…and it finally begins!
Day 5 of our trip finally saw our gear arrive. At breakfast we caught the tail end of an announcement over the local radio station about our work and the students’ being here on Aitutaki. They emphasized our remotely piloted system-based monitoring of the lagoon and so created a bit of additional anxiety as to when we would ever be able to use those much-discussed instruments. It was therefore a very happy sight to pull up to the airport and see all our equipment boxes lying there just waiting to be plucked up at 11:30!
Sandy Beach Surveys
We began today with our first mainland sandy beach surveys, focused on our Samade/inner lagoon sites near the southern most section of the runway. The good Dr. Lambrinos took the helm of the sandy beach crews, still in the midst of trying to suss out our new coastal strand vegetation descriptors for our S-BRASS sandy beach protocols. Given the very shallow faces of many of our beaches on some of the motus and inner lagoon sites, we have modified our quantitative coring to capture more immediately shallow sandy regions (and concomitantly decreasing the number of cores in the upper, dryer sections of the beach). As such we are getting all kinds of cool worms, etc. (that we have yet to fully identify) in our infernal transects.
Our lunchtime break provided us with not only tasty cured ham sandwiches, but our missing gear as well. We quickly posed for a picture with our newly-arrived robots for a story in the local paper and set off to get to work. Our robotics team began assembling and repairing parts broken in the shuffle of air cargo handlers and getting on with attaching Guy’s UV sensors to the ventral array on our workhorse OpenROV.
Giant Clam Cultivation at the Marine Research Station
Following lunch and a bit of equipment unpacking we headed down over to the Marine Research Station (the Aitutaki arm of the Ministry of Marine Resources). We will post more about the station in an upcoming post, but it is a fantastic and classic island marine research station. What a fantastic and fun place to research. I’ve worked in various research stations over my career and they are always amazing places: never enough money, never enough equipment, but tons of can-do attitude and a wellspring of creativity and love of natural history.
Lagoon Survey Training at Pacific Resort
We next ran back to the Reef Motel to grab our snorkel gear and headed to Pacific Resort for our training in shallow-water lagoon surveys. These surveys emphasize quantifying our mobile invertebrates. We are especially interested in holothurians (sea cucumbers) and other echinoderms. Sea Cucumbers are eaten here in the Cooks. Common members of the coral reef community, they also seem to do well in sandy areas with high freshwater and/or nutrient inputs. They are therefore a very interesting organism to follow from both a management/fisheries perspective and a water quality perspective. I have been surveying these guys (although only cursorily) for the past two summers. Their being a fishery and potentially valuable export to Asian markets has driven various historic surveys both here and across various Pacific Islands and give us a nice context for understanding the abundances we will be seeing here in Aitutaki.
Night Snorkel & UV Test
We finished up our jam-packed day with a night snorkel at our End of the Runway beach. It was great! Lots of five-lined cardinal fish and squirrelfish as well as things like light-loving puffer fish and light-avoiding sea cucumbers (one we don’t really see in the daytime). The robotics crew also had a super successful first test of our ROV-mouted coral illuminator!