Counting down to fieldwork in the Gilbert Islands

In just over a month, I’ll be boarding a plane and heading to Tarawa, an atoll in the Gilbert Islands of Kiribati. I’ll be staying in Tarawa and the nearby Abaiang Atoll for about a month to conduct the first stage of my Ph.D. fieldwork. It’s been a long, dark, rainy winter in Vancouver and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to getting to spend some time in the tropics, although I expect that my lack of exposure to light means I will be especially susceptible to sunburn.

Tarawa is far away — about 8,000 kilometers — and it takes quite a bit of travel to get there. My advisor, a fellow graduate student, Heather, and I will all fly from Vancouver to Los Angeles to Nadi, Fiji and from there, finally, to Tarawa. While I’ve spent some time in other places in the Pacific (specifically Yap, FSM and the Marshall Islands), this will be my first time in the southern hemisphere. I guess I will finally have the opportunity to test whether the toilet flushes in the opposite direction on the other side of the equator!

The Gilbert Islands are just south of the Marshall Islands and north of Tuvalu. Map via

I’ll be doing similar work to what I was doing in the Marshall Islands for my MSc (which I finally finished in August 2017!). Tarawa, like Majuro, is more developed and has a large population, while Abaiang is more similar to Arno and is less populated. We will use the data we collect to test the hypothesis that past sea surface temperatures may influence how likely corals are to bleach when temperatures are high. In the Gilbert Islands, the reefs experience a lot of temperature variability because of El Niño and La Niña events, so corals there may have had a chance to adapt to temperature fluctuations. Corals in other places with more stable sea surface temperatures, like the Marshalls, could be more likely to bleach when temperatures are warm because they haven’t been exposed before. I’m also going to be using a fancy contraption called a diving PAM (a pulse-amplitude modulated fluorometer that can be used underwater) to measure photosynthetic rates of corals, which is a way to get an idea of how healthy the corals are at different sites. (This is not the same one that we have, but it will give you an idea of what it does and what it looks like.) Meanwhile, Heather, a MSc student in my lab, will be doing a really cool project to map the complexity of the reefs.

Preparing for this trip looks very much like my prep two years ago for my trip to the Marshalls, except I am leaving immediately after the semester ends so time is a bit more limited. I am in the process of renewing my Dive Accident Network first-aid and oxygen administration training, as well as doing check-out dives with UBC’s Dive Safety Officer (we have to do all of this, plus the full dive physical, every two years). I also need to get my dive gear serviced and do a bit of shopping to get appropriate clothing — in Kiribati, women generally keep their shoulders and their legs above the knees covered. Because there isn’t a lot of soil on low-lying atolls like Tarawa, fresh fruit and vegetables are limited, so we also need to bring things like dried fruits and electrolyte powders to supplement our meals. And, my advisor got dengue fever on a previous trip to Kiribati, so we will need to be extra careful to avoid mosquito bites as much as possible (I, unfortunately, am usually a mosquito magnet), which means buying a mosquito net and lots and lots of bug spray.

I’m also doing coursework at the moment and am working as a teaching assistant for two undergrad geography classes. In addition to finishing my assignments and the piles of marking I have to do before I go, probably the largest thing on my to-do list is to get comfortable with the diving PAM and to make sure I know exactly what we need to bring with us to use it. We think we will likely take small coral samples from each site and will then conduct measurements on shore, so we’ll need to bring whatever we need to collect samples and to keep them alive in a hot boat that’s sitting in the equatorial sun all day (although fortunately, the boat is partially covered so we will have some shade). This means a fair amount of research on my end as all of this is new to me — I’ve never collected samples of live corals or used a diving PAM before. I’ll be doing some practice with the PAM here in Vancouver to make sure I’m comfortable taking measurements with it, but of course I won’t be able to test this with corals until we’re in the field, where we likely won’t have access to a lot of materials.

I will be keeping the blog up-to-date during our fieldwork, so stay tuned for updates once we make it to Kiribati in April!





