Chris Harvey, June 17, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Harvey
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 5 – July 4, 2006

Mission: Lobster Survey
Geographical Area: Central Pacific Ocean, Hawaii
Date: June 17, 2006

Science and Technology Log  

I just woke up from a wonderful 2-hour nap, reminding myself of something I have meant to write about for days but have forgotten. Since the swells have come along, the ship bounces around quiet a bit at night, making sleep difficult if not entirely impossible at times. So I have modified my sleeping patterns somewhat to adjust to the situation.

I take a short nap immediately after work, whether at 1:30 or at 6:30 (short to me is anywhere between 1-3 hours). This is the only sleep that I can guarantee myself that day, so I cherish the fact that my stateroom has no windows and thus can become completely dark and the fact that after work I know I will be entirely exhausted. (I think back now to how excited I was on my first night into Honolulu when Bob told me I would be working, not observing. What a fool I was!) I usually wake up just in time for a quick bite for dinner and then I make my way outside to enjoy the last remaining hours of daylight. Once the sun has set, I either take my laptop up to the bridge and sit out on the side deck where there is no obstruction to the star-filled sky, or I return inside and write if the clouds cover up the stars. Either way, I have been spending a good but of my time in writing inspired by the scenery around me. I write until I am once again completely exhausted (the only guarantee for sleep), which is usually around 11:30 or midnight, and I head back to bed for a few hours until it is time to get up for work again.

Having just awakened from my nap, I have a whole new day in front of me- one that requires no work from me! So I will begin this new day by telling you about a book I have just finished reading upon the recommendation of Huntley, a well-read traveler. I do this because nothing much happened today worth describing- although it has been confirmed that the NWHI are now the largest marine sanctuary in the United States, and that our mission is not so much invalidated, but will be used for other purposes. NOAA will still be in charge of the area on the federal level, so our data on lobster catch will take on meaning in a different way. Also, Amee said, “please” today for the first time on the cruise. So my inferences are correct, she is not of royal English ancestry. Go figure!

Back to “The Little Prince.” If you can read French, buy the book in French. I am sure that a lot of meaning is “lost in translation” (which is also a good movie by the way). But if you are like me, an English-only reader, then you can still enjoy the book for its simplicity. The author, Antoine de Saint- Exupery, speaks to us as an adult who encourages us to keep a child’s perspective in life for all of the naiveté and simplicity doing so would retain. It would not surprise many of you to know this is a chief goal of mine (inherited through my Peter Pan of a father, to the chagrin of my mother! Thanks Dad!), though I often try to imitate the wisdom of the sage- making a wonderful fool of myself in the long run. By the end of the story I was left with moistened eyes (tears fall infrequently from my eyes), and the feeling that it was time to create Something Beautiful.

So I am in attempts now to create the first of (hopefully) many Beautiful things in my life. I have an idea for a children’s story that came to me suddenly, with such great passion that I probably irritated Bob by my slowness in work today. I tried clinging to each new thought I had, as if it were my last, in hopes that each thought that came my way was some integral piece of that Something Beautiful (Incidentally, the story has a working title of “Something Beautiful.”) As it turns out, in looking back after a refreshing nap, the thoughts I have recorded do not seem as full of potential as they did before. But maybe that is because the stars are still waiting for someone to turn out the light tonight, so they can have their way with my heart. On the surface, I am still a scientist/resident Teacher At Sea with scientific obligations to achieve. But in my heart, I am a man on a journey to become the artist he believes himself to be, willing to take in every experience as a piece of the story that will mean the most to him- the Story of His Life.

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

– The Fox from “The Little Prince”

Chris Harvey, June 16, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Harvey
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 5 – July 4, 2006

Mission: Lobster Survey
Geographical Area: Central Pacific Ocean, Hawaii
Date: June 16, 2006

Science and Technology Log 

There is talk today that the President has made the Northwest Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) a national monument, whatever that means.  Bob informed me this morning and I am inclined to think he is the resident expert on the matter since he has the most riding on the line (i.e., his job is on the line). From my understanding, the NWHI would become like Rocky Mountain National Park or Yosemite National Park, and would be completely off limits to commercial fishing.  This would have a HUGE impact on the fishing industry out here, since many companies are awaiting Bob’s findings about whether or not the NWHI can sustain commercial lobster fishing or not.

