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.