Maggie Flanagan, July 10, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Maggie Flanagan
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12 – July 12, 2007

Mission: Lobster Survey
Geographical Area: Pacific Ocean; Necker Island
Date: July 10, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea Maggie Flanagan measures a lobster carapace.
Maggie Flanagan measures a lobster carapace.

Science and Technology Log – Lobster Lessons 

We’ve hauled back our last string of traps and have begun the transit back to Pearl Harbor. Our Northwestern Hawaiian Island (NWHI) lobster survey has provided the 2007 data for a record that goes back 30 years. Our Chief Scientist, Bob Moffitt, is a biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service within NOAA. Bob completed his first lobster survey in 1977, and has been continually involved with the project. The model we still use was established in 1985-86, and there has been survey data nearly every year since then.  The two sites we monitor are Necker Island (Mokumanamana, in Hawaiian) and Maro Reef (Nalukakala, in Hawaiian).  Necker Island is closer to the Main Hawaiian Islands, 430 miles from Honolulu.  Maro Reef is farther out the NWHI, 850 miles from Honolulu.  Target species are spiny lobsters (Panulirus marginatus) and slipper lobsters (Scyllarides squammosus).

Initial analysis of the data includes computing our catch per unit effort (CPUE), which is the total number of lobsters in traps divided by the number of traps.  The data are separated by site, by species – spiny or slipper lobster, and by number of traps in the string, – 8 or 20. (Strings of 20 are often set in deeper water.)  The mean for all strings of a type in a year is used for comparisons.  Bob works up the numbers each evening to keep us posted.  

You can’t draw conclusions from just a few numbers, but a sample of CPUE information is below.

In 2007, Necker Island sampling was suspended for several days and the data may be biased towards historically less productive quadrants.
In 2007, Necker Island sampling was suspended for several days and the data may be biased towards historically less productive quadrants.

Graphing the entire data set reveals that Necker Island experienced a sharp decline in the presence of both types of lobsters during the mid to late 1990’s, and the numbers have remained low.  Graphs of Maro Reef data show a more complex story.  There, spiny lobsters dropped dramatically in 1989. Spiny lobster numbers remained low, as slipper lobster numbers increased. It’s proposed that as spiny lobsters were decreasing, slipper lobsters could access more resources, such as food and habitat, which expanded their numbers.  The spiny lobster has had more commercial value because it looks prettier, and so was probably targeted more by fisherman.

Teacher at Sea Maggie Flanagan holds spiny lobsters while “cracking” – recovering lobsters from traps.
Maggie Flanagan holds spiny lobsters while “cracking” – recovering lobsters from traps.

Commercial fishing for lobsters in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands began with multi-purpose vessels which would keep the lobsters live for market. About 1981, fisherman started landing only the lobster tail, which was frozen at sea.  This greatly increased the capacity for the taking of lobsters. Data showed decline, fisheries scientists became concerned, and the fishery was closed in 1993, then opened with very low quotas.  By 1997, research data still showed decline and the NWHI commercial lobster fishery was closed again in 2000.  Models at that time showed that NWHI lobster overfishing (meaning the size and take of the fleet) wasn’t problematic and research that focused on the lobsters themselves would be needed.

When lobsters are tiny, in the phylosome stage, they are transported by currents.  Spiny lobsters spend 12 months in this stage and have been caught in plankton tows 60 miles out at sea.  So, lobsters can settle in sites far away from their parents.  This recruitment may or may not influence the population numbers of lobsters in the NWHI, but as a real possibility, is a topic for research. Bob Moffitt’s data, with that of other NWHI scientists, could contribute to a metapopulation model that could estimate the density of lobsters throughout all the NWHI over time.  This could be designed to scientifically predict the affects of fishing and recruitment.  DNA analysis could also reveal information on the transportation of lobsters when juvenile.

In 2006, all the NWHI were included in the creation of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, which will be closed to all fishing.  The Monument is the largest marine protected area in the U.S., but the research questions on what will help Hawaiian lobster populations still remain to be answered.  Ocean currents in the area generally run to the west and south, and if juvenile lobsters are transported, they would be traveling those currents. But the marine protected area is already west of the Main Hawaiian Islands, so recruitment out to restore other areas seems unlikely, though not yet tested.    There is reason to celebrate our new Marine National Monument, but there is no conclusive scientific evidence that it will help lobster populations recover.

A slipper lobster as compared to a pencil.
A slipper lobster as compared to a pencil.

Personal Log 

With all fisheries closed in the NWHI, what will happen to the fisheries research that has  contributed much to the understanding of marine populations?  Will scientists be allowed to continue pursuing research questions, or will they be considered irrelevant?  Approval for access to the NWHI under the Monument status now involves an arduous permit process, even for scientists.  Bob Moffitt’s work has provided an extensive time series of data, and is considered worth continuing as ecosystem monitoring.  Hopefully in the future, scientific work will continue and guide policy making for protected areas.  

Chris Monsour, June 23, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Monsour
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12 – July 12, 2007

Mission: Lobster Survey
Geographical Area: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
Date: June 23, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea Chris Monsour is all smiles as he pulls up two Ehu during bottom fishing. This was the first time Monsour ever bottom fished.
Chris Monsour is all smiles as he pulls up two Ehu during his first bottom fishing experience.

Science and Technology Log 

Today was our last day at Maro Reef and now we are making the 36-hour trip to Necker Island 350 miles to the east southeast.  We finished up trapping today early as the number of lobsters collected was greatly reduced by the time we got to the sets of 20’s.  I had the job of assisting in the lab today. I would collect the lobsters from the buckets, identify the sex, and then hold in place so they could be measured.  In the morning, we collected a lot of slipper lobsters, sometimes as many as 19 or 20 in a trap. There were some spiny, but not nearly as many as the slipper. After lunch we collected the sets of 20 and found quite a difference. Instead of lobsters, we were collecting hermit crabs, spider crabs, sea anemone, and other types of crabs.  The differences may have to do with the sandy bottom or the greater deep of the traps.  I have tomorrow off to do whatever, which may include finishing up the book I started 8 days ago.

In this log I am going to talk about bottom fishing, which is one of the activities we get to do during the evening. Bottom fishing is the name given to line-fishing with baited hooks on or very close to the sea bottom. This is a fishing method, which catches predatory fish that feed on bottom-living crustaceans, fish, etc. One or more hooks may be used. Deep-bottom fishing has been known for many years in the Pacific region, and has been practiced for generations in some of the remote island communities of the Pacific. In the old days fishing was carried out from paddling canoes using gear made from locally-available materials, and was a challenge to even the most experienced fisherman.  We however have the luxury of modern bottom fishing gear such as a winch to help bring up our catch.