Regardless of the rumor, we continued work today as normal.  So did the trade winds. So too did the swells. I was in a great position as a stacker to watch my fellow scientists cracking the traps against the threat of one breaking wave after another.  At one point I thought we would lose Aris, the little one, to a swell that must have been about 15-20 feet from trough to crest.  I was relieved to see that he was still cracking away after the water had subsided, and could only laugh at the great luck I had not to be a cracker today!  (That said, I think I can sense my waxen wings beginning to melt.)

We finished late again today. And other than fighting the rough seas, nothing much happened. I have taken to watching the swells- as my old man taught me- but from the surfer’s point of view instead of the scientist’s point of view.  I anticipate great waves in the distance while everyone else is “ooo-ing” and “awww-ing” at the ones near the ship. And it is always these distant waves that turn out to be trouble.  I see the swells in sets, unpredictable of when, except that I know that they will come.  And when I see a large face of a wave, I think to myself, its time to start paddling or else I’m going to miss it.  But I catch myself, sadly, when I remember that I am on a ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean where I would not have a chance of catching a wave anyway–there is no bottom for the swells to catch.  One hope for me is that someone will catch the waves, when they touch ground and build into beautiful things.  Some surfer on the North Shore is doing exactly what I am doing, watching the set and waiting, because the swells I see today will be the surf he rides tomorrow.

Chris Harvey, June 15, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Harvey
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 5 – July 4, 2006

Mission: Lobster Survey
Geographical Area: Central Pacific Ocean, Hawaii
Date: June 15, 2006

Science and Technology Log 

I have lost track of time out here, both the date and the day of week, and am only reminded that it is the middle of June by the changing of the date on each of my new journal entries. It is kind of nice to forget about time for a while.  All I know of time is that I wake up each morning and go about the routine of hauling the traps in the morning and setting the traps in the evening. It has truly become Groundhog Day out here.  Regardless of what day it is, there is one thing I know I will be doing: waking and working. At least the scenery is nice!

The trade winds have continued to blow at a consistent 20 knots from the east, bringing with them long, deep swells and choppy surface waves.  It was much rougher today, and is still much rougher tonight, than it was on any other day.  So long, quiet Pacific.  As I stood on the bow of the ship to watch the sunset I thought about the fact that these trade winds have already come across my little Honduran island and have long since left.  The same winds, at some point, helped carry tropical storm Alberto across the Atlantic Ocean and towards my home in Jacksonville.  Of course, the energy and direction of the winds have fluctuated indefinitely over the time it takes them to wrap around the world, but they are essentially still the same. And I go back to my island in the Caribbean and think of how wonderful the trade winds are for keeping the mosquitoes and sand flies away during the summer time.  And how they inspired me to do anything and everything.  And now they make me sit outside long into the night to keep fresh air in my lungs and brain, and to keep a horizon of sorts on level ground for the sanity of my inner ear.

Many of the scientists have already given up the fight and have retired long before dinner. I, a fighter of nearly everything, have continued the battle against seasickness and am waiting for the trade winds to clear the clouds from the evening sky so that I might take in their beauty once again.  I am yet to miss a sunset on the ship, or a moment of utter awe at the night sky above me. And I doubt I will miss either the rest of the trip, even if I am ailing from the increased swells that can be anticipated from strong wind across a large section of water over a long time.  The view out here is definitely not something I get to see every day back home.

Work today was difficult with the waves splashing over the side of the ship.  I was a stacker today and found, at times, that stacking traps on the fantail was like climbing a mountain and dragging the traps behind. I would watch and wait for the ship to tilt bow up, so I could pull the traps “downhill” across the fantail in the rear of the ship.  Sometimes there was no “downhill” or “uphill” for that matter.  Sometimes we just bounced back and forth and rocked in almost every direction at the same time.  I guess my offerings of respect and love for the Pacific were not accepted.

