Wednesday, September 28, 2005


The second largest island in the Northern Marianas, Tinian is about 12 miles long and 5 miles wide with a top elevation of only 690, making it the least mountainous of all the northern islands. The windward (eastern) side of the island, which we surveyed the day before yesterday, is sheer, with 30-60 foot cliffs plunging to the turquoise water below. Tinian?s fertile soil was of great advantage to the nearly 18,000 Japanese who settled here, leveling the forests and turning the island into a patchwork of sugar cane fields. The level terrain was also ideal for airfields during the second world war which gave rise to Tinian?s notoriety as the take-off site for the B29s that dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Our diving here yielded fewer big fish than on the offshore banks, but I did see my first three lionfish in the wild. Tucker up under a small ledge, they appeared to be taking a mid-day nap. Appropriate, I suppose for these nocturnal aquatic bouquets. Most of the windward underwater world was composed of huge boulders on an otherwise unremarkable algal hardbottom community. The windward cliffs continue to drop below the ocean?s surface to a depth of about 60 feet before leveling off. One result is that, in order to keep to our 50-70 foot tow limit, we were often towing less than 100 feet from shore. It is kind of neat to be flying over the ocean floor 60 feet below the surface while being able to look up and to the left to see the underside of the waves crashing against the shore.


I'm feeling much better today. Yesterday I spent the entire day in bed with a cough and sinuses I thought were going to make my head explode. I woke up at 7:00 am for the safety briefing and promptly went back to bed, waking up again at 4 when the boats started coming in. The doc has given me some Sudafed, nasal spray, and cough syrup so hopefully all will be better tomorrow and I will be able to start diving again.

Monday, September 26, 2005

The Banks

For the past two days we have been diving on a pair of offshore banks about 150 miles west of Saipan. These underwater mountains rise from the depths to within 50 feet of the surface. Bathed in crystal clear water, the banks are home to a variety of fishes and other marine life. In terms of large fishes, this was one of the first times I had to write fast.

On our first dive of the day, Jake and I geared up and prepared the dive. Even though we knew it was only 50 feet, it was more than a little odd getting ready to hop in the water in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight. Rolling over the side, we looked down and saw the reef stretching out below us. Swirling around us was a school of foot long rainbow runners and a few small gray reef sharks. As we started to descend I noticed a 6-7 foot silvertip shark cruising along the reef below us. Being one of the sharks we are somewhat wary of, we paused to see what it would do. He seemed interested in our presence, but quickly bored and headed off to deeper water. After making sure he was not planning to return anytime soon, we started the cameras and began our survey.

The bank is a flat, grooved mountaintop with low lying corals, soft corals and other invertebrates. I have a feeling this area gets pretty wavy in the winter which would account for the lack of large coral colonies. The fish were impressive, however, with large three spot snappers, rainbow runners, jacks, sharks, and groupers. I saw more giant clams on this dive than on any previous. Mostly about a foot across they are of the deepest blues, greens, and purple with iridescent blue, green, and purple spots.

Being small, we only did three tows before we had completely covered the bank. With a long transit to our next site, we packing it in early and started our transit.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Leaving Anatahan


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We are now leaving Anatahan Island enroute to Pathfinder bank, and undersea mountain which rises from the depths to within 50 feet of the surface. Being out in the middle of nowhere (about 150 miles west of Saipan) we should see some intersting things. Hopefully not too many large toothy fishes, though.

Today was a relaxing and pretty amazing day. The sea has been flat calm with a gentle swell. Anatahan has been lazily billowing steam and smoke from her crater on the eastern side of the island forming a cloud several thousand feet high by mid-afternoon. We sent a small party into the nearshore waters to retrieve some oceaongraphic equipment and heard stories of murky water and barren lands. I gather from one of the scientists on a dive that he was holding on the ankle of another and could not even see his shorts. Not good conditions for towboarding.

I spent most of my day reparing a handle on the SCUBA compressor manifold, reading papers, and answering the truckload of emails I received this morning! Thanks :-)

With the calm seas tonight's sunset was amazing! Just the right number of clouds to make the colors and contrats the perfect tropical postcard. We could see each pink cloud perfectly reflected in the ocean surface. Truly an amazing sight.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Finding Nemo...

Yesterday was a day of firsts. My first open water dive in Micronesia and I saw my first clown fish (Nemo) and first tridacnid (a giant clam although it wasn't that big).

The dives were mixed. The first dive was excellent. We started on the south east coast of Saipan where cliffs dropped 50 or so feet down to the water's edge. All along that section of coast there is a bench of rock which is perfectly flat and extends about 8 feet from the base of the cliffs about 1 - 2 feet above the water. Visibility was around 30 meters with excellent fish and coral communities. The water is warm, about 86 degrees and we are able to tow wearing only a rash guard (lycra shirt) and swim suit. It is nice to be warm while diving again.

