Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Beyond Anatahan

Since leaving Saipan we have been treated to some truly amazing sights. The islands of the Northern Mariana are spectacular and magical. Something straight out of Jurassic Park. Towering conical volcanoes tipped with clouds and ringed with palms swaying gently in the breeze. You can almost imaging a square-rigged pirate ship coming around the point, the Jolly Roger whipping from the main-mast. Or maybe it is different. You row to shore in a wooden boat and are greeted on the beach by local peoples who have never seen a westerner before. Coconuts and palm fronds, shells and fruits more delicious than you can imagine. What will tomorrow bring?

Several day ago we were greeted by a small metal boat as we slowly made our way around Sarigen. Two men with fish, freshly caught. We exchanged oranges and juice for three nice fish, headed for the galley. Stuff like that just doesn't happen every day. Then there was Anatahan, the volcano still shrouded in ash, a column of steam and smoke rising above the summit caldera.

Tomorrow we arrive at Maug. Three mountains surrounding a central lagoon with walls dropping away into the abyss. This is the place everyone has been talking about. Seeing what we have seen so far, I can scarcely imagine ....

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Podcast: Zealandia

This morning we had a break from our normal schedule with a series of dives at Zealandia Bank. Zealandia rises from a depth of nearly one hundred and thirty meters to a bank at about thirty meters. From there, two pinnacles come to within breaking distance of the surface. We approached from the south, careful not to get our small boat too close to the rocks. It was eerie seeing such a small piece of rock, not two feet across, breaking the surface of the ocean with the closest land more than 10 miles away.

Zealandia is seldom visited and only by the occasional fishermen out for the weekend or on their way to Pagan or one of the northern islands. Typically subsistence fishing, they take just enough to feed themselves, their family and maybe a small sale.

Such a low fishing pressure would certainly explain the sight that met our eyes. As we rolled into the crystal clear water we could easily see the bottom nearly 150 feet below. Graceful batfish (Platax teira) greeted us as soon as we hit the water and stayed with us until we past 30 feet. As we reached the bottom twin-spot snappers (Lutjanus bohar), grey reef sharks (Carcharhinus amblyrynchos) and Fairy Basslets came up to meet us. We only had half an hour to spend on the bottom; we are off to Anatahan this afternoon to pick up some oceanography equipment, but those 30 minutes are ones we will always remember.