In addition to having difficult trap drags on the deck, it took us much longer to move from the site where we hauled the traps to where we set them than it normally does.  (That sentence took a long time to write, not only because it seems grammatically deficient, but also because I had to sit and watch the mouse slide back and forth across the desk, dragging the curser on the screen along with it!  Talk about entertainment onboard a rocking ship!) In short, I ate a small dinner before I set the traps tonight.  So we were not done working until around 6:45 or so.  Long day. Plus I managed to get a nice sunburn.

I am again envious of our resident albatross.  I watched him soar back and forth and up and down, along the tips of the crests of waves up to the outline of the bottoms of clouds, without moving his wings once.  It was truly remarkable to watch him soar so freely without expending energy. A friend has informed me that only information can break the laws of physics. I think this albatross has come pretty darn close today.

Also, I will attach the “biographies” of two of the ship’s crew who have become good friends of mine. In an attempt to “practice” my creative writing and character development of stories, I am interviewing as many of the crewmen as possible and then writing a “fun” biography for the ships records.  Knowing how well I am at starting projects, and how poor I am at finishing them, these will probably be the only two I complete during the cruise.  But I am going to try to get everyone done before July 4, when we pull back into Honolulu. I make reference to many different people in my journal entries, and I have not done an adequate job of describing them.  I will try to fill you in on their characters and personalities, but no promises that you will be able to relate to my experiences out here any more or less as a result.

As you will read, Sarah is a junior officer on the ship and a peer of mine through age and life experience. She has taught me many things about the bridge and how the boat functions, as well as how the ship acquires weather data that it sends back to the National Weather Service every few hours, and of course, the Beauty of the evening sky and the many constellations that occupy its space.  We have a similar background that makes conversation easy and, as always, this conversation carries meaning for me because it constantly stretches my mind and perspective on how things in the world operate.

Bruce is the first of the crew that I met, and immediately struck a note with.  He is native Hawaiian, born in the house in the Oahu hills that his parent’s still live in today.  He has a wonderful laugh that makes me laugh every time I hear it, even if I do not hear the punch line of the joke or story he has just told.  He is about the happiest-go-lucky person I have ever met, with an outlook on life that is enviable.  I have been told that he can be mean at times.  But I haven’t seen that part of him.  And those times are so few and far between that his demeanor is positive in an almost excessive amount.  (When has positive attitude and behavior ever been excessive?  Certainly not in this world!)  He is one of those people who you can’t help but to hope that everything good happens to him in life- just because he is not expecting it to, and he is not demanding that it does.  I am learning a lot on this cruise from Bruce.

All quiet other than that. I thought of school today and made myself sick with worry.  So I stood up and walked to the very rear of the ship and watched the “screws” (props) churn up sky-blue water. I don’t like thinking of school.  There are so many things that I know I will have to do- so many things to worry about.  This is the last time I will mention it.  Worry is not for me.  Especially not here.

ENS Sarah Harris 

Junior Officer/Scientist

Sarah always wanted to be a professional clown when she grew up, but her feet were not large enough to fit into the shoes of a clown, and so she was turned down from the National Clown Academy upon her completion of high school.  Instead, she attended Long Island University in South Hampton, New York and earned a degree in marine biology. Upon completion of her degree, Sarah had a difficult time finding a job as a marine biologist.  Instead, she spent the better part of the two years after college working “stupid jobs” in order to make ends meet.

One day, working as a server in a Moroccan restaurant and as a bodyguard in a girls’ home, Sarah had an epiphany of sorts.  Memories of a Marine Ecology class came to mind.  She had used NOAA data in one of her class projects and had the sudden revelation that she should apply to become a NOAA officer. Sidestepping pressure to join the Air Force or Navy, she attended courses through the Merchant Marine Academy and within three months was qualified to begin work with NOAA onboard several ships.

In an interview for placement aboard a NOAA ship, Sarah commented that she would prefer to be on a Hawaii-based ship. She knew that the OSCAR ELTON SETTE had the best crew, and by far the best meals of any NOAA vessel.  As fortune revealed itself to Sarah, none of the other NOAA officers applied for Pacific ships, and she was given a position aboard the SETTE, based out of Honolulu, Hawaii.

