Pieces of NWHI Puzzle Falling into Place

Expedition Log #7
Reported for: 10 July 2003

Reported by: Holly S. Lohuis

Latitude: 23 degrees 46.7 minutes N.

Longitude: 166 degrees 14.3 minutes W.

Location: French Frigate Shoals, anchored halfway between La Perouse and East Island

Weather: Patchy clouds and sun

Plan for the day

Today we will have multiple underwater teams as well as one landing team at Tern Island.

Statement from Ronda Friend, ship's galley cook: "The first week of any expedition is always very tough because of different personalities, different equipment and the time you need to see how everyone works as a team. It's all beginning to fall into place."

Quote of the day: "No one can do their job alone, no matter how talented they are. We all need each other." Ronda Friend

Dive/land excursion plans and mission

Land team 1: 0700 h departure to East Island. 
Paul and Mark spent three hours in the morning on East Island with Chris Eggleston of USFWS and Arron Dietrichh with NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service to film Tiger Sharks patrolling the shallows for Black-Footed Albatross fledglings, but there were no interactions. They filmed Hawaiian Monk Seals and Green Sea Turtles hauled out on the beach.

Sea team 1: East Island: 0700 h departure
. Yves, Ed, Matt and Holly traveled in the zodiac off shore East Island. Spent 2.5 hours in the water hoping to film Tiger Sharks and Albatrosses but nothing happened.

Land team 2: 0800 h departure
 Antoine, Mike and Tom spent all day with Beth Flint of USFWS filming a variety of sea birds and Hawaiian Monk Seal mothers and pups.

Searcher dive team: 0830 h

Dive #1:
Dove off the Searcher anchored half way between La Perouse and East Island.
Divers: Jean-Michel, Nan, Ronda, Doc, Jim, and Tove. Purpose: exploratory dive. Found the rare Fire Sea Urchin, Asthenosoma varium.
Depth & Time: 79' for 41 minutes, compressed air.

Dive #2: 1130 h
 Off the Searcher- same location with Yves, Matt and Holly. Depth and Time: 81' for 42 minutes. Nitrox 30%.
Purpose: hoping to film the Fire Urchin but never found it after searching for 40 minutes. We know they don’t move fast. Bad luck.

Dive #3: 1130 h

Le Perouse Pinnacle:

Cameramen: Yves Lefevre

U/W lights: Tove Petterson

Diver, biologist: Holly Lohuis

Nitrox: 32%, 36' for 77 minutes

Statement from Holly: "As soon as we jumped in, we had one curious, young monk seal that stayed with us for about five minutes before it swam off. We also encountered the largest green sea turtle I have ever seen as well as a few black jacks that stayed with us for the whole dive. We circumnavigated the Pinnacle and found tunnels and channels to swim through with the surge helping us through.
Just west of the Pinnacle are some of the largest giant table corals, Acropora cytherea, with a diameter of over eight feet. This species of coral is found in the NWHI and other Pacific Islands and atolls but not around the main Hawaiian Islands. Since these islands are too far north to be in the main path of hurricanes coming up from the south, and because there is a wide variety of substrate and habitat, French Frigate Shoals has the highest diversity of corals of any of the other NWHI & main Hawaiian Islands and atolls."

French Frigate Shoals has the highest population of Hawaiian Monk Seals, with about 30% of the population (numbering around 1400) breeding and hauling out on the sand bars and beaches. The population is unfortunately declining here for reasons still not completely understood. Most likely it is a combination of lack of food from competition with the lobster fisheries, entanglement in marine debris, shark attacks, bioaccumulation of contaminants from the Coast Guard era, and the unexplained imbalance in the sex ratio, with more males than females. This imbalance seems to make the males very competitive and aggressive which sometimes results in female mortality during mating. But this year, researchers have seen the highest survivor success of pups since the late 1990's with over 60% of pups that have survived their first year of life.

What's good
: "The people on this expedition. There is not a bad apple in this group. After four years of leading exploratory trips on boats, I’m impressed that even among groups of professionals, this group is ready to drop what they are doing and jump in to help when needed." Rhonda Friend

What's bad
: "The challenge in juggling the use of power with all the other operations such as not being able to use the stove, microwave, dishwasher, washing machine, or dryer while Don and Blair have the compressor fired up to fill the tanks. I have created my own nightmare by wanting to make sure we have fresh fruit and vegetables--I bought seven, 50-gallon coolers in hopes of providing fresh produce for most of the trip. I am sporting black and blue bruises all over my body. You cannot hide the battle wounds of working in close quarters on a boat." Rhonda Friend

What's fun: From the expedition dives to the presentation of a great meal, we are all in this together.

Life aboard Searcher: Life is falling into a comfortable routine.

Rest and relaxation activities
: "I started reading about Captain Cook before this project and it's fun listening to what others know about the voyages of Cook and other explorers throughout this part of the world. It really feels remote here." Rhonda Friend