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Recent study of scientists and advocacy overlooks gender and racial biases

With the April 22 March for Science in Washington, DC quickly approaching and the current anti-scientific stance of the American government, the scientific community is abuzz with debate over what role scientists should play in activism. In the midst of these contentious times comes a new paper published in the journal Environmental Communication from George Mason University’s John Kotcher and a team of researchers from University of Wisconsin-Madison, which sought to answer whether advocacy impacts the credibility of climate scientists. While the study is an important step toward answering this question, I believe it raises more questions than it answers.

Media coverage of this study was widespread but often irresponsible. If one judged from headlines alone, it would be easy to think it showed that scientists are free to engage in whatever activism that they like, with no consequences. In reality, the study showed that a fictional expert in climate-related work, Dave Wilson, Ph.D. (either a climate scientist or a chief meteorologist at a weather station, depending on the response group) did not lose credibility when he made a public statement about responding to the threats caused by climate change (except when he advocated for nuclear power plants as an alternative energy source). Despite what many headlines suggested, the study does not show that scientists can use their platform to support any controversial political stances without consequences.

But perhaps more important than what this study revealed is what it didn’t. Study participants were introduced to Dr. Wilson through a short biographical description, followed by a fictional Facebook post. Dr. Wilson’s picture clearly showed an older white male. So are these results really all that surprising? In my opinion, the study would have been much more revealing if it included at least one more expert in addition to Dr. Wilson, ideally more (women, people of different races, or both), and the researchers examined how the public’s perception of the scientists’ credibility differed.

Also, I have to wonder if the results of this experiment would hold for younger scientists and graduate students like myself. If I were to take a public advocacy position about climate change (I haven’t made a clear statement, but I believe my feelings on the matter are pretty clear via my Twitter account), would my credibility change in the eyes of the general public? What role would age play in the results? Would older adults be less likely to accept a statement about climate change from someone younger than them?

To be fair, at this point in my early career, I don’t think the general public knows I exist, so perhaps it would be more pertinent to ask if the study’s findings would be upheld within the academic community itself. Would taking a role in climate advocacy affect my ability to land a tenured-track faculty position in the future? While it’s true that some universities encourage professors to take an active public stance on how their science should be construed, there are still a number of researchers at respected universities shouting from the rooftops that scientists have a duty to remain impartial.

The authors of this study did briefly mention in their discussion that their results might have been different if the fictional scientist was younger or from a minority group. They also recognized that they didn’t test how scientists feel about another scientist participating in climate advocacy. That said, gender was only mentioned in reference to the study participants. The complete omission of gender as a potential factor in how Dr. Wilson’s statements were perceived is surprising and disappointing. Studies have shown that people are less likely to trust the work of women scientists based solely on their gender, within the classroom and beyond.

To me, the effect of age, gender and race on how the public perceives scientists when they engage in public advocacy is where the real story lies. An older white male like the fictional Dr. Wilson is the least likely person to be judged harshly for his public statements, and is therefore relatively safe compared to marginalized groups within the scientific community. In the context of the current anti-science political climate within the United States, and calls for inclusivity in the March for Science and other science advocacy, these issues have never been more pertinent. I hope future research will explore these questions more thoroughly and give them the urgent attention they deserve.

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Interview: Scientific research and beauty mix on the Marshall Islands

Recently, I was invited to be a part of last weekend’s episode of the CBC radio show, Quirks and Quarks. The episode explored the ways that scientists spent their summers. It was my first recorded interview, and I was thrilled to be asked to participate.

I was also extremely nervous. Fortunately both the producer, Mark Crawley, and the host, Bob McDonald, were kind, patient, and easy to talk to. I spoke to Mark first. He emailed me when I was still in Majuro and we agreed we would chat over the phone when I got back to Vancouver. We talked for about half an hour, and then Mark asked me if I would be interested in coming on the show (yes, please).

