghy back to the boat, and tow the dinghy back to the island.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Collecting Spat

Two days without having to be rescued!! Yay! Miller seems to have fixed our boat problem, for which we are very grateful!

Yesterday and today, Anne and I worked on my pearl oyster recruitment experiment. My own Ph.D. research focuses on the population dynamics and restoration of black-lipped pearl oysters, Pinctada margaritifera, at Midway Atoll. This species is the same one that makes black pearls throughout the tropical Pacific (think Tahiti!), but in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, it was heavily harvested in the 1920s for the shell and has not recovered since then.

We’ve put a lot of effort into determining the temporal and spatial patterns of recruitment (= settling from planktonic larvae in the water column to a specific place on the seafloor). Since pearl oyster juveniles (see photo above) prefer dark crevices, I modeled my recruitment devices, or “spat collectors”, after what pearl farmers use. They’re essentially black shadecloth folded like an accordion attached to a buoy (see photo at right). We’ve deployed 10 at each of 9 sites throughout the atoll, and we measure and mark every pearl oyster juvenile on each spat collector every two weeks during our field season.

Today we went to sites 187 and 172, which are on the eastern side of the atoll. We tried to go there last week, but it was too rough to really accomplish something (the tradewinds from the east generally dominate this time of year), so we appreciated the calm today. Particularly since Anne’s stomach does NOT like measuring tiny things on a rocking boat! We got a lot done, but didn’t see anything particularly fascinating.

However, I did enjoy playing with an albatross chick that swam up to investigate us. Here’s above and below the water. We’ve learned to be careful with them in the water because they like to peck anything they can get, and the top of your head is right at their level!

We also observed a small patch reef with many solitary mushroom corals (Fungia scutaria). Each oval-shaped coral in the photo is one individual, as opposed to most corals where many individual polyps live in a colony. Corals in this family are called “mushroom corals” because they grow on a stalk or stem as juveniles and then break off, so they look like the cap of a mushroom. We often see clusters of them like this, which our coral book informs me is because a small attached stem repeatedly buds off new corals.

Our Mitsubishi volunteers arrive Thursday (2 days!), so probably no more posts until then. We’re looking forward to showing this wonderful place and our work to Bret, Crystal, Michael, and Seiji.

If you’re interested in learning more about Midway, a FWS volunteer, Barb Mayer, has been documenting her time here at Midway. She has a lot of great information about the land organisms and even fun activities. However, Barb leaves on the plane this Thursday, so I imagine it will be ending soon. It’s at:

Saturday, August 07, 2010

We’re back!!!

After thankfully uneventful flights to Hawaii and Midway, we’re very happy to see spinner dolphins, the last few albatrosses, turtles, sooty terns, monk seals, red-tailed tropic birds, and all the other residents of Midway.

I think they were happy to see us too – we saw three groups of dolphins and a school of flying fish on our first day on the water yesterday! One of the dolphin groups was the largest pod I’ve ever seen – probably at least 50 dolphins relatively close to the boat, but not remotely interested in us.

We also observed a stripebellied puffer fish at a cleaner wrasse station (in Anne's photograph at left).

Of course, it’s been good to see the people too – big hugs for Pong (our head chef), Leona (wife and partner of acting refuge manager John Klavitter), and many other familiar faces. There are also a lot of people we don’t know – most of the construction crew, all the firefighters, many Thais. That’s not very surprising, since we arrived almost exactly a year after we left last year.

We’re sorry to report that Kate will not be joining us at Midway, even for the short week she was planning, because her flights were delayed and she didn’t reach Honolulu before the plane for Midway departed. We were all looking forward to hearing about her time in Antarctica, but I suppose we’ll have to catch up another time.

We’re still missing permits for most of our projects, but we’re doing what we can and preparing for the rest. Bad news: We visited some of the sites of our experiments that we deployed last year and discovered that winter storms played havoc with our cages, buoys, and spat collectors (Cage frame at left is one of very few cages left intact!). Good news: We’ve received our two new permits for sediment coring and coral restoration.

The big excitement for us is that we’ve had to be “rescued” at sea two days in a row! I’m not sure I’ve ever had to call the island for help before, but it was definitely good to know that John Klavitter, Miller (FWS boat mechanic, who’s a real character!), and others are listening on the radio and will come to help us when we need it. We think the problem's solved and relatively easy to fix, but we were glad it waited for the end of the day!

At right, Anne enjoys her first dive at Midway after finishing her scientific diving course at UC Santa Cruz this spring. Diving without a wetsuit is new to her, since all of her dives recently have been in California or Washington (Brr!!).