Saturday, July 30, 2011


Not a whole lot to say about our work because Anne has been ill, it's been rainy and windy, and we’ve been on land nearly all week.  The number of albatrosses is rapidly declining, so people are starting to leave the "gooney fences" around buildings open and it's much easier to drive on the roads.  The island will feel very empty without them, but we're glad to see them fledge!  However, we've been seeing lots of Laysan duck broods (photo left) - the ducklings are adorable!!

I was able to convince the FWS volunteers Amelia and Eryn to come out with me Wednesday to collect coral reproductive samples at three different sites across the atoll.  They didn’t have an amazing time because they had a hard time getting into our small boat without a ladder, Eryn’s underwater camera flooded, and the waves and currents were pretty rough.  They survived and were tough though!  The highlight for me was, besides getting some work done finally, spotting two banded coral shrimp (photo right) clinging upside down in a small cave.

Tuesday morning, I accompanied a coastal engineer snorkeling along the southeast seawall.  He’s checking the condition of the seawall that protects the runway, but we were both unpleasantly surprised by the amount of metal debris there (photo left).  I enjoyed the diversity of fishes and saw a few species I don’t see very often.

Anne is well on her way to recovery now, so we spent the past few days measuring the depth of the Fuel and Cargo Piers (photo right) in order to determine how the beach changes year to year and preparing to deploy cages for my pearl oyster growth, survival, and predation experiment next week.  We’re looking forward to getting back in the water!!

Another group was out here last week to photograph and video-record Midway for a variety of art projects.  Among other projects, Chris Jordan’s group is creating a documentary about Midway and focusing the amount of plastic albatross chicks ingest (photo left), which exacerbates dehydration and starvation problems and probably increases death.  Chris Jordan’s work will be featured in the new Open Oceans exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  For more information on them, check out and
Photo Credit: Chris Jordan

Several contractors are coming out here next week to examine and bid on “rehabilitating” the Seaplane Hangar (photo below), which was heavily bombed both on Dec 7 1941 (Pearl Harbor Day) and during the Battle of Midway (June 4-6 1942).  It’s on the National Register of Historic Places and was used for repairing PBY Catalina seaplanes that were essential to the war effort.  FWS has committed many millions of dollars to repairing the deteriorating structure that is now used for storage of heavy equipment.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Coring, Boluses, and Wind

Jack and I spent three days drilling on the southeast reef rim to collect short cores.  Back in Santa Cruz, Don and others will use isotopic, x-ray, and other techniques to determine which organisms are creating the reef and the rate at which it is growing or eroding.  We used three half days and three fills of 8 tanks to collect three 10 cm vertical cores.  Jack also engineered a way to fill the holes with concrete, which was great because Anne and I would have had no idea how to combine cement and sand and our permit says we’re supposed to do that.  Coring is an important project to Don, but Anne and I have very little experience using the drill, so we were really glad Jack could figure it all out and explain it to us and help us do it!

Jack and I also spent about 20 hours discussing our SCWIBLES ideas and modules.  I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned that SCWIBLES is a UCSC-Watsonville High School program in which science grad students work with high school teachers to create and use science inquiry modules.  It’s funded by the National Science Foundation GK-12 program.  I have a fellowship for the next year and am really looking forward to starting work at Watsonville High in the fall. 

We decided to create an inquiry module using the albatross boluses (regurgitated undigested material like owl pellets) to teach Jack’s Integrated Science students about food chains and how plastics impact the ocean’s inhabitants.  I’m really excited about this project because, even though it doesn’t use my own research, it uses my experiences and photos from Midway and my observations of a very important species at Midway.

Things have slowed down now because Jack headed back to California, Anne has been having neck problems and her heavy medications are making her ill and unable to go on the boat or in the water, and it’s been very windy and rough.  I’ve had lots of time to clean and organize and plan and relax.  I’m looking forward to getting back to work and back in the water! 