One of the reasons for the popularity in the fish that are caught by bottom fishing is the species caught never carry ciguatera fish poisoning. This is a type of natural toxicity, which originates from reef and lagoon fish that feed on toxic reef algae. Ciguatera fish poisoning causes illness and makes the affected person unable to eat seafood for a long time. The possible presence of ciguatera is a major cause of concern for many consumers of reef and lagoon fish. The fact that it never occurs in deepwater fish, due to their diet, makes these fish all the more valuable.  Some of the fish we have caught include Ehu, Uku, Opakapaka, Kahala, Butaguchi and Gindai. (have fun pronouncing these).

Deep-bottom fishing gear can be made from a range of materials, but the basic structure  is generally the same:

  • a mainline, several hundred meters long, to lower the hooks to the bottom.
  •  a terminal rig, usually 2–5 m in length, with attachment points for the mainline,  several hooks, and a sinker. The terminal rig can be made of nylon, or steel cable to resist cutting by the sharp teeth of fish or rough rocks and corals on the sea floor. The attachment points may be loops made on the ends of the terminal rig and at intervals along its length, or may be swivels knotted or crimped into the rig.
  •  several hooks, each fixed to a short trace , which can be connected to or disconnected from the attachment points along the terminal rig. This allows the traces to be changed quickly and easily when damaged or when the size of the fish being caught calls for smaller or larger hooks.
  • a heavy sinker, 0.5–2 kg in weight depending on the strength of the current, to get the rig down to the bottom quickly. I do enjoy the bottom fishing and to date I have caught 3 bottom fish, 1 Kahala and 2 Ehu. In fact I have the record on the boat for the largest Ehu at 54.6 centimeters!
Teacher at Sea Chris Monsour holds up two examples of fish caught during bottom fishing on board OSCAR ELTON SETTE.  The fish on the left is a Ehu and the fish on the right is a Uku.
Chris Monsour holds up two fish caught during bottom fishing; Ehu (left) and Uku (right).

Personal Log 

I am glad to have tomorrow off so to speak.  It will be good to sleep in and catch up on all the e-mails I have gotten.  As mentioned before, Necker Island in the past has been slow because of its proximity to the inhabited islands. The bottom fish we are collecting are being used to get an idea of the health of the reefs.  During the processing of the fish, we collect weight, length, gonads, liver, fin, and bones from the skull.  Ryan is collecting these for his research. It is a very interesting process and bloody one too.

Animals Seen Today 

Spiny lobster, Slipper lobster, Ridgeback lobster (type of spiny), Sea anemone, Hermit Crab, and Spider Crab.

Questions of the Day 

  1. What can we learn from Hawaiian values and practices to guide our interactions  with the land and sea today?
  2. What can we do to help restore declining fish populations?

A hui hou,… Chris

Chris Monsour, June 21, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Monsour
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12 – July 12, 2007

Mission: Lobster Survey
Geographical Area: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
Date: June 21, 2007

A juvenile spiny lobster is a welcome sign on the board OSCAR ELTON SETTE.  This was the smallest spiny lobster caught to date.
A juvenile spiny lobster is a welcome sign on the board OSCAR ELTON SETTE. This was the smallest spiny lobster caught to date.

Science and Technology Log 

We have been trapping for 5 days now and I have been the cracker twice, runner, and setter twice. The days are going by very quick and I find it harder and harder to write because by the time I get done, I am exhausted and then it is time to bottom fish.  We have been having good days in terms of the number of lobsters we are collecting and returning. Just by what I have seen, the slipper lobster is the most numerous and I really can’t seem to find the answer to why.  I do know that I would rather tangle with a slipper lobster than a spiny.  The focus of this log will be on the spiny lobster and what makes it such an interesting organism. As with most lobsters, the spiny lobster is important in the reef community.  I have learned that the spiny lobsters are usually found under ledges or in caves with only their antennae sticking out. The term stridulation comes from the lobster’s ability to rub its antennae to warn other animals away.  I finally understand why we are setting the traps at night. Lobsters remain in their shelters during the day and emerge at night to forage over the reef and in our case for mackerel within the traps.

Teacher at Sea Chris Monsour captured this image of spiny and slipper lobsters waiting to be processed on board OSCAR ELTON SETTE.  All of the lobsters were released back to a spot near to where they were captured.
Chris Monsour captured this image of spiny and slipper lobsters waiting to be processed. All of the lobsters were released near the spot where they were captured.

The spiny lobster does not have the large chelipeds that the Maine lobster has.  The first thing I asked about was what do we do about the crusher and pincher (terms used to describe the front appendages of Maine lobster and crayfish). The spiny lobster does not have them; instead they have the spines that point forward that cover their antennae and dorsal surface.  During the reproductive period, which occurs during summer, male lobsters seek out females.  The males attach a sticky packet of sperm near the female’s reproductive opening and her eggs are fertilized as they leave her body.  The female attaches the fertilized eggs to the delicate limbs on the underside of her abdomen.  She aerates the developing embryos by fanning her abdominal limbs through the water.  Females with eggs are called “berried” females because the eggs resemble tiny, reddish or blackish berries. The embryos hatch months later and take up life in the plankton as wafer-thin phyllosome larvae.  The larvae spend up to 9 months in the plankton before settling out to begin life on the bottom.

As I have found through discussion with members of the crew, spiny lobsters are a popular food item in Hawaii.  Just as we have been doing, the commercial fishermen catch them using baited wire traps set on the seafloor.  Recreational fishermen, scuba divers, and snorkelers around the main Hawaiian Islands can only capture lobsters by hand (no nets or spears are allowed), and because of the long reproductive period, it is illegal to catch spiny lobsters during the summer months (May through August).  Females with eggs are protected throughout the year.

Teacher at Sea Chris Monsour holds up a Grey Reef Shark that was caught during the lobster cruise.  Data such as the stomach contents will be used to further understand the dynamics that occur on the Maro Reef.  Two of Chris’ shipmates, Ryan and Garrett show their excitement over Chris’s first shark encounter.
Chris Monsour holds up a Grey Reef Shark that was caught during the lobster cruise. Stomach contents will be used to further understand what occurs on the Maro Reef. Two of Chris’ shipmates show their excitement over Chris’s first shark encounter.

Personal Log 

As mentioned earlier I am worn out by the end of the day, but it is nice that I have gotten into a routine. We have 2 more days left here at Maro Reef then it is onto Necker Island for 2 weeks. I have been told that Necker Island is not as exciting because it was where more of the trapping occurred in the past and so the numbers are not as high. We will see what happens.