The second dive was not as nice. Visbility had dropped to 15 meters and much of the dive was over sand. Hmmm, we have seen sand somewhere before I think... oh yes, the entire main eight Hawaiian Islands cruise last month!

Today I staid on board the ship as Dive Master and Data Manager which entails giving the morning dive briefing, trying to make sure no one gets hurt, and filling tanks which is what I have been doing all evening.

Tonight we are steaming north to Anatahan Island which should be interesting. The oceanography team will be dashing in to pick up some of their instruments while the rest of us will stay on the ship. We were looking forward to exploring the underwater areas around the island but the CO of the ship made the call today that it was too dangerous to dive. Better to err on the side of caution. Anatahan is an active volcanoe which errupted rather explosivly a few weeks ago. Still, it will be interesting to see it from the surface.

Now it is time to enter more data and then turn into a pumpkin. I fear my brain is hardly functioning. My pillow will feel good tonight.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

anyone out there?

ok, so I've been at sea for about 5 days now and have received email from exactly .... no one :-( It's getting kind of lonely.

anyone out there? I know it's a long address


Incorrect email address and link

It seems I used the incorrect email address in the "Email Ben" link on this page. My correct address is as follows:

Messages must be limited to 1MB and each byte costs so please keep messages small (i.e. no pictures unless they are important).

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Blue Grotto

Today was spectacular. After a breakfast which left more than a little to be desired we headed out for a tour around the north end of then island which included several gun emplacements from the War and a clif site where hundreds of Japanese military personnel and their families commited suicide rather than being captured by US soldiers. The site was spectacularly beautify but incredibly sobering at the same time. Later we headed to "Blue Grotto" a sinkhole which has been flooded by the ocean. Doning dive gear we descended the hundred or so stairs leading down to the water and prepared to explore this undersea world. Dropping below the surface we drifted into the darkness. As we passed under the cathedral ceiling, the underside of Saipan, the brilliant blue of the open ocean appeared before us. Several huge tunnels now connect the grotto to the sea and as we made our way out through one of these we were surrounded by a menagerie of wonderful fishes and a small turtle. Truly one of the more spectacular dives I have experienced. Tomorrow we head out to sea and I am excited to see what the rest of the area has in store.

The Crossing

I have just crossed the dateline on my way to Guam. This morning was more than a little hectic. After finding out the night before last that I had, in fact, misread my ticket and I was scheduled to leave on SUNDAY and not Saturday as I had planned, I was ready for an extra 24 hours of calm and relaxation before the trip. This was not to happen.

Happily I was able spend an extra day with Cristi and was able to make it to a party I thought I was going to have to miss. A colleage, Kevin Hall, was having a crawfish ("craw-fish" for all you on-bayou types) boil as a fundraiser for hurricane Katrina victims and, yes, it was a fundraiser although we had plenty of fun eating 50 pounds of crawfish, drinking more than a little beer and picking mangoes and star-fruit from the trees in their backyard.

Sunday morning (today) we got a call from a colleague who had just gotten word he was going on the trip. Yes, the call came at 9:00 am to be on a flight to Guam at 2:00 the same afternoon. I was happy I had as much notice as I did. Cristi and I rushed off to pick him up, dashed by his professor's house to pick up an exam he will be missing (so I can proctor it for him on the ship) and then it was off to the airport (half way across the island). A little more of a whirlwind than we had planned, but exciting, and all worked out for the best. We arrived with minutes to spare, checked our bags, through security, a quick Kahlua pig sandwich, and onto the plane.

Continental accomodations have been surprising to say the least. We just finished a hot lunch of ginger beer with salad, bread, and metal utensils including a knife. Not five star, but certainly more than one can expect as of late. Ice cream and coffee followed shortly thereafter. I have a window seat (14A) in the mini-cabin between first class and coach. If you are ever on a 767-400 to Micronesia, this the place to be. Only 5 rows so it is quite with plenty of leg room, seat power for the laptop, and video screens for each seat. We are cruising at 34,000 feet at as speed of 550mph and it is -43 degrees outside.

Across the thousands of miles of ocean, the view has been beautiful. The sea has been as calm as a sheet of glass for the past hour or so and the crystal white clouds rise like pillars between sea and sky of safire blue. We arrive in Guam this evening and then it is on to Saipan where I will meet the rest of the crew and find out what the next few days have in store.

Friday, September 16, 2005

All My Bags are Packed

Two days before departure and I might actually have everything together! I am sure something will come up to take care of that.

I fly from Honolulu to Guam and then on to Saipan where I will meet the NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette to begin our three week expedition through the Northern Marianas Islands. While the inhabited portions of these islands, namely Guam and Saipan, are not the idyllic South Pacific Paradise, I am looking forward to getting up into the unpopulated northern areas where we will hopefully see less impacted coral reef areas, healthy reef fish assemblages, and possibly an active volcano or two.

I am sure the first few days will be hectic as usual, but I hope to be able to update this blog on a fairly regular basis. Stay tuned for further news...