The albatross fledglings are very excited about the wind because it makes it easier to fly and their parents have been coming back to feed much more in the last few days.  However, the island is now nearly empty of albatrosses.  There are probably still hundreds, but there used to be tens of thousands!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Currents, Coring, and More

We’ve been keeping Jack very busy lately with lots of work, but he’s also given us an excuse to do some fun stuff that we don’t do very often.  We’ve wanted to make sure Jack had the opportunity to enjoy and take lots of photos in diverse areas of the reef, so we’ve been doing that too, which we don’t take the time to do very often.  It reminds us how lucky we are to live and work in such a beautiful and amazing place for a few months, even though we do work very hard.  Jack was greeted by a gray reef shark on his first day in the water and by a pod of spinner dolphins swimming with us on his second day (no photos unfortunately!). 

We’ve also gone on a tour of Sand Island and accompanied the FWS biologist, Pete Leary, to Eastern Island the other day.  We were happy to help Pete check salinity of the three Laysan duck seeps over there, and he showed us the Battle of Midway Monument, thousands (or more) Sooty Terns and their eggs and chicks, and several Red-Footed Boobies with chicks.  A trip to Eastern Island is the one day all summer for which I bring and wear closed-toe shoes because Eastern has lots of puncture vine that can go right through sandals and hurt your feet a lot (I have previous experience!).  

Jack and I also helped the FWS volunteers monitor the beach for marine debris, monitor banded black-foot albatrosses (almost gone for the summer!), and check seeps for sick Laysan ducks.

As for work, Jack helped us drill cores of the hard substrate (dead coral), collect and examine spat collectors to study pearl oyster recruitment, conduct bivalve surveys, collect coral reproductive samples to determine spawning schedules of Midway corals, and more.  His expertise with tools and boats has been very helpful to us several times, and he’s always willing to help in whatever way he can.  

Jack has developed his own “current meter” using a buoy, some metal weights, a compass, a timer, and a line to measure currents everywhere we stop, which will help us to get a picture of how the currents work here and how coral, pearl oyster, and other larvae may be moving around.  

Jack and I have also been discussing how to incorporate inquiry-based learning into his classroom.  He and I have to develop a module to use in his classroom by September.  So far, we’ve just discussed what he’s teaching in his classes and tossed around a few ideas.  We’ve talked about maybe doing an “Ecosystem in a Jar” project or some kind of population dynamics project with systems around the school.  We've also collected lots of albatross boluses (the chicks regurgitate all un-digested material in their stomaches just before they fledge - usually lots of squid beaks and plastic) for his students to dissect to learn about albatrosses and the plastic in the ocean.

By the way, don't forget that every time I post to this blog, I also post these photos and many more (including captions) to  Enjoy!

Friday, July 08, 2011

Sharks, Feathers, Batfish and Jack

Not too much exciting happening lately.  The weather’s been better the last few days, so we’ve gotten a lot of bivalve surveys done.  One survey was a little stimulating because two gray reef sharks hung around watching us.  They were pretty small, but it’s a bit unnerving to be concentrating on searching for tiny things on the bottom when you know sharks are swimming around you!  I also posted several photos of Anne and I doing the surveys and a few of the other interesting things we’ve seen (octopus, nudibranches, dolphins, etc.).

Five visitors to Midway in the last week have been collecting breast feathers from dead albatross chicks in order to restore and create native Hawaiian kahilis (royal Hawaiian staffs that are covered in feathers).  Their knowledge of Hawaiian culture and contemporary politics was fascinating.  They performed an oli (chant) that one of them had written in honor of Midway and created a small kahili to show us why they were collecting these feathers. 

One of them was a photographer and videographer (actually law student) to whom I gave a tour of the island and took snorkeling at the Cargo Pier.  I was very excited to find there a species that has only been reported a few times in Hawaii (only under this Cargo Pier in 1980 and 2009) – Boer’s Spadefish (Platax boersii), which I know from Australia as "batfish".  We also saw one shark and lots of jacks.  This was the first time I’ve snorkeled there this year, and it’s always very different from the reef because it’s dark, deep, and murky – always a bit scary!

My SCWIBLES teacher partner, Jack Horner, who teaches biology and integrated science at Watsonville High School, arrived last night, so we spent the day getting him oriented and touring Sand Island.  We saw many of the historical landmarks that I rarely have reason to see (Pillbox, Cemetery, Power Plant, Sea Plane Warehouse, Cable Houses, etc.), as well as lots of chicks of various species and native and invasive plants.  His [one-sided] conversations with the albatross chicks are very entertaining – urging them to fly, move out of the way, or move into the shade!