Here she is at twenty-four years of age driving the SETTE through the waters of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. Her unofficial capacity as an officer aboard the SETTE is to “drive the dang boat.” (As it would be, you can put a boat on a ship, but you CANNOT put a ship on a boat!). However, her official job description is to “help coordinate scientists and crew to accomplish the ship’s mission.”  (Proper use of the term “ship,” and might I add as an objective interviewer, very well stated!)

Sarah focuses daily on her short-term goal, which is to not jump overboard during the shark feeding frenzy that takes place on lobster cruises each afternoon.  In the long run, she hopes to use the GI Bill to help her earn her masters degree in the coming years.  She also aspires to become a treasure hunter and, if that does not work out, a pirate!

In her spare time, Sarah enjoys riding her beach cruiser.  Of course she cannot do that while at sea, so she also takes up the wonderfully entertaining hobby of reading.  Her fondest memory aboard the SETTE was the first day setting sail in January of 2006, when she earned the affectionate nickname of “Princess Spew Wog” for putting on a wonderful demonstration of what a hangover will do when mixed with Pacific swells and a moving ship.

Sarah carries a line with her everywhere she goes, whether out to sea or on land:

“Desire is Desire wherever you go. The Sun with not bleach it, or the Tides wash it away.”

Bruce Mokiao 

“Decky”

“Always look for the good in people.”

If there is a friendly face to know aboard the SETTE, and the warmest laughter to accompany a welcoming smile, it belongs to Bruce.  He has been a decky aboard the SETTE since it was commissioned on January 23, 2003.  Before that, he worked in the same capacity aboard the recently decommissioned NOAA vessel, the TOWNSEND CROMWELL.  Even further back than that, one might recognize Bruce’s voice in the song “Wipe Out.”  The royalties for the song have since run out, so Bruce takes to the sea to do what he has come to do very well.

Spending much of his time before NOAA as a commercial long-line tuna and marlin fishermen, he stumbled into his current position almost by accident.  A friend of his working on the Townsend Cromwell had given him an application many years back, which he held onto for two years before finally submitting it to NOAA.  Like many of us, he only knew NOAA for the National Weather Service, and not for its marine research.

On June 11, 2006 Bruce passed his five-year mark with NOAA, an accomplishment that he is very proud of. He has no real plans of leaving the ship any time soon, although he is finishing up testing with the Coast Guard when the ship is at port.  As long as tuna are being caught in the trolling lines and he has first dibs on a freshly beating tuna heart, Bruce will always be found aboard the SETTE.

Some of Bruce’s hobbies on the ship include making fun of the Teacher at Sea, and storytelling, both of which he does with such clear evidence of god-given talent it is amazing!  While the ship is not as sea, Bruce heads back to his parents home to spend time with them.  He has great love and respect for his mother and father, who make frequent appearances in his stories, and he strives to model their example in his own life for his daughter (21 years old) and his son (19 years old).  Bruce was recently married in January 2006 and takes great pride in his wife as well.

Some of the best advice that Bruce has to offer surrounds him, much like the quotes at the top and bottom of this page.

“I like to be happy every day.”

Chris Harvey, June 14, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Harvey
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 5 – July 4, 2006

Mission: Lobster Survey
Geographical Area: Central Pacific Ocean, Hawaii
Date: June 14, 2006

Science and Technology Log 

Some of you are about to begin your day, and mine is dragging on for a little while more.  Today was a bit more full of wind and rain than yesterday. In fact, the seas have heightened to the point that we are in a continual state of bouncing back and forth like a ping-pong ball (or a rag doll, if you prefer the cliché). That would be ok if we were in fact a ping-pong ball. Instead, we are a 240-foot steel sailing vessel. The Pacific has definitely had her way with us today. Although we are all still healthy and the Sette continues to push back on the waves crashing at the bow just as hard as they are pushing on Her. Tomorrow is bound to be substantially worse than today according to preliminary weather reports from the bridge (remember, we are NOAA, the weather source!). As the French say… Yeah I caught myself before I quoted the French! The only French person worth quoting is Napoleon, who himself claims that he was not French! (I am only harassing France because Carole, one of our researchers, is French and I have not given her a hard time in my journals yet! I was treated very well by the French when I was in France, and I am also hoping to one day work with a man whose last name is Cousteau, so I better be kind to the French!)

