Searching for rats and coral regeneration: Expedition Phoenix Islands

(Left to right) Stuart Sandin, David Obura, Les Kaufman, and Randi Rotjan. © Jim Stringer
Two posts today: One from Greg Stone and another from Les Kaufman

From Greg Stone:

“The expedition has been going fast and furious, and moments to write blogs are sometimes fleeting. Our ship’s deck salon and cabins are constantly in motion with NAI’A crew in their blue uniforms running the ship, scientists lugging dive and science gear around, and so on.

A moment ago, Stuart Sandin walked by, wetsuit half pulled up, looking for his clipboard. Craig Cook came over and said he was about to set up the hyperbaric chamber again for testing. Brian Skerry is walking by with two underwater camera housings with strobes, one draped over each arm like leggy spiders. All is going well as we make our way through PIPA.

(left to right) Tuake Teema, Randi Rotjan, Stuart Sandin, David Obura, and Les Kaufman.Yesterday, we stopped for nine hours at McKean Island, the smallest of the Phoenix Islands. It is no more than a big piece of coral rock rising some two meters out of the heaving swell of the Pacific Ocean, with thousands of seabirds circling, screeching and walking around this outpost for ocean bird life…There is no landing site for a boat on this island, so you have to swim ashore. Rob Barrel drove a skiff toward the island with Alan Dynner, Larry Madin, Craig Cook, Tukabu Teroroko, Tuake Teema and myself aboard. We were within 150 feet of shore when Rob said, “This is it boys – you gotta swim from here.” Rob understandably didn’t want the skiff to get caught on the swell and overturn, or to hit rocks with his propeller.

Our job was to check the bait stations and look for evidence of rats to see if the project had been successful. Good news! I found many bait stations with fresh bait, meaning that the rats were probably gone.” Read more >>

Gregory Stone is the Senior Vice President and Chief Scientist for Oceans with Conservation International and PIPA Expedition Leader

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From Les Kaufman:

© Jim Stringer “Of the three Phoenix Islands we have visited thus far: Nikumororo, McKean, and Kanton, Kanton exhibits the most impressive regeneration of coral. This is really terrific news. Man, what a relief too, to see and study this very phenomenon, more than any other single reason that we have traveled so far and at such great expense. The great table-top corals that so famously died in a wave of severe coral bleaching in the Kanton lagoon in 2002, are now host to a swarm of young table-tops sprouting atop of the old.

The outer reef spur and groove system shimmers with new coral growth in shallow situations, especially in the lee, out of the full brunt of oncoming seas. One site, called “Satellite Beach” (near an old satellite dish antenna) is positively tourist class, magnificent beneath its fresh cloak of corals and fishes, including especially numerous and large groupers and snappers.

We are witness to a rebirth of gigantic proportions. You can feel the biological forces moving like magma beneath the busy veneer of everyday life on the reef, and quaking the earth.

It is always delightful to see one’s own old idea dashed by new data. It is exactly the same joy as building a huge building of blocks as a little kid, then smashing the thing to smithereens. Crash! Bang! The result is a fuller, richer, less hobbled picture of how the world works.” Read more >>

Les Kaufman is the Senior Investigator for Marine Management Area Science at Conservation International

Learn more about the Phoenix Island Protected Area expedition

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