About a week later, I found myself waiting in the lobby at CBC’s office in Vancouver. I was taken to a studio space, where I donned headphones, was instructed how far to sit away from the microphone, and then put in touch with Bob, who’s based out of Victoria. The conversation felt natural from the start, and I quickly forgot to feel nervous about how many people would hear it (according to their website, about 800,000 people listen to the broadcast, and thousands more listen online or in podcast form – yikes!). I’ve heard from a lot of people around Canada and the world who enjoyed learning about my summer, and I’m extremely flattered. I’m also very grateful to have had this opportunity.

If you’d like to listen yourself, the interview is available online here. You can also listen to the entire episode here.

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Bar loe kom (see you later), Marshall Islands!

In Marshallese, iokwe means hello, goodbye, and I love you. Translated literally, it means “you are a rainbow.” It’s not a word that’s reserved for family members or even for friends; if you walk down the street in Majuro, strangers who pass you greet you with iokwe. It is, in my opinion, a beautiful way to tell people you appreciate their presence, made even truer because it’s not exclusive — everyone is recognized and appreciated.

Rainbows are ubiquitous in the Marshalls. It rained at least briefly most days we were there, and when the sun came out again, it almost always cast a rainbow. We often saw multiple rainbows a day when we were diving, which is a lot, especially considering we spent half of our time underwater. It makes sense that the rainbow would be incorporated into such an important word in the Marshallese language.

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A rainbow over Majuro’s lagoon.

It was difficult for me to say goodbye to the Marshall Islands. It’s true that I worked hard while I was there, and I learned way more than I ever could in a classroom. I also had a ton of fun and made some connections that I hope will be a part of my life for the foreseeable future, both personally and professionally. I participated in a fishing tournament and got to reel in a wahoo. I fulfilled my lifelong dream of sleeping on a hammock on the beach on a remote island, and spent an afternoon picnicking and snorkeling on another remote island. I did a dusk beach dive with some friends and surfaced just as the sun was setting over the lagoon. I’ve seen what seems like a million beautiful sunrises and sunsets, watched the stars come out from the deck of a boat, and counted meteors while laying in the sand on the beach. I got to attend a Marshallese wedding and a birthday celebration, and I was warmly welcomed at both, despite barely knowing the people celebrating. I’m sure there were a million other things that I’m forgetting to mention. Going into this trip, I knew the summer was going to be special. I didn’t know that by the time I left, Majuro would feel like home.

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My hammock on the beach at Eneko Island in Majuro, where we camped for the night.



Getting ready to sing happy birthday, Marshallese style. Everyone lines up and sings as they approach the house where the person who’s celebrating lives. Each person greets them in turn and gives them a dollar, and then everyone joins back up in a group to continue singing.


I’ve learned that the Marshallese usually don’t say goodbye. Instead, they say see you later (bar loe eok if you’re speaking to one person, or bar loe kom if you’re speaking to a group). Fortunately, in my case, this is actually true, since I’ll be returning to Majuro to continue working there. I’m already counting down the days until summer 2017. So, for now, bar loe kom to all my friends in the Marshalls, and kommol tata for helping me feel at home there.




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A glimpse of Ebon (Ebon Atoll part 2 of 2)

This is the second of a two-part series about my time in Ebon Atoll. The first post can be found here.

Ebon Atoll is known for two things: its beauty and its mosquitos (which are gigantic and plentiful). The main island, Ebon Ebon, is long and narrow. In many places, the ocean is separated from the lagoon by a thin strip of land only about a hundred feet wide. It is green and lush, and is one of the most lovely places I’ve had the pleasure of visiting.

People in Ebon still eat mostly local food (breadfruit, taro, fish, coconut), and almost everything non-organic is reused. As a result, the island is almost entirely devoid of trash. There are no cars, but there is a main path/road that runs straight down Ebon Ebon, and many people own bikes. It is raked and swept daily, and is landscaped beautifully, shaded by large breadfruit trees and lined with evenly-spaced shrubs. We were there right during breadfruit season, so the ground was often littered with smashed breadfruit, and the smell of it was everywhere.


The main street of Ebon Ebon.


One of my favorite examples of creative recycling is this whale vertebra (from a whale that beached last year) that was made into a swing.

