Monday—We are keeping up the bruising pace of working group meetings all morning, site surveys in the afternoon and reconvening for working group meetings in the evening. We have successfully sketched out a plan for ANCHoR (Action Network for Coral Health on Reefs), a plan for a Pacific-wide network to understand the drivers of coral disease and formulate solutions. Why is it so hard? Well, have you ever tried to make a plan with a mixed group of 9 scientists and reef managers?? Lots of valuable discussion in trying to reach consensus on a complex topic… But we’re happy and enjoying our work, as evidenced by the smiles of Greta and Eric in the photo.
But, now, on to Mega- Jack Reef. This site is a deeper reef, cresting at about 55’ and in a relatively high current, upwelling area. So the plan is for a drift dive—we get dropped and hopefully the boat finds us at the end. Again, the water was clear and the reef bright. We descended to our max depth of 60’ and drifted along the drop-off, accompanied by our friendly snapper. The story of this dive is high currents and lots of pelagics! The high point is this school of Jacks engulfing Eric in photo taken by Greta Abey, followed by an even larger school of small barracuda. And of course the ever-present black tips, cruising in and out. The dive ended with a stiff hand-over-hand pull across the reef to keep from getting pulled deeper and a long safety stop zooming above blue water as we were washed off the reef.
Tuesday—Eric promised if we worked hard we could get a quick snorkel in back to Crazy Corals Reef and Bette and I were anxious for another look at the interesting things we had seen there. A closer look revealed a surprisingly high level of coral diseases. This is one point of the trip—to figure out how to use a pristine location like Palmyra Atoll to understand some of the non-anthropogenic drivers of coral diseases. Many of the disease syndromes we study are activated by nutrients, run-off and synergisms between nutrients and temperature events. Although the coral is clearly very healthy at this site, it is also hosting a pretty high level of syndromes and we really don’t have the answer yet as to what other stressors might drive this here other than climate drivers like temperature spikes. So for those of you who are bored by sharks, bright fish and big pelagics, take a look at some of the different kinds of tumour conditions we found on acroporid and poritid corals. The photo of me with the tumoured plating Acropora cytherea is taken by Bette Willis.
And that about wraps up our trip, as our charter jet is circling and we are running for the plane. If we miss it, could be another two months before the next one lands here!