Animals Seen Today 

Uku albatross Ehu terns Reef sharks frigate birds Galopogos Sharks lemonhead eel Spiny Lobster conger eel Slipper lobster Hermit crab Spider crab Sponge crab

Questions of the Day 

  1. How does human debris have a negative impact on marine life, and what can we do       to solve this problem?
  2. What can we learn from a bolus about seabirds and human impact on their habitat?
  3. How do products we use on land affect our ocean and beaches?
  4. How effective are some alternative products that have less impact on the environment?

A hui hou… (Until we meet again) Chris

Chris Monsour, June 18, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Monsour
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12 – July 12, 2007

Mission: Lobster Survey
Geographical Area: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
Date: June 18, 2007

Teacher at Sea Chris Monsour, holds up one of the large Uku that was caught.  The fish will be used for bottomfish studies.
Teacher at Sea Chris Monsour, holds up one of the large Uku that was caught. The fish will be used for bottomfish studies.

Science and Technology Log 

Yesterday and today were very busy days on board OSCAR ELTON SETTE as we set our first traps, cut bait and then pulled up traps and collected the lobsters, eels, sharks, and whatever else made it into the traps. Yesterday we set 160 traps off of Maro Reef. We set 10 lines of 8 traps and 4 lines of 20 traps. Each trap was assembled and 2 mackerel, which had been cut into thirds, was placed into the baiter. The baiter is a small container within the trap that holds the bait. The bait was cut earlier in the day. I volunteered to cut bait and I spent about an hour slicing and dicing the mackerel. Once the traps were baited we spent about an hour setting the traps. The traps were stacked into groups of fours and I would hand a trap to a fisherman who was standing on the stern and watch as the traps were pushed off into the water. I wish I could say my day was done but there was still a lot to do before tomorrow, including getting more bait.

Every night about 2100, the “crackers” for the next day go into a walk in freezer and pull out 13 boxes of frozen mackerel to thaw.  (The term “cracker” comes from the job of opening up the traps when they are pulled out of the water, one has to crack open the lobster trap and pull out whatever is in side.)  The next morning I got up at 0545 to cut the bait. The other cracker for the day was Matt and we spent a good hour cutting up the mackerel. I did learn that it is much easier to cut a half frozen mackerel as opposed to a thawed out mackerel.  The knives were kind of dull and the mackerel were full of blood and eggs and there were a few times where the mackerel ended up on my shirt.  No problems though.

Teacher at Sea Chris Monsour sorts through a trap that was brought up off the Maro Reef.
Teacher at Sea Chris Monsour sorts through a trap that was brought up off the Maro Reef.

The processing of pulling up 160 lobster pots takes up the good portion of the day so I will keep it simple.  Once the pots are pulled from the water and end up on the deck they first come to the crackers.  The crackers open the pots and remove all organisms from inside. Today, this included slipper lobsters, spiny lobsters, eels, sharks, crabs, fish and one octopus. The most difficult had to be the octopus, it just refused to come put and its tentacles stuck to every surface.  It took both Matt and me to pry the octopus from the trap. We both tried to avoid the mouth because they do have a beak like structure and neither of us wanted to see if it could remove a finger.  The spiny lobsters were also difficult because one, they are covered with spines but are a lot stronger than one would think. They would kick back with their tail and one time my pinky got caught by tail and blood was drawn. The slipper lobsters are easier to handle and taking them out the trap was not a problem because their bodies lack the spines.  Most of the lobsters that were pulled out were the slipper lobster, which are also the easiest to handle.  The worst part of the job as cracker is constantly being wet and having to dunk my hands in the bait buckets which are full of mackerel blood and organs.  The smell of the mackerel has found its way into my shoes, gloves, hair, and skin. I don’t think I will ever be able get rid of it. My job as cracker ended and tomorrow I start as a runner. Everyone who has done this cruise before says cracker is the best job. I guess I will soon find out.

Personal Log 

I would be lying if I said I was not tired. The job of cracker is not the hardest job, but when one has his hand in a trap that has eels, sharks, and spiny lobsters in it, it can be stressful. On top of emptying the traps, the old bait has to be removed and new bait placed in, all the while, a new trap is making its way down the table. So after eating dinner at 1630, I am ready to call it a day. By keeping so busy I have not had as much time to sit on the observation deck and look for whales and dolphins, but I have come face to face with some really amazing animals.  I am really fascinated by the eels.  They are very aggressive and strong animals. I almost had one get real personal with me when I was emptying a lobster pot and the eel had managed to hide on the bottom.  As I was picking up spiny lobster, this eel pops it head up by my hand and all I could say was EEL! EEL!  Everyone had a good laugh. We ended the day with a feeding frenzy in which all of the old bait is dumped over the side and the Galapagos Shark’s come in. It is an amazing sight to see and to be that close to such a great animal.  I am sure there will be many more moments like that to come.

Animals Seen Today 

Spiny lobster
Crabs
Slipper lobster
Lemon Head Eel
Galapagos Shark
Uku
Reef Shark
Hermit Crab

Question of the Day

Looking at the food web of The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, what would happen if a large predator like the Galapagos Shark was removed? Would there be another animal that could replace it in the web?

Aloha… Chris

Chris Monsour, June 15, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Monsour
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12 – July 12, 2007

Mission: Lobster Survey
Geographical Area: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
Date: June 15, 2007

Frigate bird
Frigatebird

Science and Technology Log 

Yesterday we entered The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (formerly the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument). I found from talking to the crew it is the largest Marine Protected Area in the world. The new native Hawaiian name, Papahānaumokuākea reflects Hawaiian traditions relating to the birth of the Islands. Papahanaumoku is the goddess who birthed the islands.

I spent most of today on the observation deck above the bridge looking for birds and waiting for French Frigate Shoals to appear on the horizon.  A part of our mission was to deliver supplies to Fish and Wildlife personal on Tern Island, which is part of the shoal. Tern Island was formed into a runway to serve as a refueling stop for planes enroute to Midway during World War II. Some of the buildings remain and could be seen with a pair of binoculars.

This image of La Pérouse Pinnacle was taken by Teacher at Sea Chris Monsour as OSCAR ELTON SETTE approached the French Frigate Shoals to deliver supplies.
This image of La Pérouse Pinnacle was taken by Teacher at Sea Chris Monsour as OSCAR ELTON SETTE approached the French Frigate Shoals to deliver supplies.

I found through some investigating that French Frigate Shoals is an open atoll consisting of a large, crescent-shaped reef surrounding numerous small, sandy islets. The first object that stands out as soon as one reaches the shoal is the steep-sided pinnacle that sticks up out of the water. It is the first land I have seen in 3 days so it may not seem like much, but it was a welcome sight. The pinnacle is named “La Pérouse Pinnacle” after Compte de La Pérouse, who visited the atoll in 1786. As I did some research on the shoals I found that in the moonlight the pinnacle so resembled a full-rigged sailing ship that it lured more than one vessel to her doom on the shoals.

On deck we were preparing the tables and traps for tomorrow as we will set traps tomorrow at 1700 (or at 5:00 p.m.)  I asked Garrett who has been on this trip 5 times if I could get bait duty first. This consists of taking a Mackerel and making three cuts so that the muscle is exposed to attract the lobsters and any other organism that may venture into the trap. We will then collect the traps at 0800 Sunday morning.  We have set up an assembly line on the side of the ship, which consists of several tables end to end.  As a trap comes up, the cracker will open up the trap and take out the organisms that made it in and the old bait. The trap is then rebaited and sent toward the back of the ship.  The organisms that were collected will be placed in a bucket and sent to the wet lab to be measured and processed.  All of the lobsters that are collected will be returned after data such as carapace length are recorded.  The lobsters are not just tossed off the side of the boat, but are placed in a special cage and dropped to the bottom.  This prevents any predators from eating the lobster before they make it back to the bottom.

Personal Log 

The days have been going by pretty quickly.  I am ready to do some work though.  The major event of the past two days has been the meals and watching movies.  The food is excellent so I m sure my plan of losing weight on the trip will not come to be.  The good part now is that I have the chance to get to know the people I’m living with a lot better.  My roommate Mike is a student at the University in Hawaii and knows a great deal about sharks and I learned quite a bit about the behavior of the shark and especially about some of the sharks we may see.  I am learning to tie knots that will not come undone when we have large waves and I got to put on my survival suit for the first time during the abandon ship drill. I hope to have a picture to share of that.

It has become a common sight for Teacher at Sea Chris Monsour to see in the skies large, black birds, hovering lazily in place.  This is the frigatebird. The name “frigatebird” calls to mind the sails of ships and, indeed, frigatebirds sail gracefully in the air currents overhead. Their wingspan is some 7.5 feet and their deeply forked scissor-like tails afford them ultimate maneuverability. Their other common name, however, the “man-o’-war” bird, reflects the way in which they use their flying and maneuvering skill. Frigatebirds are pirates who harass incoming birds until the victim is so upset that it disgorges its catch. The frigatebird then drops with amazing speed and plucks the bolus out of the water, or even catches it before it hits.

Animals Seen Today 

Terns, Frigate birds, Shearwaters, and Dolphins.

Question of the Day 

During World War II what impact might the battles (Midway) that were fought near these islands have had on the ecosystem? Could there still be impact today?

Aloha… Chris

Chris Harvey, June 23, 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 23, 2006

Science and Technology Log 

“When both feet are planted firmly, you are stuck”

I can only think of one thing to write about today- or yesterday, or the day before, for that matter. That is, what day is today? Piglet would tell me that today is the day after yesterday, which does not help since I do not know what day yesterday is. And Pooh would tell me that today is the day before tomorrow, which makes more sense, but not enough. Eeyore would tell me that today is a bad day, while Rabbit would tell me that today is however many days past the first of the year it so happens to be (as he calculates how many days have passed since then!). Owl would tell me that today is just a state of pondering what today really means. And Christopher Robin would tell me that today is today, of course! I was thinking that today must be close to July. Days just seem to pass out here. And it seems we are much closer to being back in port than to being out to sea. And yet a container of milk said June 14 for the expiration date. So I think to myself, are we in some kind of time warp, or am I drinking milk that is two weeks past expiration? Pooh says expiration dates don’t matter anyway, as long as you put some honey in the milk. (Is it the sun, or salty air, or both that are getting to me?)

But low and behold, as I poured the crunchy ice-milk into my cup I realized that my rationality, what the sun and sea have not taken from me, had been undermined by a piece of modern technology called a freezer! God bless the freezer! We have been eating “fresh” fruit and vegetables for over twenty days now, and I have had no complaint on the freshness of the food. Scurvy has stayed clear of the Oscar Elton Sette!

Presently we are anchored off of Maro Reef, far enough out not to do damage to the reef, yet close enough that- with my mega ultra 17 X super zoom lens (it’s not really that great!)- I can see waves breaking on the reef. Our friendly albatross has multiplied during the day, and all but disappeared during the evening. Have I mentioned how amazing these creatures are?

In terms of work, yesterday we averaged nearly six lobsters per trap, which was a substantial increase over past days in the NWHI. However today was back to normal. We are in our last rotation of jobs this week, which is bittersweet in that by the end of the week we get another break. Only this time the break is for good. I can tell you that without a shadow of a doubt, I will not miss hauling and setting lobster traps.

However, having just observed the Pacific sunset (behind a big nasty storm, beautiful nonetheless) I am reminded of my joys while being here. And yes I still coo like a schoolgirl over her first crush when I see the stars at night. I’ve made it a point to spend several hours a night lying underneath them. I have come up with my own constellations, since the other ones seem to be rather old and archaic. There is the Hippopotamus, the Wishbone, the Giraffe, the Arrow, the Sun to name a few (Yes, I know the Sun already exists. But I have found another one, much brighter than our own, but further away…Have I told you of the sun and salty air and what it does to the mind?)

As for the quote of the day. When both feet are planted firmly, one would think they would be on stable ground. This is good for some, and bad for others. I am of the kind that likes to think that two feet planted implies immobility. Although it does not quite rule out two feet firmly planted while running in some direction. Still, I always think of my life- the few times I think of my life in terms of footsteps- as having one foot on the ground, and one foot in the clouds. But that might also be because the more I think about planting myself anywhere, the more I want to get up and go somewhere else. In fact, I think that at this very moment I shall quit my teaching job and find a job as a deckhand in Honolulu! (That is the foot in the clouds speaking!) Of course this is not sensible, but can you imagine the stories I would be able to tell you then!

My friends Pooh, Eeyore, Piglet, Rabbit, Owl, and Christopher Robin want me to mention that, if you get the chance, you should read The Tao of Pooh. For those of you who know me, you will find that the cover of the book somewhat resembles a piece of artwork tattooed to my right leg (or rather, the artwork on my right leg somewhat resembles the cover of the book). Either way, the book is wonderful in that it brings about a simpler perspective of life. I have been reading it in the time I have been out here, savoring the pages for the perspective that I gain from them.

Other than that, life goes on like Groundhog Day. Did I mention the effect of the sun and the salty air on the mind? Oh, thanks Pooh, I see that I have. Well it makes one love the sea and all of the Beautiful experiences that one experiences out here. Absolutely amazing!