When you think of life on a remote atoll, it’s easy to assume that things are pretty quiet. Life on Ebon seems peaceful, but it’s noisier than you would expect. People live their lives mostly outdoors, so you’re always surrounded by the sounds and smells of daily living: women cooking, fires burning, children laughing or crying, dogs barking, chickens crowing, and so on. At night, the bugs are deafening, and the roosters start crowing around 4 a.m. Frequent rainstorms drum heavily against tin roofs. You can almost always hear the waves. While it’s not quiet, it’s still somehow calming to be surrounded by sounds that are almost entirely organic.

Our busy schedule didn’t leave much time for exploration in Ebon, but I was able to take a couple of long walks and bike rides. I also attended church (not a normal habit, but I wanted to be respectful, and this church has an interesting history). Before the arrival of missionaries, Ebon had a reputation for violence (the crew of a trading ship was killed here in the 1851, potentially triggered by the crew’s theft of island women). In 1857, missionaries arrived in Ebon and established the first church in the Marshall Islands. The people in Ebon credit the arrival of the missionaries and the introduction of Christianity for bringing peace to their islands. The only thing breaking the peace on Ebon now is some of the dogs, as I found out the hard way on one of my bike rides (check out the GoPro footage below). If you’d like to see more of beautiful Ebon, you can also check out my friend Benedict’s drone video here.

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The oldest church in the Marshall Islands, on Ebon Ebon.



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Hard at work in paradise (Ebon Atoll, part 1 of 2)

This is the first of a two-part series about my time in Ebon Atoll. The second part can be accessed here.

Last Thursday, I hopped in a terrifyingly tiny airplane and joined staff from the Marshall Islands Marine Resource Authority (MIMRA) on a visit to Ebon, the most southern atoll in the Marshall Islands. We were there for a week of meetings to facilitate the creation of a locally managed atoll-wide management plan, in accordance with the Reimaanlok Process. Ebon is remote, about an hour and a half flight from Majuro. It was a rare opportunity to get to visit, much less to participate and observe the important work these communities are doing.


Our airplane on the runway in Ebon Atoll.

When we arrived, we were shuttled by boat across the lagoon to the community meeting house, where our meetings were held during the day and we slept each night. In addition to our clothes, we brought food and gifts from Majuro. The boat that ferried us across the lagoon was small, and it sank lower and lower in the water as it was loaded. I was convinced that we wouldn’t be able to fit everyone, but somehow, we made it on board with all of our belongings. The ride to the meeting house, where we stayed, took a long time because the boat was so heavy, but eventually, we made it without losing anything or anyone.


The boat ride from the airport was a little bit cramped.

We were greeted with food and hospitality, and we were treated as honored guests for the duration of our stay. You would think that eating healthy, preservative and gluten-free local foods three times a day for a week would help to shed a few pounds, but the portion sizes were often so big that I think I ate three times more than I do at home. A typical meal consisted of fish, slices of breadfruit, some sort of taro dish, preserved breadfruit, rice, and sometimes more breadfruit (our visit was right at the beginning of breadfruit season). Often, the women who served us sang and danced as they handed us our plates.


A typical meal on Ebon: reef fish, octopus, breadfruit three ways, and taro (not pictured, white rice).

The visit was a lot of fun, but we also worked hard. We were in meetings all day every day, with the exception of Sunday (church day) and Tuesday (the first Tuesday of every month is also a church day). There were a number of activities and exercises to complete in order to come up with ideas for the management plan. Now that we’re back, Alicia (our fearless leader) is working on writing everything into a formalized document, which she’ll deliver and review with the participants in early fall. Once it’s been approved, Ebon’s mayer will call a meeting to announce it, and the management plan will officially go into effect.

Because I have some experience working with communities on monitoring from my time working in Yap, I was asked to give a presentation on ecological monitoring and do a brief training session. The goal is for MIMRA to be able to step back and have Ebon’s communities eventually take over the monitoring themselves. I gave a presentation on a few different monitoring techniques and what they could tell us about the reefs and their protected areas, and I think it was well-received. I also got to take a small group of people out snorkeling to practice doing some surveys, which was my favorite part.


