Saturday, May 05, 2007

Transit man

As many of you may have noticed, we have left Wake and are steaming southwest for Guam. Four days to go. We are passing the time analyzing the data from Wake and are looking forward to even warmer waters to come. The data buoys off Guam were reading 83.6F this afternoon.

One of the more impressive data products we have been able to generate in the past few days is a rather nice bathymetric map of Wake created by Joyce Miller, Scott Ferguson, Jeremy Taylor and Paul Brown. Thinking many of you might be interested I'll post a small version here. This is what Wake looks like underwater down to nearly 4,000m (13,000 ft). Of particular interest, it looks like the mapping team may have found a new deep-water shipwreck, possibly a WWII era warship. I'll let them tell you more about that later.

With a little extra transit time I wanted to take a moment to thank the many readers of this blog for your comments and attention. I know there were a couple of days there when I had lagged in posting and you certainly let me know you um ... noticed ... the lack of information. It has also been fun to track the number of blog readers over time. I had no idea there would be so much interest. I am glad you have been reading (and hopefully enjoying) my posts. If there is anything you would like to see featured in future blog posts, please don't hesitate to let me know.

For now I think I will head to bed. See you all tomorrow...

Thursday, May 03, 2007

A little fun and collecting

On our final day at Wake the tow-team took some time out of their normal schedule to conduct some invertebrate collections and have a little fun at a site we had past during one of our tows on the northeast corner of the island. Steph and Amy were towing that day and just happened to pass a particularly inviting cave at about 70 feet on the outer reef wall. It looked like maybe it just might have some good urchins, sea cucumbers, and starfish in need of collecting. Oh yeah, it didn't have bad video potential either.

We were far from disappointed. A couple of grey reef sharks greeted us as we made our way to the entrance of the cave and a pair of knifejaws swam nearby. A large green moray was unconcerned by our presence while a large Napoleon wrasse seemed just a little non-plused.

Tour of Wake

We were able to go ashore at Wake this morning prior to our final day of diving at this beautiful island. We were met at the dock in the small harbor on the south side of the island by Scott Sweistac, the MDA liaison officer for the island. Having lived on the island for the past eight years, Scott is a wealth of knowledge and took our eager crew on a tour of the island while talking about its history and the effects of the recent typhoon. It is amazing that with a category 5 typhoon having it the island a mere six months ago, there is relatively little damage. Scott noted with some amusement that most of the structures built either during or prior to the war remained standing while most of the recent construction was decimated. I guess they really don't build them like the used to. A notable exception was the sea wall on the east coast of the island which took the brunt of the storm's fury. Its concrete blocks, nearly 12 feet square and filled with coral rubble were tossed nearly 100 feet up the beach where they remain.

Scott introduced us to the island at an area known as POW rock where some of the 98 POWs who remained on the island during the war are comemorated. After temporarily escaping, one of the 98 carved their names into a large coral head on the beach near the lagoon. While most of the American POWs were sent back to mainland China or Japan, these 98 remained and were responsible for many of the constructions projects on the island before their final execution. It was a sobering message with which to begin our tour.

Following POW rock we made our way around the island visiting many of the aircraft revetment areas, shore batteries, pill boxes, and command bunkers. All stark reminders that this island has not always been able to maintain the tranquil beauty seen today nestled in and amongst the somber remains of its more distant past.

Evidence of the war is everywhere and there are many areas we could not walk for fear of unexploded ordinance: mines, grenades, bombs, artillery shells and the like. We had also been warned about the possibility of running across human remains and had been counseled on proper documenting procedures should this occur. The small museum in the main building "downtown" holds a host of artifacts that have been recovered from the island, its beaches, lagoon and near-shore waters.

Today approximately 250 people live on Wake, but it has supported a population nearly ten times that in the past when both the FAA and Pan American Airways maintained facilities here. PanAM clippers were once seen bobbing in the lagoon and children could be heard in the playgrounds of of the elementary and high school. There was a hotel, bar, and extensive housing facilities. Many of these are slowly being reclaimed by the island.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Day 2 and the South Shore

What out second day of diving at Wake lacked in first time excitement it more than made up for in conditions. The wind and swell has continued to drop and while today was not quite like bath water in terms of temperature and sea conditions, it was pretty darn close. The is still a decent long period swell rolling on from the east, but we were still easily able to tow the eastern and souther coastlines and passed out surface time watching the swells crash toards the beach as they crested the reef. The turquoise water turned emerald green topped with wisps of white as we looked through the back side of the curls.

Along the south side of the island we resurveyed part of our previous tracks and were greeted by many of the same bumphead parrotfish we saw yesterday. The large parrotfish can easily reach over a meter in length and bite off whole chunks of coral as they feed.

We passed the REA team several times underwater and were in turn passed over by the AHI, the multi-beam launch, as they were mapping the bottom. We were all excited to be part of the map of Wake until we found that we would be trimmed out as so much useless noise during the data processing. Party poopers.

The south side of the island also contains the entrance to the small boat harbor which in the past seems to have been home to much larger ships. The reef is littered with anchors, some old and some new. Many are much larger than the anchor on our ship with links of chain I could easily stick my arm through.

Our First Dives at Wake

Our first day of surveys at Wake Atoll was amazing. It is telling when one of your dive partners complains after the second dive that the underwater visibility DROPPED to 80 feet. We started out on the northeast corner of the island and steadily worked in a counter-clockwise direction around the island. On our very first dive we were greeted by a small school of bumphead parrotfish (Bolbometopon muricatum), a rare fish was have seldom seen. Wake seems to be one of the few areas they still exist in high densities. Large, generally slow-moving and seemingly trusting fish, bumpheads have been particularly vulnerable to spear-fishing. This is especially the case at night when large numbers of the group together under overhangs in the reef where they are easy targets for unscrupulous fishermen. We have also seen a larger number of Napoleon Wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus) which we also see elsewhere only rarely. Together these two relatively rare species have made up the majority of our large fish observations - a distinctly different scenario.

Topside the weather continues to be beautiful. Clear skies and generally calm seas with a long rolling swell. We are accompanied by sooty turns, masked boobies, and many of our other avian friends who, for some reason, always want to eat the small black cap on the end of our radio antenna. This seems to be the case wherever we are. Northwest Hawaiian Islands, Samoa, Marianas ... the always want to eat our antenna, I have no idea why.

From our vantage point several hundred yards offshore, Wake Island seems flat and relatively desolate. It will be interesting to see if we can go on land latter in the week. We have seen several bunkers, gun emplacements and other remnants of the war in addition to the variety of debris we have encountered below water. Not having seen the island before typhoon Ioke, which struck 6 months ago, it is hard to know what is a result of that and what is simply the island itself. It is easy to imagine the sustained winds of 200 mph with gust to 250 mph could leave and island looking more than a little windblown and disheveled.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Our first day

Whew ... our first day has been exhausting, but rewarding. We hit the water at 8:00 this morning and have been running non-stop ever since ... it is now 11:00pm! A typical day for the towboard team. So, in the interest of sleep and safet, this will be a short post. Suffice it to say that today was wonderful. I took many picture both above and below water, but will not have time to post them tonight. Check back in the next day or two and I should have pictures, maps and maybe even a video or two.

For now, I want my bed ...