Friday, September 18, 2009

Visit to Kanton Atoll

Kate Madin, Writer, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Images from our visit to the Kanton School
Today began with a dive for the reef scientists, who are re-visiting survey sites that were marked on the last expedition here in 2005. There are usually four dives a day to cover the island’s reefs.

For others of us, the day started with a hot, two-and-a-half mile walk (each way) along the atoll’s only road, to visit the Kanton school. There, Greg gave the ten students and two teachers educational material brought from New England Aquarium and a sister school in Weston, and Larry contributed magazines and children’s books from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Woods Hole Sea Grant – and also candy, to break the ice!

The school is a building within a building – schoolrooms built inside a large corrugated metal building with a cool, smooth cement floor that’s a remnant of when Kanton was a much larger community.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Kanton held American and British bases, an airstrip where Pan American Airlines flights stopped to refuel, and a hotel – a few thousand people lived here at one time. The current small village of 40, caretakers for PIPA, rotate off after a period.

Images from the drift dive
After the school visit, Larry examined plankton caught in the plankton net towed behind the skiff, and photographing and taking notes on the box jellyfish he captured on yesterday’s dive. Cubomedusae are the most venomous of jellyfish, and since he didn’t know how toxic this one is, he made sure to use caution transferring it from jar to microscope dish to photographic tank.

In the afternoon, some of the divers did a drift dive, riding the several-knot incoming tidal current inward from just outside the lagoon entrance– a high-speed look at the atoll’s opening.