Making friends with sea cucumbers while showing the communities how to do invertebrate surveys. Photo via Selina Leem.

When we left, we were showered (almost literally) with gifts of food, coconut oil, and flowers. I brought home eight bottles of coconut oil, two bottles of coconut syrup, a bottle of lime juice, a bottle of coconut vinegar, bananas, salt fish, two coconut crabs, a lobster, and preserved breadfruit – and that’s all I could fit in the box I had (we had to leave more behind). I was overwhelmed by the generosity and kindness we were shown each day, and by the time we left, it felt like I was saying goodbye to people I had known forever. Kommol tata for your hospitality, Ebon!



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It’s official, I’ve fallen in love with Majuro

This week, I started my internship with the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Agency (MIMRA), rented a bike for the summer, and generally got settled into a day-to-day routine. Everyone here has been fantastic, and I’ve made some wonderful friends who have gone out of their way to make sure I feel at home, both inside and outside of work. I can already tell that I will miss Majuro when the time comes for me to say (a hopefully temporary) goodbye at the end of the summer.

Things are just warming up at my internship, but so far I’ve been working on updating some educational materials that I wrote for communities in Ulithi Atoll so they can be used in the Marshalls, and helping to analyze photo quadrats of benthic surveys using the software CPCe. Next week, I’ll help to prepare a report by analyzing some data that was collected from sites around Majuro and writing a summary of what was found.

It sounds like I’ll be joining MIMRA on a couple of outer islands trips in the coming weeks, which I’m thrilled about. The first is to Ebon, the southernmost atoll in the Marshall Islands, made famous by a castaway who arrived there from Mexico after 13 months at sea. We’ll be flying there on Marshall Islands Air, will stay for about a week, and I’ll help train community members in benthic monitoring techniques (using snorkel instead of scuba), again based on the work I did in Ulithi. The second trip is to Ailinglaplap, northwest of Majuro, where I’ll be assisting MIMRA with ciguatera monitoring. There’s been an awful outbreak there and a number of people have died. I don’t know much about ciguatera, but I appreciate the opportunity to participate and learn from the vital work MIMRA is doing (don’t worry, I won’t eat the fish, although that’s easier said than done on an outer island atoll).


Ebon Atoll, the southernmost atoll in the Marshall Islands. Image via Google Earth.

I’ve really fallen in love with life here. To give you a small glimpse of what that looks like, I strapped my GoPro to my bike (rented from College of the Marshall Islands for an extremely reasonable $2 per week), and made a tour of my commute to MIMRA. Town is much more congested than this – I live a bit on the outskirts – but I love commuting on my bike. The morning (when this video was filmed) is comparatively cool to the heat of the middle of the day (although I’m still a sweaty mess by the time I arrive). In the evenings, when people are awake and the weather has cooled a bit, it’s even more fun – there are basketball and volleyball games, people socializing, the smells of cooking, and just general evidence of contented living. Riding through town is a bit more harrowing, but still nothing compared to the hazards of city biking. I will be absolutely ruined when it comes time to go back to biking the hills of Vancouver, though.

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Wrapping up our research

On Thursday, we wrapped up our final day of diving in Majuro. Our first day was a bit of a rude awakening compared to the relatively clean reefs of Arno, but we were pleased to discover some beautiful sites on our last three days of diving. My first impressions are pretty much what we hypothesized, that the sites around Arno have more coral diversity and higher coral cover than the sites around Majuro, which are close to higher populations of people. Next comes the fun part: Analyzing the data to see if they show the same thing!


Branching Acropora and Acropora tables at a site on Majuro’s oceanside.

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Look closely and you may be able to see a tiny coral crab (hint: he’s white and blue)!

