Wednesday | August 10, 2005
Between two atolls
Last night we had a celebration on board the White Holly. We finished sampling in Kiritimati, and collected most of the data we expected to. This first week of our expedition, despite the logistical challenges, has been a success. We are now sailing north in the middle of the night towards Tabuaeran atoll, also called Fanning. Our expected arrival time is sunrise of Aug 11.
We spent the day entering data in our laptop computers, resting (we have dived non-stop for six days, and last night's was a good party), and exchanging notes about Kiritimati. There was general agreement about the decline of coral reef health in Kiritimati.
Jim Maragos came here for the first time in 1972, when Tabuaeran was still part of the British empire. He saw reefs full of staghorn corals, with abundant manta rays and sharks. Last week, Jim and David Obura conducted 24 man-dives and found less than 20 staghorn corals in their survey areas. Likewise, 16 people diving a combined total of 280 hours have seen only one manta ray and two white tip sharks. Staghorn corals may have been hit by a combination of global warming and pollution. Manta rays have been extirpated by gillnets, and sharks hunted for their fins.
These reefs have changed for the worst, however they are not dead. Life thrives everywhere, and it can yield pleasant surprises. For instance, Gustav Paulay discovered a new species of boxer crab. It is a very common crab on the reefs in Kiritimati, and Gustav first thought that it was a known species. However, he said, "it looked off, it did not look right." So he took digital pictures of the crab and compared them with pictures of the known species of boxer crabs that he always carries in his laptop computer. Amazed, he realized that it was a species unknown to science. He described it as "a cheerleader dressed in fancy red and white, with two snow white anemones held like pom-poms in its claws."
We are all concerned about the ongoing trajectory of degradation of coral reefs. However, our team can find beauty wherever there is life.