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 10, 2006

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

Mission: Ecosystem Survey
Geographical Area: Central Pacific Ocean, Hawaii
Date: June 10, 2006

Science and Technology Log 

Have you ever wanted to create something so Beautiful, but didn’t know where to begin? I have. It happened last night just before sunset, and lasted until about midnight when I finally closed my eyes.  I tried to capture the moment with my words and with my camera, but both failed in every attempt.  Here are the words anyway.  Pictures will have to wait.

“I don’t know if I have ever seen anything as Beautiful as the sunset tonight.  I can’t describe it in words. Nor should I even try. They wouldn’t do it justice.  All I can do is try to describe myself right now, incredibly inspired to live in this one moment–and take back every other one, just to remain here now.  A nearly full moon arises as the sun retires for the evening. White cumulus clouds of different shapes and heights scatter themselves across the sky and then fade into colors as they meet on the horizon.  Every color exists right now. And with the setting sun, a flash of green to outline the furthest clouds. The depth my eyes perceives exceeds the depth of the ocean.  Dolphin dance quietly in the waters around us to the sounds of Coltrane to make the evening complete. If I don’t wake tomorrow, I know where I shall be–forever in this moment.  Remove the people. Remove the steel from this ship.  Remove my pen and paper and camera and lenses. Leave nothing but me in a dinghy to drift about through this lovely sea and sky.  And let me go here in quiet moments, if I wake in the morning and this is no longer real. And let my soul reside in solitude among the gentle rolling swells and mirrored moon upon their hills and valleys. Keep me here, where I know that Everything that belongs here is in its right place. Let me sing along in wordless song to the music in my heart.  Let my senses overwhelm me.  I am here, right now.  Not dreaming.  Or am I?  Will I wake tomorrow morning worn and weary, awaiting another breath, wishing and wondering when I–if I–should ever see a moment so still as now? Unimaginable. Love. Beauty. Life. All the same right now.  All in front, behind, beside, within me.  Love and Beauty and Life, forever in this moment.  Until I close my eyes, and wake again…”

I would have painted the moment for you if I could paint.  Or I would have sung it to you, if my voice could describe the colors, depth of perception, taste of salt in the air, and slightest feeling of air pressed from the wind against my skin.  Not even Monet could paint it though.  Nor could a church choir reach the solemnity of such a peaceful moment.  And I fail with my words again and again.  So I’ll stop.

I spent a good part of the morning recounting the evening with everyone on board.  Many of the crew agreed that they have never seen such a night before.  All of us scientists, who are just along for the ride this one time, believe much the same.  Last night was incredibly spiritual–on so many levels.  I expect them to peel away from me over time, like layers of an onion.

The anchor was broken this morning, so we did not begin work until about 9:30.  In the meantime, I sat on the fantail of the ship watching the sun change the colors of the sky from pastels to brighter primary and secondary colors.  Joe put some Grateful Dead on the PA, and we sat in silence for a good while taking in the scenery around us.  Except for Necker Island, we are entirely surrounded by water and clouds and blue sky.  The Pacific remains so calm, and keeps the crew knocking on wood at every mention of Her stillness. It is becoming taboo around here to speak of the gently rolling swells.  Though not quite as comparable as the Great Nor’easters that menace sailors off the coast of New England in a matter of minutes, the Pacific is known for turning on a dime and changing such silence into a terrible mess.  I have grown to respect her Peace with us.  I pray for it each morning in my own stillness.  The birds also welcome such moments and offer their best unto the sea and sky with their graceful flight throughout the clouds. Everything is truly in its right place.

As for work, I was inside the wet lab today measuring lobster.  I saw a side of science that did not seem to fit my picture of what it should be. Not that it was bad, per se.  It just was not what I expected it to be. Though I should know from traveling time and time again, my expectations of what should be will never fully match up with what really is.  I am constantly reminded of this.  And I constantly forget it.  And my heart has been stirred, to say the least, to consider the nature of science and all of its implications.  I am still a scientist.  But I am learning that perhaps I am not a scientific researcher.  Perhaps I will remain on the other side of science for a while, until I can sort out the disparity between my heart and my head in this matter.

It was an easy day, full of air conditioning and fluorescent lighting.  I saved my skin from an ultraviolet beating, and kept myself fully hydrated.  I didn’t even break a sweat, and almost started feeling bad about it later in the day when I saw how exhausted everybody else seemed to be.  Then I reminded myself how spent I had been the last three days, and how I would be again on Monday when I left the lab and returned to the deck of the ship. I have trouble slowing myself down sometimes, and feel as though I should be thoroughly involved in anything and everything that happens.  So I intentionally withdrew myself after work into the Rec Room to watch a video with some of the other scientists.  I need the down time.  I need the break from reality.  I take everything so seriously all of the time. And I wonder, shouldn’t I? Can I afford to take these breaks? There is always something that I can do, something that I can write, some song that I can play. And there is always that drive in me to create something so Beautiful, and to begin doing it sometime soon…

Chris Harvey, June 9, 2006

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

Mission: Ecosystem Survey
Geographical Area: Central Pacific Ocean, Hawaii
Date: June 9, 2006

Science and Technology Log 

I actually woke up on time for work today (though my muscles, or lack thereof, were extremely sore)!  I dreaded the idea of stacking again today, though yesterday I thought I would volunteer my services as a stacker for the entire trip.  Due to the tremendous amount of physical labor in the sun, I thought that working as a stacker would be great for me to get back in shape (what shape that is, is yet to be determined!) and give me a chance for a good tan. As it turns out, one must first know what shape they would like to be, before they can pursue getting back into it.  For example: Homer Simpson would prefer to be in the shape of a beer, so he practices by drinking beer.  Presently, I am in the shape of a Dunlap. That is, my belly is so big it “dun lapped” over the rest of me!

I stacked again today, though we were much more efficient as an entire ship.  The bridge (control part of the ship) seemed to get us to our strings of traps in a timely manner, and our trap-hauling assembly line was wonderfully efficient.  We finished our strings of eight early enough to have a full hour for lunch (yesterday it was only about 20 minutes), and our twenties were out of the water by 1:30. We continued on and re-set the traps in their new locations and were completely finished swabbing the deck by 3:30.  All in a day’s work!