Things went really well until our second-to-last day of diving, when the boat we were on broke down. Fortunately, we were rescued by our captain’s nephew Ben, who then agreed to take us diving on his slightly fancier boat, the Four X, for our last day. It took us over six hours to get towed back to the dock, and we missed our third dive of the day, but the good news is we had a chance to watch the sun set over Majuro, and then could see the stars come out.  We missed Ronnie and Cary on our last day, but had a lot of fun with Ben and his first mate. Their boat is a little faster, so we were able to wrap up quickly, and were back at the dock before 4 p.m.

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There’s always a silver lining, and in this case it was the chance to see the sun set from the boat.

That night, we had a farewell dinner with a few of the many people who have helped to make this project a success. It was a lively affair with lots of animated story telling. I’m excited that I still have another ~7 weeks to spend with the wonderful people we’ve had the pleasure of working with. We’re already starting to plan our trip back to continue working here next summer (fingers crossed).

I spent the weekend catching up on emails, laundry, data organization, and getting ready to start my internship with the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority (MIMRA) next week. I also spent an inordinate amount of time trying to avoid starting myself or my apartment on fire while cooking dinner on a hot plate for the first time. And, because I’m a firm believer in marking momentous occasions with tattoos, I took a break to visit a friend at his shop, Marshall Arts Tattoo. This way, a little piece of the Marshall Islands will be with me always.

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Don’t mind the bright pink walls of my apartment.




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Settling in to life in Majuro

We couldn’t dive on Friday and Saturday (July 1 and 2nd) because of a national holiday in the Marshall Islands, National Fishermen’s Day! We also ended up not diving today (Sunday), because one of our core team members wasn’t feeling well, so we took an extra rest day. I think it’s turned out to be a good thing, since it’s given us a little time to explore Majuro.

I mentioned previously that Majuro is much more developed than Arno. Majuro has about 30,000 people living in it, while Arno has less than 2,000 (and Arno is a bigger atoll in terms of area). There are multiple restaurants, a few bars, hotels, and even a couple of nightclubs (we checked one out last night, it was fun!). It used to have a bowling alley and a movie theater, but they’ve both closed. There’s even a large grocery store where you can buy health food staples like tofu and quinoa (I was shocked by this).



The (now closed) Majuro Bowl and Lounge


One thing that’s united every place I’ve visited in Micronesia so far is fervor for fishing, and there’s no place that’s truer than in the Marshall Islands. National Fishermen’s Day is a holiday that’s celebrated in all of the atolls here. There are two different tournaments, the Urok (bottom fishing) tournament and the Billfish tournament. The boats line up at a dock, where the fish are offloaded and weighed in front of an enthusiastic crowd. Every year, two teenage girls are chosen to be Ms. Billfish and Ms. Urok, and they give out leis to each of the participants and pose for photographs with each team and their catch. Then, the team moves off and the whole process starts again with the next boat.


We went to the weigh-ins on both Friday and Saturday. Apparently, this year wasn’t a great year because the largest billfish was a ~215 lb. marlin (people have caught ~700 lb. marlins in the past). It was still the largest fish I’ve ever seen, and I can’t even begin to imagine what a 700 lb. fish looks like. I really appreciated that the tournament allows participants a chance to earn extra points by releasing the really large fish they catch. They’re required to show a time-stamped photograph to prove it was caught during the tournament day and to get an estimate of its size.



2016’s Ms. Billfish, with the team that caught this year’s biggest marlin.


Also on Saturday, I moved into my apartment! It’s right above a store and a Laundromat on Long Island, which is out closer to the airport. The walls are bright pink, which is kind of blinding, but it’s got air conditioning and the internet (supposedly, it hasn’t been working since I’ve been there), which were my main requirements. To get to the hotel where the rest of the team is staying, I have to take a taxi (they cost $1.25 each way, so no biggie). Here, almost every other car is a taxi. They’re all shared with multiple people, and to catch one you just stand and hold out your fingers to show how many people are with you. The ride takes about 20 minutes, but mostly because there are multiple stops along the way (also, sometimes the taxi driver has to run some errands while he’s en route). I’m hoping I can borrow a bike at some point, which would be a great way to work off the ~90% carb diet I’ve been eating since I got here (white rice is a staple for most meals).

