Monday, June 04, 2007

Maug and Uracas, our farthest north

With Maug and Uracas behind us we have reached the northern limit of our mission and are on our way south and home. Our three days at Maug were some of the most spectacular diving of the cruise. Crystal clear waters and wall plunging hundreds of feet into the blue. Diving, hiking, and a little relaxation were all welcome rest-bits from our otherwise non-stop operations. Maug is made up of three islands ringing a central lagoon more than 500 feet deep. Inside this lagoon, hydrogen sulfide still bubbles from the sand, a reminder that these islands were not always the calm and peaceful waters that greeted us. Our oceanography team spent the better part of a day collecting these tiny bubbles for later analysis.

Uracas served as yet another reminder. While the underwater world was not as spectacular as that of Maug, the above water sights were from another world. Uracas is a grey cinder cone, a over-turned ice cream cone in the middle of the pacific. Constant rock falls and avalanches down it's sides kept plumes of dust drifting through the air. During one of our tows, a section of cliff the size of our boat broke loose and came crashing to the beach hundreds of feet below. It certainly gave us something to look at during the hour long surface interval we have while the other team was in the water.

Uracas also gave me one of my most exciting experiences of the mission when a six foot tuna came to check out my fins during an afternoon dive. Jake and I were collecting Crown of Thorns starfish arms for genetic analysis and photographing the reef when I saw several Dogtooth tuna swimming in deep water. I slowly swam out to meet them as the largest of the group started to angle my way. I stopped and slowly raised the camera to my mask as he glided effortlessly towards me. He came to within two feet of my fin tips before circling around behind and slowly moving away. It was awe-inspiring to say the least.

Tom Schilis contributed photographs to this article


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