Some great photos from the trip….

This is  what a hermit crab looks like without its shell. Crabs, like snakes or lizards shed their shell and go into hiding for up to 3 weeks while they create a new one. This Hermit crab was looking for a new home when we found him!

  We picked up 8 bags of trash on the outer edge of Aitutaki. This is all the trash that washes up on the island from the Pacific Ocean…. 

Second to last day…

Everyone is out and about today rushing to get as much done as we can before we head on back to the States tomorrow night.

Our Reef and Robotics Teams are on the boat, our Ciguatera Team is meeting with Dr. Helen at the hospital on their never-ending hunt for public health stats, and I have the Lagoon and Beach Teams with me near the airport.

Later today we have our meeting with the Island Council downtown.

Tuesday with the Reef Team

Today, the reef team surveyed two sites. At the first site, there were hardly any reefs. We then swam across a channel to a motu where there were two small reefs we were able to survey. This area was on the ocean side and not protected, so there was a heavy surge and was hard to survey. Aimee surveyed the invertebrates and within one transect from zero to five meters she found 91 sea urchins! After the first site we continued to our second site that was behind a restaurant called Puffy’s Bar and Grill.

The second site was beautiful. The visibility was good and there was not as much surge as the first site. We saw a variety of fish that kept the site interesting. The corals were mostly Porites covered with macro algae called Turbinaria. There was way more of this macro algae found on the second site when compared to the first site. The highlight of our day was on the second transect at our second site where we saw a Moray eel that was about five feet long. After completing four 10 meter transects at the second site we met up with other groups at a different beach north of the airport, where we helped complete surveys with the lagoon and sandy beach teams.

Turbo Tuesday!

wow! What a great day! Sandy Beach crew, Dorothy, Tevin and Guy got 4 sites done and found a ton of cool infauna! We found that where there is anoxic sediment an abundance of ‘yellow worms’ are present. It’s our first official correlation in Sandy Beach data! Very cool :-). We found 2 new species in our sand cores today! One really cool snail and an iridescent green worm!    


We also were able to assist on the Lagoon survey team today and saw 100’s of sea cucumbers! It was awesome!

Research Realities

Research Realities

By: Aimee and Laura

With coming out to the Cook Islands, we were excited to conduct a new type of research. This excitement was blinded by the difficulties that come along with marine research. After being split into our teams these specific challenges started showing.

Today, the reef team conducted research on the lagoon near the airport and out in front of the Pacific Resort. 10 meter transects were laid out with one person surveying for invertebrates and two others measuring the coral height and species. We faced many challenges today, in the morning there was cloud cover and it was a bit breezy. The team was dressed in wetsuits, but we all were freezing. Though cold, we managed to stay in the water for three hours and finished the transects. Another problem was that the water was very turbid, which made it hard to spot and identify species. The turbidity, along with recently learning the specific species identifications, made our first transect take the most time. By the fourth transect we were well on our way at identifying coral and fish.

The Night Snorkel

Tonight we snorkeled north of where we are staying. The snorkel site is considered to be one of the best on the island. The night was beautiful for snorkeling while the full moon lit the water. Our flashlights led our way into the lagoon where the floor was littered with sea cucumbers and purple starfish. As we swam further into the lagoon we came across coral with their polyps out. We saw some fish that are common during the day like the convict tang hiding in the coral. We also saw cardinal fish that took the place of damsel fish during the night. Another exciting spot was the squirrel fish that was reddish with big eyes. Snorkeling at night was drastically different from during the day. There were more translucent fish out during the night and overall the fish species out at night were different from during the day. The different day time and night time species shared similar niches but were out at opposite times during the day making it possible for both types to survive.

Reef Team

The reef team has the role of surveying coral reefs as one aspect of the entire research project. Surveying coral reefs includes studying fish species, corals, algae, and invertebrates. The protocol is done in four 10 meter transects per site. First the fish expert swims through the transect counting and identifying all the fish in a two meter width along the transect tape. After all the fish are counted, the person identifying and counting invertebrates swims through. This person swims five meters counts and identifies two meters wide then the transect by doing the remaining five meters. Then the person identifying invertebrates within the transect goes next and measures the height of the coral at each meter mark along the transect. The last team member identifies the substrate which includes corals, algae, rocks or other matter that might be on the ocean floor.DSCN1867 web

Comparing both days of conducting reef research is interesting. The first day posed multiple challenges. There was poor visibility and the tide was going out making the site very shallow. Today the visibility was great and the water was deeper. The only challenge today was the strong current. There was also a much higher biodiversity among invertebrates on the first day most notably the amount of sea cucumbers. There were a lot of sea cucumbers at the site surveyed on the first day and less sea cucumbers on today’s sites. However, there were more Giant Clams, Trochus snails, vermetid snails, and sea stars. The coral was different from the first day. There was less acropora and pocillopora and more porites. Tomorrow we will go back to one of the sites of the first day and another new site. Cannot wait to see what is in store next.


Ciguatera Interviews

Shannon and I have been going around this beautiful island interviewing locals. We’ve talked to some fisherman and hospital personal along with many others, everyone is very kind! It is interesting to hear about stories and theories of possible causes.

It seems to be a random fish poisoning that makes people here on Aitutaki sick.  We heard from a person at the hospital that many fisherman have symptoms, seemingly because they try the fish before giving it to family members. Trevally seem to be the most infected reef fish but most people are very careful and have ways to determine if a caught fish is poisoned or not. Although people are careful, many and most fish are healthy and good eats!! 

Sunday fun day 

What a beautiful start to our “rest day.” After a little bit of sleeping in on my part while a handful of others went to church service, we got up and got ready for our hike on the Maunga Pu Summit trail. 
It was a steep hike up, but the views were spectacular! We were able to see a 360 degree view of the entire island and the surrounding motus. 
After our hike, we drove over to the Koru Cafe for a quick snack and rest before heading back to our motel to do more science! We will be doing some trash pick up later this evening.