Some highlights of the day were: feeding the sharks again (or course!  I don’t know if that will ever get old!), throwing a small white-tipped shark out of a trap and into the water where the larger Galapagos sharks consumed it in a matter of seconds (yes, sad but incredibly fascinating to watch.  Sharks seem to me to be a nearly perfect species–aside from the fact that they eat dead animals, have a brain about the size of a walnut, and do not have opposable thumbs! They are incredibly agile and flexible–being made of cartilage and not bone–very swift, strong, and efficient in their use of energy.  Plus they look very sleek, unless they are trying to bite your arm off, in which case I am assuming they look extremely frightening!), catching a decent number of lobster, crab, eel, and other such marine life that is fun to see up close, and not having to work with Amee.

The Pacific has been eerily calm these last few days.  Today we had some gentle swells, but nothing I couldn’t handle. My “sea legs” seemed to have turned into “S legs,” because when I try to walk a straight line with the ship rocking, my line looks more like a curved “S”! We have been dancing around Necker Island, never staying further away than eyesight. She stills looks like a Dragon at times, and a Sperm Whale at others.  But she is company in this voyage.

I had some incredibly insightful thoughts while meditating earlier this morning.  Thoughts come much clearer when you are surrounded by such beautiful scenery.  One of my favorite things these days, besides trying to count the different shades of blue between the open sea and sky, is looking off in the distance where the clouds meet the sky. In places they seem to gently “bubble” up out of the sea.  Joe says that this is where the world ends. I asked him if we could go there, but he says that it is an insurance liability thing with NOAA.  I asked if I could take a life raft and check it out myself, since I enjoy life on the edge. He said “No!” I’d still like to know if it’s the end of the world or not. Whatever it is, it is one of the many things that I am noticing at sea that I have never noticed about the world before. Strange, this recent talk of perspective–my entire journey is from a different perspective.  I am growing so much every day.

I have come across two ideas that I hope to expound upon over the coming weeks.  The first is the human condition, and how hard it is to diagnose, treat, and remedy the human body, mind, and soul.  Lots of people are making lots of money off of books and videos and CD ROMs that promise to do just that.  However, I have good reason –via the scientific method and the perspective of science I am gaining out here–to argue against such media.

The second is the human element in science.  Science is our way of understanding the world around us. Ever since someone had a question about something natural–from astronomy to gravity to cells to atomic particles–someone else has come up with a process of answering that question through science.  That is why I love science so much. I have so many questions about the world around me; I know that science is the only way to learn how to answer my questions. But science is no living creature.  It is no solid set of information, or database with solutions to every riddle.  Humans have invented “science” as a process through which we ask questions, design controlled experiments, collect data, and interpret that data.  There is a whole lot of room for error there.  Especially since the first word in that sentence is “humans.”  (I hope that I do not offend anyone by saying that humans, whether by nature or by nurture or by neither, have a tragic flaw instilled in their perspective that tends to cause error of some degree in nearly everything. Call it “Original Sin,” “human nature,” or what have you- the one thing we are great at doing is screwing something up.)  I don’t mean to sound pessimistic; just realistic. And again, I will return to this idea later.

On the drama side of things, some tension has been created between Eric, a student at the university, and myself.  He wanted to help us set traps yesterday afternoon and I asked him to leave the deck so I could finish the job.  I didn’t mean to offend him by asking him to leave.  It is just that I worked hard from the beginning of the job, and I wanted to see the project through to the end. I am terrible with finishing things well.  So I am continually trying to practice this when I can. It is kind of ironic, but we were partners today in the stacking job. I don’t think he said 10 words to me all day.  But we seemed to get along all right, and the work was done well.  I am not the kind of guy to go and ask him if I offended him.  And he is not the kind of guy to tell me if I did.  So as long as this lack of communication between us does not create any future problems, it will be all right for each of us to remain the type of people that we are.  Otherwise I will come forward and address the issue. Everyone is working far too well together for conflict.

Chris Harvey, June 8, 2006

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

Mission: Ecosystem Survey
Geographical Area: Central Pacific Ocean, Hawaii
Date: June 8, 2006

Science and Technology Log 

A splash of water on my face, a trip to the head, and a brief breakfast before work…that is all I wanted as I laid in bed at 7:15. I wasn’t looking for fame or fortune today.  I wasn’t even looking for a penny on heads. All I wanted was a nice day full of sunshine and subtle rocking, and maybe a little “scientific work” on the side.

But today I officially became a man!  At least, I’m going to put in my application now to become a man!  I was interrupted from my breakfast of a sausage patty and fresh fruit by Garrett, one of the more experienced scientists onboard, to tell me that I had a meeting to attend. I was previously told that work began at 8 AM sharp, so my intentions were to enjoy my breakfast and then begin work at 8 AM sharp.  Instead, I skipped the rest of breakfast, lubed up in suntan lotion, and hit the fantail of the ship for the first part of a very long day.

We set 160 traps around Necker Island yesterday afternoon.  And after leaving them overnight, our task was to haul them up in the morning, take our catch to the lab to be scanned, weighed, and measured, re-bait the traps, and then stack them on the fantail to be set in new locations later in the day. Each scientist had a different job on the SETTE assembly line.  There were 1) the “crackers,” who opened the traps, removed any catch, and then re-baited the trap; 2) the “runner,” who brought the empty trap down the line and dropped off the bucket with the catch at the intermediary wet lab; 3) the intermediary wet lab, who took the fresh catch into the wet lab for examination, and brought the measured catch back to a trash can filled with salt water to act as a holding pen until the catch could be re-inserted where they were taken from at the bottom of the ocean (our scientists took great care to ensure that each lobster was returned very close to where it was taken from by dropping them to the ocean floor in a cage with a quick release. Rather than just tossing them overboard, where predators could eat them on the way down, the lobster are securely released in their natural habitat.);  4) the wet lab scientists, who took the catch and performed the required measurements on them; and 5) the stackers, who took the empty, re-baited traps and stacked them on the fantail to await being reset.

I was a stacker today, and will be again tomorrow until my rotation is up.  Stackers have the most difficult job because they have to stack the traps four high and then maneuver them across the deck and arrange them in a way so as not to clutter the deck.  Then, when everyone else’s job is done for the day, stackers are responsible for maneuvering the same traps across the same deck in order to be set later in the afternoon.  In addition, stackers have the joy of “swabbing the deck,” as I say in a not-so-good attempt to speak Pirate (Cakawww! My sister!  Cakawww!). Yes, that means we get to scrub the fish blood and any other acquired nastiness from the deck with our toothbrushes!  (Just kidding about the toothbrushes. We still use them to brush our teeth.  We got to use regular, long-handled brushes for this task.  But that doesn’t mean it was any easier or any more fun!)

We set 10 lines of 8 traps and 4 lines of 20 traps for a total of 160 traps in the water yesterday.  So from 8 AM until about 1:30 PM we hauled in the traps.  The hardest part of this was actually waiting for the ship to reposition after each string of traps.  If we had one string of 160 traps, the job wouldn’t have taken so long.  But we had to reposition the ship 14 times!

