Thursday | August 25, 2005
We found it. A pristine reef where corals are alive and healthy and form a forest so thick that there is no space even for sand between them. A reef where sharks are not used to seeing humans and, instead of swimming away, they come by the dozens and swim around you during the entire dive. A reef where one's heartbeat doubles as soon as we disappear below the surface. This is Kingman Reef, the pearl of the Line Islands.
This morning we left Palmyra Atoll and sailed to Kingman reef. Kingman is an Atoll 16 km long located 34 nautical miles north of Palmyra. It is not a typical Atoll, since it does not have any emerged land except for two small islands made of coral rubble. It is one of the most remote and least visited places on Earth, and presently a U.S. Wildlife Refuge. From space, Kingman looks like a boomerang pointing east. The seas around it are usually rough, and ships tend to avoid it. However, we had excellent weather and anchored in Kingman's lagoon.
With the White Holly safely anchored, we threw our small boats into the water and went diving near La Paloma Pass, the only channel on the southern part of Kingman Reef. Kingman is so remote and unfrequented that this pass is the only physical feature in it that has a name.
As soon as we dived in we could see what we were looking for. We were not sure whether we were dreaming. Fifteen meters below our boat was a dense forest of living staghorn and table corals, filling all of the bottom. The corals looked healthy and we did not see signs of recent bleaching or disease as in the other islands. It was virtually an underwater tropical forest. Red snappers were numerous and large, and so were the grey reef sharks. At the end of the dive, near dusk, Forest Rohwer counted about 40 grey reef sharks coming up from the deep, and caught a glimpse of a tiger shark. A pod of 15 dolphins showed up and the sharks disappeared.
Back on the ship, everybody was happy and smiling. We were aware of how fortunate we are, to be able to look through this window to the past, to dive and study the healthiest reef we have seen so far. In the days to come, weather permitting, we will be counting and measuring fishes, invertebrates and algae, and collecting water for microbial and chemical analysis, as we did in Kiritimati, Tabuaeran and Palmyra. However, we do not need computers or data analysis to realize that we have the gradient of reef health we were looking for. Kingman is the end of the gradient. We cannot wait to see more of it and be thrilled again with the grey reef sharks coming too close or the giant manta ray swimming gracefully above our heads.