I got to sleep in a little longer as the “runner” today than the last two days when I was a “cracker” and bait cutter.  Having this job didn’t keep me any drier than the crackers. Nor did it keep me very far away from the smell of day old festering mackerel. But it was a nice change. Tomorrow I go back to my favorite job- that of a stacker. Being a stacker keeps me as far away from the science of this mission as possible. It puts me on the fantail with good music and good crew to keep me company. If you can’t tell, these two things have become some of my favorite aspects of the cruise. But now I am sounding redundant of past entries.

Today we lost eight more traps to the coral reef below.  Good for it! Except that those traps will be there for some time. It is kind of ironic the way this mission and the next will work out for the Oscar Sette. On the next cruise, the Sette will be hosting scientists specializing in coral reef protection. Perhaps we should have their chief scientist and our chief scientist talk next time before anyone goes out to sea. Then maybe we wouldn’t tear down the bridges that they keep building!

Bob says that fishermen have a saying about losing gear to the sea: If you put it in, do not expect to get it back. I’ve thought about it all day long, a kind of sailor’s koan, and have only been able to conclude that fishermen who think this must have very little respect for the sea. But that is not my position to say. As a wise man has advised me, some battles are best not fought. The sad reality of this trip is that despite how much effort we put into protecting any or all species of marine animals, someone in some part of the world is doing his part to remove as many of those animals as possible to put as much money in his pocket as possible. Again, no negativity. Only reality.

On the lighter side of things, I found enjoyment in two particular marine species today.  The first was a monk seal that passed by the port side (left side) of the ship between hauling strings of traps. It didn’t stop to give us much of a show, which is good because that is not its purpose in life. Instead it just dipped itself into the waves and moved on past the stern (rear) of the ship and out of sight.

The second was an albatross that didn’t seem to mind the fact that the wind picked up to about 30 knots today. In fact, it took advantage of this wind to perform some acrobatic maneuvers that I am sure any pilot would love to imitate in any aircraft. At times I swore that its wing tips were in the crest of a wave as it raced about just above the waves. It couldn’t have been more than six inches above the water at times. Which is remarkable because the waves were so sporadic an unequal in size that I expected it to wipe out at any point. Just when it seemed the albatross was going to crash into the water, it would tilt itself upwards and rise into the sky cutting the sky into two pieces as quickly as a warm knife through butter. The flight was so graceful and perfect in its form. As cliché as it sounds, I thought of how wonderful it must be to be that albatross today. It didn’t seem to be scavenging for food or drink. And it never seemed anxious that it was lost. It was just playing in the wind and waves, perhaps taking a day off of the trials of yesterday and the worries of tomorrow. Perhaps it too can say mooo!

Chris Harvey, June 13, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Harvey
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 5 – July 4, 2006

Mission: Lobster Survey
Geographical Area: Central Pacific Ocean, Hawaii
Date: June 13, 2006

Science and Technology Log

Today was the longest day of hauling traps since we have been out here.  I guess that is partly due to the fact that the wind picked up this morning and made the ocean very choppy. We have been experiencing swells of around 5 feet for the last few days.  But with the wind cutting into them, the waves smashing into the boat have the strength of the swells but the misdirection of a thousand firecrackers.  It made navigating the ship very difficult for the bridge. If our winch (Yes, the Captain corrected me on my use of the word “wench” in a previous entry. A “wench,” he said was a servant girl of the Dark Ages. A “winch” is a machine used to haul lines up and down.) receives the trap strings at angles larger than about 30 degrees to the ship, it is very difficult to use.

A second reason why we had such difficulty hauling the traps this morning is that we set them on coral heads at the bottom of the ocean.  The traps are made of sturdy, yet flexible plastic and are connected to each other with rope about a half inch in diameter.  Further, there is a fair amount of rope between each trap, which is left to float and dangle in the current, frequently catching itself in the coral and making our job of hauling the traps to the ship extremely difficult.