About 15 minutes after I stacked the last of the traps, I was given the order to begin setting them again.  Talk about government work!  Dig one hole, then turn around and fill it with sand! We set traps from about 1:45 until 4:00, with 20 minutes or so to clean the deck. I think the hardest part of the job was actually watching the deck go from being entirely empty, to entirely full, and then right back to being empty again.  That makes you feel like you haven’t done a thing at all, and you are so darn tired at the end of it all.

But a rewarding thing, aside from the collection of great scientific data, was that we got to throw all of the old bait over the side of the ship.  What do you think would take joy at the sight (or rather, smell) of rotten, dead fish?  That’s right boys and girls, sharks!!!!  In a matter of minutes we had about a dozen Galapagos sharks, raging from about 6 to 10 feet in length, fighting each other for the old mackerel.  The entire ship, crew and scientists, gathered around the side to watch the sharks fight it out about 8 feet below.  That was pretty cool! I offered to throw Amee overboard, but she didn’t want to go.  She said only if I went first. So I took a diving knife in my teeth, in the style of a true Pirate, and jumped over board to wrestle with the sharks!  (Can you tell it’s been a long day? Of course, I didn’t wrestle with the sharks.  But I did offer to throw Amee overboard!)

After the long day of stacking and resetting the traps and swabbing the deck, I ate a brief dinner and watched the end of a movie.  At this point I was notified that people were bottom fishing again outside.  Those of you who know me know that I cannot turn down a chance to bottom fish, even if I am exhausted!  So I headed outside to participate in the action.

But rather than fishing myself, I watched everyone else fish for a while.  One thing that I have learned over the years is to enjoy enjoyment. When other people have an opportunity to enjoy themselves, sometimes it is best for me just to sit back and let them.  So rather than fight my way into the fishing rotation, I let my colleagues fish away.  Believe it or not, some of them have never gone fishing before!  We used hydraulic wenches to fish anyway. And that didn’t seem like true fishing to me.  But since our goal was to catch fish in about 100 fathoms (600 feet) of water, you can count me out of fighting a fish all the way to the surface.

About midway through our fishing expedition, the sharks started showing up again.  Kenji, one of the ship’s crewmembers, caught a very nice sized snapper, but only managed to bring in a very nice sized head.  A shark got the rest of the body! He later landed a good-sized grouper. It seemed strange at first to fish from the ship.  But with scientific permits, we are able to collect specimen for measurements and population density studies. And after the fish have been chilled, the scientists cut into them and look for certain parts that tell them certain things (I don’t have a great memory of what parts they look for, and although I am a fan of eating fish, cutting them up has never been my favorite thing so I stay away from it as much as possible.).

Around sunset, I was given a chance to fish and, despite my focus on seeing a green flash (we saw one the first night at sea), I took over on the fishing wench.  As soon as my line hit bottom I had a fish on.  Huntley, another crewmember and now good friend of mine, told me to wait a couple more minutes to see if any more fish would take any more of the 4 baited hooks (we fished with 5 hooks in total).  I waited and it seemed as though I had at least another fish on, so I began to haul in the line.  Anyone who has ever fished knows that most, if not all, of the excitement of fishing comes from the anticipation of the catch.  The fishing line bridges the world above water to the world under water and, without singing the Little Mermaid song “Under the Sea,” I think it is our fascination with the unknown that makes this bridge so exciting.  In all my patience, I expected to have the largest and best catch. I am known for that sort of thing.  And about 30 or 40 feet from the surface, I felt my line jerk up and down really hard several times.  Had this occurred while my bait was on the bottom, I would have become very excited.  However, I knew exactly what that meant.  I hauled the line up to the surface and to my disbelief, the shark that took my fish also took my five-pound lead weight!  Jeff, the ship’s doctor and my fishing buddy, commented on the fact that some shark was going to be regretting its decision to swallow the weight. I laughed, but then thought about the countless Shark Week episodes I watched as a kid where they split open freshly caught sharks to examine their stomachs.  Sharks will truly eat anything.  Including nosy British girls who won’t stop staring over my shoulder as I type (Amee is standing behind me reading every word I write, making sure that I do not write poorly of her anymore!)

No green flash at sunset tonight.  But a beautiful “Miami Dolphin Sunset,” as I call it, when the sky is full of the Miami Dolphin’s shades of aqua and orange.  We are watching Groundhog Day tonight, and I am already late!  They say we are watching it because setting and hauling traps becomes one continuous blur of a day.  I believe them after a day like today.  Eight full, and much needed, hours of sleep will be immediately followed by a splash of water on my face, a trip to the head, and a brief breakfast before work…

Chris Harvey, June 7, 2006

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

Mission: Ecosystem Survey
Geographical Area: Central Pacific Ocean, Hawaii
Date: June 7, 2006

Science and Technology Log 

Necker Island came into view about an hour ago.  But alas! I was enthralled in Kurt Vonnegut’s latest (last?) masterpiece, “A Man Without a Country.”  It was rather hard to put down. Having the same critical side to me as Vonnegut, I have become a fan of his recently.  In this novel he comments on the times, and on the times ahead from a socialist/humanist standpoint.  I enjoyed most of it, though some parts struck a nerve.  It is strange to think that as a writer, some people think the same thoughts as I and are able to express them so much more eloquently.  We have stopped now to bottom fish in about 120 fathoms of water.  Good for us! For those of you who skipped Pirating 101, or Sailing Across the Atlantic 101, a fathom is 6 feet.  So you do the math!  I have a feeling I am spending a lot more time writing than it is intended.  But as the proverbial “they” say, practice makes perfect.  Or rather, as my high school basketball coach stressed, perfect practice makes perfect!

If you cannot tell, I have taken a peculiar fascination with Amee.  I have become a scientist of sorts on board this ship.  And she is a rather strange creature to study.  So I spend much time dissecting her horrible English accent, and injecting as much sarcasm as possible when we communicate.  Recently she commented on how nice my boots looked.  I thanked her and told them that they were called “Euro trekkers,” and that they were good for trekking Euro. They don’t really match my board shorts and t-shirt, but this is no fashion show!

By the way, on a semi-serious note: Amee is a police officer back in England, so we have had many stories to swap about our less-than-ideal work conditions.  I think that is why we get along so well. The other researchers onboard are just “kids,” as I have explained before. They are all undergraduate students with slightly less life experience than either of us. So I truly enjoy having a friend who can relate to my experience, especially one with a diverse perspective. We have debated the solution to all of the world’s problems from various angles, and I am continuing to see why perspective is so important to solutions.  (By the way, the solution to all of the world’s problems is Ahu, a little red snapper that dwells around Hawaii.  It is a pretty little thing, with big eyes and a fat belly.  Well, the solution is either Ahu, or Peanut Butter and Jelly.  You can never go wrong with that!)

