Saturday, September 19, 2009

Reef Diving

Kate Madin, Writer, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Today held no blue water plankton dive. Instead, it was a reef diving day. Both Nai’a’s skiffs and drivers were busy carrying the fish and coral scientists to their work sites, and picking divers up afterwards.

Divers went in the early morning to find spawning fish. Then there was breakfast, and a couple of hours later a dive to a study site outside the lagoon at “satellite beach” – near where a satellite transmission tower once operated – to count fish and count and sample coral species. In the photo, taken by Stuart Sandin, David Obura is collecting coral samples to bring back.

Larry and I went along – not to count, but to observe and enjoy the wonderful variety of reef fish. We saw fish of every color, sea turtles resting on the bottom and swimming beside us, and lots of new coral growing in this area that had suffered bleaching a few years ago. Reef and fish ecologist Stuart Sandin photographed this grouper under a coral head, and even had a visitor during his dive – a dolphin swam near him for a while.

After lunch, yet another fish and coral dive. Some divers (including Larry) made a drift dive on the inward tide into the lagoon. Then one more dive before dinner, to retrieve data loggers placed on the reef two years ago to record water temperatures. Coral ecologist Randi Rotjan, called the daily schedule “dive, eat, dive.”

In the late afternoon, Kanton residents – all 31 people currently on the island – came over to our boat for a ceremonial leave-taking. Rob Barrel gave them a tour of Nai’a; there were speeches, thanks, and gifts exchanged; and the island’s policeman performed traditional Kiribati dance and song. Since we arrived the islanders had been making shell necklaces, and they gave one to every person on Nai’a. Larry photographed the event, and the visitors watched video taken of their school and the reefs and fish.

As they left in the skiffs for their home, all of us felt grateful for the chance to be here and meet the Kiribati people here on Kanton, to enjoy a taste of their culture, and see these coral reefs. Then Nai’a headed out of Kanton lagoon toward the next stop, Endurbury Island.

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