Twice today the coral won decisive battles against us, and forced the rope to break.  We lost a total of 7 traps to the ocean. Bob says that this is a minor loss. I wonder what is to become of the traps once we are gone.  Yesterday we lost 9 traps while setting them because instead of attaching a float to the end of a string of eight, a crewmember attached a ninth trap. Instead of having a buoyant float to mark the string of eight traps, nine traps sank quickly to the ocean floor. There was talk this morning of diving the site to retrieve the floats.  Then there was talk that the traps were expendable, and that the risk of shark attack was slightly too high. So after today, there are 16 traps on the bottom of the Pacific, full of bait, lobster, sharks, hermit crabs, eel, or anything else that had the misfortune to crawl inside.

I am still greatly enjoying the people. And the sunsets here have been some of the most amazing things that I have ever seen. Even the “full” moon rising the last few nights has left me in pure awe of the world and all its wonders.  Last night, while sitting on the deck outside of the bridge, Sarah, an Ensign officer, showed me the Southern Cross rising in the horizon.  She also pointed out several other series of constellations that I had never been aware of before.  My father warned me about the beauty of the stars in the open sea.  He was certainly right. Constellations that I could never begin to see back home in Jacksonville stuck out in the night sky like the ancient sailors’ visions of old. But even with all of the constant beauty of nature around me, I still wake up each morning with apprehension over what my work will bring.

I must move forward, regardless of how I feel towards the science–or rather methodology of the science.  And maybe that is what I am supposed to learn through practice over the next three weeks. Usually when I run into something that tastes bitter at first bite, I back away from a second bite. I cannot back away from future bites in this situation. So I will be forced to move into a new realm of patience, perseverance, understanding, and personal growth. I have already given up on the thought of eating fish and lobster anytime soon. Lobster has never been a favorite of mine, but after spending the last four days staring into their fearful little eyes while I pull them from traps, or spread them across a table to take measurements, I have come to love the lobsters for their simple, yet perfect existence.

I hate reaching this point, where I feel as though I am guilty for being part of the human race. I am not about to make such a leap as in Walden, and presume that humans are supposed to act in such a small part in nature as everything else.  I know that there is something special about us that gives us the right, perhaps out of desire rather than necessity, to remain at the “top” of the food chain…for now (I say “top” because as soon as I fall into the water during shark feeding time, I guarantee I am NOT at the top of the food chain anymore!).  Still I feel as though part of this mission is to see how the lobsters live without the interaction and interference of man in their natural habitat.  Then we come along in our ship with our traps and our scientific instruments and rip them from their homes, probe about them for a while, throw them into a bucket with so many of their likes that they would probably not have ever come across on the ocean floor had we not caught them in our traps, toss them back into the sea in a different location from where we pulled them, and then expect them to grow and multiply.  I am sorry for the analogy, but in the tradition of practicing perception from different perspectives on this cruise, as I was probing lobsters in the wet lab yesterday I kind of felt like I was an alien in a space ship scooping up human beings, performing horrific torture on them as I took my measurements, and then throwing them back down. In a sick kind of way, I hope that aliens do come along some day (if they haven’t come already) and abduct some of our scientists. I don’t mean them any harm, but sometimes I feel very guilty for our egocentric belief that we can are supposed to analyze and break down everything in order to “fix” nature.

I am afraid that I am getting a little deep in my thought, and it’s not yet time for sunset (my drug of choice for inspiration while onboard the ship).  I think that there are a lot of things in nature that we can seek to understand.  But I think that we should take hint after hint from Mother Nature as she continues to bombard us with hurricanes in the Atlantic, volcanoes in Indonesia, and the melting of the icecaps in Greenland and Antarctica (and so on, and so forth of course!). Yes, it is truly wonderful to be a human being instead of a fat moo-cow!  Do not get me wrong about that!  But maybe a fat moo-cow doesn’t suffer so much as it goes about its life because it never thinks that it can control the type or amount of grass it eats, the temperature in which it lows each night, the cleanliness of the water that it drinks, and so forth.  It just does what it is created to do, and offers its life as a perfect sacrifice to the Great Beyond by doing this most simple task to the best of its ability.

