Now that we are home let me give you a full account of what happened over the last few days of our trip.
The day after (August 7, 2015) we had our little moving-around-the-island adventure we (the lagoon team) lost another team member Julie. She awoke the next day with one of her eyes super puffy and red. During breakfast she put some ice on it which helped reduce the swelling a lot, although her eye was still super red. She ultimately got some medicated eye drops later that morning after a super quick trip to the Aitutaki Hospital. Those drops helped, but Dr. Anderson still removed her from underwater work/rearranged our field teams for the next fews days as a precautionary measure. As such our lagoon team was now made up of myself (Hayden), Mag, Aspen and Shannon. Aspen and Shannon had originally been part of the ciguatera team. We also had Clare (one of our hosts) as a part of our team for a little while.
That day we hit another four beaches. We surveyed the shallow lagoon that was right outside our motel (our Reef Motel site) to start off that round of sampling. The sand at this beach was black; it was anoxic and smelled very badly of rotten eggs. Whenever we stepped into it, we would sink deep into into the silty sand. This beach harbored no invertebrates. We then drove down a little down the road (directly south south) and surveyed another lagoon whose silty sediments sort of ate us. Again, not a lot of invertebrates were found at this beach. Then we went down a little further down the road and surveyed another site (South Point). Here, the sand was a little bit more normal of the grain size we were seeing across the island. It was very nice in comparison. However there was a “minor” problem of my own making.
I was in charge of getting the GPS to this third site. I thought I had it wrapped up in my towel, but we couldn’t find it anywhere at this site. We looked in my backpack. We looked in everyone else’s bags. But there was no GPS to be found. The logical explanation was that it fell out of my towel at our second site. So with a rather upset Dr. Anderson and a disgruntled team we made our way back to our second site. Aspen, Clare, Shannon and myself got dropped off a little bit down the way to see if we could make our way back to the beach from the lagoon (a stretch of woody coastal strand vegetation separated the road from the beach. We eventually made it back to the beach to scour the beach of where our gear had been sitting and where I knew that I had last seen the GPS. It wasn’t there. So we then walked up to the road to wait for Dr. Anderson and again hunted for the missing GPS. Again no luck…. I remember thinking “Well this sucks for me” and “I lost the GPS.” The one piece of our lagoon-sampling equipment that was expensive. Then we started to walk down the road hoping Dr. Anderson found it and that we would eventually run into him. Three minutes later, we saw him driving up to us with that misplaced GPS in his outstretched hand, gently swinging from the driver side window of our van. With a big sigh of relief we got in the van and didn’t talk about it anymore (it apparently fell out of my towel as we boarded the van an hour before; Dr. Anderson found it in the middle of road). We next swing by our hotel to drop off Clare as she had other things to do that day. Our fourth and final lagoon site of that day was adjacent to the Aitutaki sailing club down the street from Koru Cafe. This site had some parts that were really deep (relative to what we had been seeing the past few days). For the most part, though, it was really shallow. Again there were few invertebrates there; we saw only a few “volcanos” and a occasional sea cucumber. That was it for that day. Rather eventful.
The next day (August 8) our lagoon team (Aspen, Shannon, Mag and myself) and the sandy beach team (Tevin, Dorothy and Guy were paired for the day. Dr. Anderson drove us all around in the van and Dorothy drove the little blue car. Dr. Anderson had to go a little early because he had meeting with a the Island Council in their office near downtown Arutanga to update them on the progress of our work for the island. Nevertheless, he took us to our first two sites.
The first site was right across the street from the airport terminal and offered very little water. This terminus of the lagoon had the other bank a mere 35 m out from our waterline/starting point. As this area had close to no water, we didn’t all detect sea cucumbers in our transects but found abundant crab burrows. Once the lagoon team finished our transects we helped the beach team finish up their surveys. Both teams got through all our transects in about 30 minutes. Dr. Anderson returned from gassing up the van and we drove off to another sheltered lagoon site. That was where things got interesting for the day. We had to do our usual protocol of laying transects out to 200 m, but the first 8 m or so was in soft silt and sand that would envelop us, sinking us to our knees. Needless to say that took us a very long time to get through. Once we got past that it was still a little sink-like but not nearly as bad (we just had to step on patches of sand we could tell were higher/more solid, evidenced by their lighter color). Again not a lot of invertebrates; just a few cucumbers and a few volcanos. We again quickly finish our transects and moved to the beach to finish the sandy beach team finish their work. After our second beach, Dr. Anderson showed us where our fourth site would be before he took us to our third site just before he left us to go to his meeting. He also instructed us to take the sandy beach people to one of the places where we had surveyed two days ago and to try and do the site we opted to not survey that same day. Dr. Anderson also told us to go finish the trash clean-up of the beach paralleling the airport runway. He wanted us to leave no later than 4:30 for that clean-up.
With that in mind, we started on our third site. It went the same as the previous two; sinking sand, few animals, and helping out the sandy beach team. The lagoon teams last site was comparatively easy because there was very little life with no sinking sand. It just got a little deep which made the writing everything down a little harder. After we finished our lagoon and beach surveys we went to one of our sites across the island. Once we finished up that sandy beach survey it was nearly 4:00 and we were unable to do our last site. We headed back to our hotel to change into clean clothes and get more people for the beach clean-up. All together we had each people and one bag per person. We started our clean-up at 4:45 after dropping four people off at each beach end. We all got back to the van at around 6:00 with 8 very full bags of trash plus a little extra that we picked up on the way. We sorted and weighed that material the following day.
Today (August 8) is the day. We all helped to sort trash.
10 bags of trash from airport beach 2 days of pick up. Took 45 minutes to sort, weigh and count everything.
All the trash from Airport beach. 10 bags in total 2 days of pick up
On our last day in the Cooks began by helping the sandy beach team survey three more beaches. That left us with three hours to do whatever we wanted to do. A few people and I went into town to get a few souvenirs and then to Koru Cafe for a little snack. I got a chocolate milkshake (which was more of a chocolate milk) that was refreshing. After that excursion the day got a little sad. We finished up our packing and left for the airport to get all checked in before heading down to our Base 1 beach site to salute the island and all the people that helped us get here and do our work. There were a few tears that were shed that night. We then quickly flew from Aitutaki and into Rarotanga where we had a brief snack for dinner. After we all got through security at the airport, a few of us (Chris, Aimee, Guy and myself) played Rummkiub. As we finished our game it was time to board and we lined up. That was it for the last few days of our trip…a very exciting last few days. 🙂