Tomorrow, we’ll get back in the water and start exploring the reefs around Majuro. We only have four more days of diving ahead of us – things are moving right along. The rest of the team says their farewells on Friday, and I’ll start my internship with MIMRA the following week. Fortunately, my diving adventures won’t end this week, as I’ll hopefully get to dive with MIMRA at some point, possibly at another of the outer island atolls – fingers crossed!



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Adventures in Arno Atoll

On Saturday (Friday in North America), we arrived in Majuro, the capital of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. We went to work pretty much immediately after our plane touched down. Our research team is Simon Donner, my advisor at UBC, Diane Thompson and Emma Reed from Boston University (read Diane’s blog here), and me (with a HUGE hat tip to Tamara Greenstone Alefaio, who essentially held our hands through the entire planning process). We spent the afternoon grocery shopping, buying water, shopping for Guam dresses (what women usually wear in the outer islands), and generally preparing for five days in the neighboring Arno Atoll, which is much less developed than Majuro. We loaded up a boat first thing the next morning and were on our way!



Diane in Arno, super excited about a day of sciencing!


The trip over was a little rocky. I started off sitting in the front of the boat and had to move to the back because I was afraid I was going to fly right off. We all had to sit on the floor, and we still managed to get completely soaked (we’re on a pretty good-sized boat, probably something around 50′). As soon as we reached Arno, we jumped in the water for a training dive. I was underweighted, and within 5 minutes I’d lost my slate, but we got the wrinkles mostly ironed out by the second dive that day. By our fifth day of diving, I felt like a pro (I’m not a pro by any means, but at least I’m not dropping stuff anymore – knock on wood!).


Our hut was just off this beach, on the lagoon side of Arno Arno (the largest island in Arno Atoll).

A typical day in Arno went something like this: The roosters started crowing at some insane hour in the morning (usually before 6). We had breakfast together, then got all of our gear organized, and waited for the arrival of an extremely rusty pickup truck (riding in this thing has been the most dangerous part of our trip so far), which shuttled us to the dock at about 8:45 each morning. We loaded the boat and headed to our research sites. We dove three sites per day, at about an hour each dive. I am measuring the size-frequency of corals, which means that I’m measuring every coral within 25-cm on either side of a 50-m transect tape, and identifying them to the genus level. Sometimes, there were so many corals I couldn’t finish, so Simon would help me by starting at the opposite end of the transect and meeting me part way. Over the course of five days and 14 dives, we counted about 6,000 corals!


Me, counting and measuring corals.


After a long day of diving, we would head back to the dock, where we were shuttled with all our gear back to our hut. We rinsed all of our gear and hung it to dry, then waited for the generator to come on so we could take advantage of the few hours of electricity to charge our cameras/computers/equipment. We had dinner together, then spent an hour or two inputting our data, scrubbing our underwater slates, writing notes about the day, and preparing for the next day of diving. Finally, if the sky was clear, we’d head down to the beach to look for shooting stars. We were generally in bed by 10 p.m.

Our dive boat doubles as a fishing boat, so our captain Ronnie and first mate, Cary usually take advantage of our drive to our research sites to troll for big fish. Things got really exciting on our second day in Arno, when they hooked a giant yellowfin tuna. Simon had to take over steering, while Emma had to help reel it in, as Ronnie and Cary both needed all hands to pull the behemoth onto the boat. And, when they reeled the fish in, a pilot whale came up to check out all the commotion. Then, they bled the tuna so they could store it in ice until they got back to Majuro (which made me very nervous, considering we were going to be jumping in the water in just a few minutes). It was a very exciting 10 minutes, and there were no more sharks than usual on that dive (although, to be fair, I don’t often see much of anything since my face is always in the coral).



This thing was a behemoth.


Arno was lovely, but it’s great to be back in Majuro, where I’m once again connected with the outside world (also, there’s beer here!). I moved into my apartment today, which was a bit of an adventure of its own. We’ve had a few days off of diving, but we’ll be back at it on Monday.


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