Ends of the Earth, Palmyra Atoll, Day 2 and 3

Friday— Another day, another adventure.  Having survived the night with the forest and cabin full of cane spiders, we had a pretty uneventful day. A rather packed morning of fantastic talks about coral disease in the Pacific, highlighting the phenomenal progress we have made in the last decade in our understanding. Greta Abey described her group’s success in identifying another Vibrio causative agent for a white syndrome of Acropora.   Bette Willis described how Typhoon Yasi (remember the flooding in Townsville and Brisbane?)  and the tourist pontoon platforms create seas of unhealthy coral, but Australia MPAs seem to be protecting reef health as well as fish. And the phenomenal coral health surveys that Bernardo Vargas-Angel and colleagues have collected at 50 sites in the most remote parts of the Pacific.  By noon, we were talked out and ready for lunch followed by a dive to Penguin Point, a site of the forereef. AS promised, within  5 minutes of starting the dive, a manta ray showed up to escort us to the reef.  Large expanses of complete coral cover greeted us. Then soon, a small blacktip shark came to visit.  Next we came on a large spawning aggregation of snappers—whirling around in a large ball of about 40 fish.  After that, I was settling into photographing a corals with anomalous health issues, such as a Turbinaria sp with bleached spots and a Hydnophora with white patches, when in cruised a rather larger grey reef shark. It was fun watching it scout among us, with Bette unaware as it passed inches from her fins…

Randy Kosaki and steephead parrotfish

Saturday— We worked very hard this morning to try and identify some of the major knowledge gaps in making reefs more resilient to infectious disease outbreaks. Despite the large recent disease-climate synergisms, the solutions for now all seem to be Go Local.  Good evidence exists for the benefits to coral health of living in intact ecosystems, such as within marine protected areas, with a full complement of herbivorous and some apex predatory fish. Evidence also suggests that positive interventions to clean up land-based pollution can roll back levels of disease.  Despite our efforts, Joanne wasn’t satisfied with our work and made us all submit our top transformative idea just after dinner, so we look forward to hearing the summary of these tomorrow. But lets turn to the highlight of the day, which was the dive to one of the Terrace Reef sites, called Crazy Corals and the shipwreck.  Crazy Corals is well-named and is without question the most spectacular coral site I have ever seen. This dive site is without question the most spectacular coral site I have ever seen. It was dominated by HUGE plating corals and massive vertical relief of branching corals.  It was an absolute coral cathedral that dazzled even the most experienced Indo-Pacific reef people among us. And it was populated by a scintillating cadre of spectacular fish, one of which stationed himself in front of me until I took his picture…  So today I offer a shot of Randy Kosaki, Director of Northwest Hawaiian Islands National Monument, stalking the steephead parrotfish…And lest you forget that we are here to work on a very serious issue, I also include a photo of Joanne Wilson, inspecting the large series of tumorous growths on the surface of a large plating Acropora.  Although one of the most beautiful sites I have ever seen, with spectacular coral and healthy fish, this site is also the location of tabulate corals with these tumours and a devastating outbreak of white syndrome that Greta Abey studied on the tabulate Acropora. Although we are here to ponder what kinds of resilience is provided by extremely healthy reefs in pristine locales, coral disease follows us even to the ends of the earth.  Tomorrow, the word is we head to offshore reefs—a strange concept when we are already as in the middle of the Pacific as we can be!

Joanne Wilson inspecting Acropora tumors


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *