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!
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!).
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!
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).
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.