Chris Harvey, June 12, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Harvey
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 5 – July 4, 2006

Mission: Lobster Survey
Geographical Area: Central Pacific Ocean, Hawaii
Date: June 12, 2006

Science and Technology Log

The hardest part of this job, aside from waking up around 6:30 in the morning, is keeping track of the events of the day through my journal entries.  Yesterday I didn’t feel like writing much, so I skipped an entry just to make it harder on myself today.  I’ve been told that I don’t need to write about everything each and every day, but I know from all of the journals that I have kept during my travels, writing is as much for me to look back on as it is for those of you keeping up on my experiences here.  So this entry is a bit of a hodgepodge, smorgasbord, or mishmash of sorts.

I have read through my last entry a half dozen times and I am still amazed at the experience. It seems premature of me to say that I’ve had my turning point in this trip already. But it sure feels that way.  It is a struggle to work now.  I feel like a man on a great pilgrimage to some Holy Land who has found Enlightenment midway through his journey, and so longer needs to travel–but does so for the sake of sharing his experience along the way. And on a ship at sea, one does not really have the luxury of turning the ship around and going home.  That’s how I know that there is quite a bit more in store for me.  And so I will go another day, awaiting what will be.

A common theme of the voyage is the regular showing of “Groundhog Day” at 8 PM each evening.  I have not taken to watching it yet, but I love the idea of showing it again and again. I was warned, after the ship left the harbor of course, that the lobster cruise becomes Groundhog Day after a few days.  And so far, this must be true.  Yesterday I was back in the wet lab measuring lobster all day.  Nothing much happens there, and I am in the air conditioning rather than in the sun, so I should be grateful for that.  However, I am starting to wonder if the costs involved in this research expedition are worth the results that we are getting.

I have been asked by some of you to share the results of our catch.  I don’t have all of the numbers next to me right now, but the general trend is that the lobster catch in the NWHI really sucks. We are pretty much right on par for the last few years of data, which for the most part averages less than one lobster per trap.  In some cases, such as today, the catch rate is much, much lower than that.  Which leads me into explaining part of the reason for this mission to exist.  I will do my best to explain this, as it has been related to me thought my prying and probing.

Part of NOAA’s purpose for existence, as an extension of the US Department of Commerce, is to conduct surveys to promote the use of sustainable fisheries for the US.

What this means is that the US government has recognized that fisheries provide the economy a fairly sizable chunk of change, employment opportunities, and the likes, and would like to continue to improve the industry.  The Hawaiian Islands are some of the most protected land areas in the United States, governed by up to three different organizations. Since the year 2000, commercial fishing of lobster in the NWHI has been completely eliminated.  Commercial bottom fishing is still permitted, but on a very restricted basis. There were concerns that, for the 100+ years that commercial lobster fishing was legal in the NWHI, the lobster population was suffering a serious blow and was unable to recuperate itself year after year.  For this reason, various government agencies, particularly during the end of the Clinton era, gained a greater control over the environmental protection of the NWHI and the waters surrounding them.

We are here now as part of a study to document the growth, or lack thereof, of two types of lobster native to the Northwest Hawaiian Islands: the Slipper Lobster and the Spiny Lobster. Scientists have been interested in the growth rates of these two lobsters because, for the most part, growth has been very, very slow over the last few years.  Determining the age of lobster is extremely difficult, as is left to best estimates based on size.  Over the last few years, thousands of lobsters have been tagged, and we are on the prowl for such lobster so we can document their growth over time.

The best place to see what is going on in the lobster community is to spend time in the wet lab measuring the specimen with Bob, the Chief Scientist of the ship, who has spent over thirty years working out of Hawaii. Although he probably gets tired of my probing, most of what I have come to know about our mission has come from the last two days I have spent in the wet lab. There we take measurements of each lobster, and after we are through, Bob crunches the numbers and spits out data for us to compare to previous years. As I said before, we are right on par for last year’s numbers.  Perhaps slightly higher, at best.

If we are not catching more than one lobster per trap, and the lobster that we are catching are only slightly larger than the year before, if that, can we open the waters to commercial lobster fishing again?  Think about that for a minute, and then come back to me…The answer seems to be, no.