I am often viewed as a complainer, because I tend to see the world through very critical eyes. But I also do my best to gain as much perspective in a situation as possible before opening my mouth.  This is something that I have learned through traveling time and time again. I remember very clearly the first time I spoke without perspective on my first journey. I was sitting in a lounge in a hostel in Dublin, Ireland having a conversation with a Canadian, a Kiwi (New Zealand), a Welshman, and a Pole (is that what someone from Poland is called?) about the politics of the war in Iraq. It had first broken out just days before my travel, and I was anxious about the reception that I would have in Europe.  In some cities there were riots and American exchange students were being spit on and beaten up in public. And here we were, a bad joke waiting to be told, trying to figure out the ethics, reasons for, and solution to the war in Iraq, each of us from a different standpoint. I started to open my mouth to say what I truly felt as an American who survived the 911 attacks and grew up under the protection of and respect for the military, which would have been brutally honest, when the Welshman cut me off and began ranting and raving about how terrible US politics were.  I was growing furious inside and if it weren’t for the good-natured Kiwi who spoke up before me, I would have said something rude and most likely provocative of a fight.  The Kiwi asked the Welshman if he had ever lived in the United States.  The Welshman said no.  “Have you ever visited the United States?” Again the answer was no. “Then what right have you to speak of the politics of the United States if you have never been there?”  Silence filled the room and suddenly I was aware of what perspective truly meant.

Had I opened my mouth to defend my country, I would have most likely ended up looking just as angry and ignorant as the Welshman for his point of view.  Instead, through patience and persevering through another person’s point of view, I was able to objectively understand the arguments from another person’s side of things.  I had NEVER been able to do this before. And at this particular moment, my life was forever changed.

Would we all take the time to get to know our neighbors and those people who we don’t seem to get along with, I am sure things would be much better in the world.  While I can only promote this notion on a small scale, I hope that others can see how important perspective truly is. EVERY time I travel I learn something new about myself.  Every time I stop and listen to the complaints of someone else about myself, I am able to see things in myself that I need to change.  Again, can I save the world? Most definitely not.  But can I learn enough to change a small part of the world through conversations with people such as Amee?  Certainly.  Should it be my purpose in life to listen and extend my perspective on various ideas and notions?  I believe so.  And not to sound preachy, or “teacher-ish,” as I like to refer to these moments, but do you ever wonder how much confrontation, stress, anxiety, and negativity we could avoid if we only took the time to stop and listen to another person’s point of view?

As Amee knows, I am ALWAYS right!  She has affectionately dubbed me the American Redneck. And to make the name stick, I have intentionally earned myself a farmer’s tan over the last day and a half. I am officially an American Redneck, and Amee is officially a Bloody Brit, but we are officially friends, and that makes a day for me…

We have “made a bed” for ourselves a short distance away from Necker Island.  For all of the huff and puff of reaching the island, I am a little disappointed.  It is definitely nothing more than a rather small island, or a rather large piece of rock, sticking out of the water just enough to attract several dozen birds.  Apparently there are some monuments engraved into the island, left over from primitive Pacific cultures.  Scientists’ best guess is that they were used for navigation, or small religious ceremonies, since the island is definitely not habitable.

It has been a long day today and I am grateful for the change in pace.  At 12:45 we were called into the wet lab, a laboratory set up on the inside of the ship where most of the science of the project will take place.  We, the novice researchers, were given instructions on how to set up and bait the traps, as we would be setting them in our first sites almost immediately.  Joe, one of the scientists and leading authorities on the North West Hawaiian Island (NWHI) lobsters, gave us the run through in Trap 101.  I can teach any of you Trap 101 upon my return to the mainland if you so desire.  He didn’t have certificates to print out, so my knowledge of lobster traps will be filed away under the “Important Once Upon A Time” folder inside my head that contains information such as: how to remove a tick from a dog’s rear end, how to speak Pig Latin, and how to cook microwave popcorn in a microwave.

By 1 PM we were all out on the fantail of the ship assembling, baiting, and locking 160 lobster traps. This again was a wonderful portrait of the unity that we have formed among us, with no instruction to cooperate as such.  To give you an idea of our working conditions, whenever fish blood was spilled on the hot, black deck, a filthy steam would rise into the air. I went through a gallon of water in the course of an hour or so.  And at times the sweat was pouring into my eyes so much that by the time I wiped my eyes with my shirt, more sweat was pouring in. (Remember, no pity parties…yet!)  Now take into consideration that there was many of us working together in a rather tight spot (after we have assembled 160 lobster traps, the deck is rather full) all requiring the same basic materials to complete our task, in such heat as I’ve just described.  I can count the number of times one of us complained by using a Goglesplotcha (That’s right, whatever that “word” is, it does not exist.  NO ONE complained once.).

By 2:30 we were setting traps in the water with the help of the more experienced ship crew. Although no specific jobs were assigned, we seemed to rotate the workload between us, ensuring that the job was done effectively and efficiently.  Again, coming from a business mind, I am thoroughly impressed with the way things went today.  Our boss was so confident in our working together that he stood on the next deck above us and drank a diet coke while we sweated away (I guess that is the reason we should all strive to become a boss one day!).  Nobody had to thank me for the work I had done.  Nor did I have to thank anyone else. We all knew that we had successfully completed the task. Had I a PhD behind my name, I might study our methods a little closer and try to coin a phrase to describe our cooperation and put it in a book!  I think, if somehow our faculty could cooperate the way we did today, there is no question in my mind we would become the best school in the district.  There were probably flaws along the way, and at times some of us may have been thinking that we were carrying more or less of the workload. But when it was all said and done, the job was done wonderfully and we will be rewarded by the data we begin collecting tomorrow.

That’s it for now. Life aboard the ship is peachy keen (or something cheesy like that).

PS- The “sea legs” have arrived, complete with a nice sunburn!  The only trouble I have now is closing my eyes in the shower to keep the shampoo out of my eyes.  When I do this, it seems my inner ear loses its balance and I bang my head against the showerhead.  Believe it or not, the methodical scientist that I am, it is not enough to have this happen once. I must try several times, testing variables such as water temperature, width of stance, and pace of head scrubbing.  In the end I get the same bruised noggin.  O’ the price I have to pay in the name of science!  (It may just be that I am clumsy.  I haven’t taken that variable into consideration yet!)