Monday, September 14, 2009

Phoenix Islands Return

Brian Skerry, National Geographic and New England Aquarium Explorer in Residence
After nearly six days of sailing we reached Nikumaroro Island around 10:00 AM today. The tiny spec of land turned into a deserted tropical island clustered with palm trees the closer we approached. I had planned to use the days in transit to unpack and assemble all of my photo equipment, but the rough seas didn’t allow for this. So, I spent the first several hours today doing this along with charging batteries and prepping my dive gear. I was able to get everything ready in time for a dive in the early afternoon.

I dove on the leeward side of Nikumaroro and from the moment I jumped in, two things were evident. First there seemed to be a lot of fish. Second, the corals here were in rough shape. As I mentioned in my previous post, coral scientist David Obura was here in 2005 and recorded substantial coral bleaching and dead corals due to warming sea temperatures. Our hope was that in the four years since, new coral growth had taken place, however we saw very little of this.

I ended up spending about three hours in the water today, making two dives and concentrated mostly on photographing fish. There were some huge schools of surgeonfish in the surf zone, where I often love to work. The crashing waves create backlighting that can make for a beautiful picture, provided you can hold your position and not get slammed into a rock or coral head!

Nikumaroro Islands is the place that many believe Amelia Earhart landed on her historic attempt of a round the world flight. So, while fish were foremost in my thoughts today, I must admit that somewhere in the back of my mind I secretly desired to swim over an underwater ridge to find the wreckage of a Lockheed Electra lying amongst the coral. Didn’t happen though. I did swim amongst the wreckage of a ship that grounded here, but no aircraft debris today.

Tomorrow I am planning an early morning dive on the windward side of the island where I hope the reef will have fared better from the stressing event of four years ago.

» See the New England Aquarium blog for more information

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