As scientists, we must move further into the issue and ask ourselves why aren’t the lobsters growing?  In a time where every scientific question seems to be answered with “Global Warming,” we must take into consideration many other factors as well.  Water temperature and salinity may be changing over time.  But there is also the issue of food supply for the lobsters. Is the quantity or quality of food decreasing?  What about predators?  There are many times more white tipped reef sharks present in these waters now than ever before. Could this be influencing lobster growth (how is the marine food chain in the NWHI changing?)?  Are the lobster stressed for other reasons? Are the coral heads in which the lobsters take shelter growing, or dying?

With so many variables, we must do our very best to keep our constants in this investigation constant. Such constants include: location of traps, type and amount of bait, and measuring points on the lobster.  Bob has done a very good job of keeping these things constant over the last few years, despite how easy it would be to change any of them at any other time.  If he were to do that, he would essentially be throwing out years and years of previous work.

So what are we doing here?  I ask myself that every day!  We are here to make evaluations of the sustainability of the lobster fishing industry–not quite as “treehugging” of a mission as I had first anticipated, but important nonetheless, if the Hawaiian Islands’ fisheries are to significantly contribute to the US economy.  Whether or not we are justified in spending the time and money we are spending is still up in the air for me, but maybe that is why I am just an “observer,” and “scientist,” rather than head of some government agency.

Today I switched jobs and became a “cracker.”  Yeah, according to some of my students I already am a “cracker.”  But in this use of the word, I was paired again with Amee in opening the traps as soon as they were hauled onto the ship.  I tell you, the only thing worse than smelling dead mackerel is smelling dead mackerel that have been sitting at the bottom of the ocean for a day growing more and more putrid.  I was very reluctant to begin the job today. I have resigned myself to simply stacking traps.  This gets me away from the lobster, shark, crabs, and dead fish of the traps and allows me to listen to music on the fantail while small-talking with the crew about anything and everything.  As I have made reference to already, I am very undecided about my involvement in the research we are conducting. Since I signed up for the job, I will do it to the best of my ability.  But it is already difficult for me to do jobs, such as cracking, because I see some things that do not sit well in the stomach.

Amee and I sang Disney songs all day long to pass time, to the chagrin of the others around us. In all, we were finished rather early.  I threw the bait overboard to the waiting sharks (one of my undecided arguments), and took a nap (never an undecided argument!).  I am about to head outside to watch another Pacific sunset, followed immediately by the task of setting out bait to thaw overnight.  Tomorrow is an early morning, since I have to wake up at start cutting bait by 6:30 if I want to eat breakfast (another undecided argument, breakfast is NOT to be missed!).

Not to be forgotten, last night was another first for me.  Doc, Amee, and I were sharing conversation over a cup of tea on the weather deck when the moon rose like a flame over the ocean. For a moment I thought we were drinking hallucinogenic tea.  But we were all having the same trip.  I pointed out what looked to be an island on fire, perhaps a volcanic eruption. Amee said it was a Viking ship of old.  Doc said it was the moon.  I didn’t believe any of us, so I ran towards the bridge to ask more experienced sailors what it could be. Then the fire spread into the sky, outlining the shape of a mushroom.  So this is the end! The Nuclear Holocaust has begun, and Honolulu is gone! My love story with the sea would soon turn into one of survival, with no one left to read about it!

Then the curve of a red/orange moon nudged itself above the clouds.  And with each passing second I could see Her rise, red and rich as fire.  And full.  I trembled at the sight of a red moon and thought of any nautical expressions that might predict the outcome of such a sight. Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in morning, sailors take warning.  No, that wouldn’t work! It doesn’t say anything about red moons!  And that was the only nautical expression I knew! In my trembling, I eventually grew comfortable at the sight of something amazing.  I stood there in silence for the next hour as I watched the blazing moon shed its color as it rose into a darkened sky.  The few stars that were bright enough to hold their own light in its presence seemed to glow red and orange in its reflection.  Rising still into the night, I went to bed again truly impressed at whatever forces allowed this moment to be…again.  When I thought I had seen it all, something like this comes along. What a Beautiful life!  Have I said this before?