Also, a sailboat with a couple heading for British Columbia arrived today.  They were struck by lightning yesterday and came here to do some repairs.  Also, a plane is coming in late tonight for fuel on the way from Maui to Japan. 

Hmm . . . maybe there actually has been lots of excitement lately!

Monday, July 04, 2011

Happy Independence Day!

Midway always celebrates holidays in style!  Our MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) committee, a military base tradition, decorated our Captain Brooks Tavern beautifully and organized several games that lasted nearly all day on Saturday to celebrate America’s Independence Day.  Here’s a photo of me, Midway’s deputy refuge manager John Klavitter, his wife Leona Laniawe, and our hotel manager Toy in our 4th of July splendor.  Games included volleyball, horseshoes, and a tug-of-war – so much fun!

Our head cook, Pong, organized a delicious feast, which included a roasted pig he’s carving in this photo, as well as watermelon, ambrosia, burgers, cookies, and much, much more!

I took a break from the festivities to wander parts of Sand Island I hadn’t seen yet this year.  I found the first albino albatross (photo right) reported this year, which has now been nicknamed Whitey and is being closely observed by the construction crew working near it.  I also photographed white tern, tropic bird, and albatross chicks at various stages.  White tern chicks (photo below) are always adorable!!

Unfortunately, heavy rain and thunderstorms have been reducing our number of work-days lately, but I still have lots of computer work to do, so I’ve been keeping busy!  We can work in rain (after all, we’re wet anyway!), but thunderstorms and strong winds keep us off the water.  June frequently has a lot of rain and bad weather, so it’s easier to work in August and September.  Oh, well, we love Midway anyway!

Happy & Healthy Coral Transplants!

Anne and I spent a few days last week checking the finger coral (Porites compressa) transplants we deployed last September.  We were very excited to find that about 2/3 of the 80 transplants are still at least partially alive.  Many of them look very healthy and are the only coral in the area (photo to left).  We transplanted corals to 5 reefs in a line moving offshore from Rusty Bucket.  

These reefs were originally built by finger coral, but now have very little coral, lots of algae, and definitely no finger coral, so it’s really exciting that our restoration experiment seems to be working so far.  Our labmate Wendy planned and organized the experiment and hopefully will be coming back out here this summer briefly to finish it up.  I wrote a blog post last year (9/15/2010) on this experiment if you want more background. 

When we reached each site, Anne and I would scuba dive to 5-10 feet and find and clean as many of the metal tags as we could.  There were 4 groups of 10 shallow (5-7 ft) transplants and 4 groups of 10 deep (8-10 ft) transplants.  Anne measured the height and amount of live tissue of each transplant, while I photographed each with a ruler for scale. 

The Monument has prioritized restoring these reefs because they are very degraded (we’re not sure why – sewage output nearby for many years, etc.) and intact finger coral patch reefs host a diverse and unique group of organisms.  We went to one of these reefs a few days later and found very high coral cover, lots of bivalves including black-lipped pearl oysters, a lionfish, and seagrass, among many other organisms (photos above and to left).  This particular reef was hit very hard by the storms and/or tsunami this winter and changed its shape and depth quite a lot.  I had buoys and spat collectors attached to cement blocks, and they were moved all over.  Fortunately, we were able to find all of them eventually though!

We also just re-started a project of mine from two years ago to determine abundance (density) and size distribution of bivalves throughout Midway’s shallow marine environments.  I used GIS and remote sensing to divide the atoll into 4 habitats (sand, backreef, forereef, patch reef) and randomly select sites to do surveys.  When we surveyed about half the sites in 2009, we found a lot more bivalves on the forereef and patch reefs than backreefs and none on sand.  

We did 4 surveys of backreef yesterday and found only 1 bivalve.  However, we did see a flatfish, an octopus, and a giant porcupinefish.  A monk seal pup, K00 (photo to right), also found our boat fascinating and circled us for half an hour; he was very cute and I took lots of photos, but eventually we wanted him to go away so we could go in the water!