Sandy Beaches of the Motus

The sandy beach crew sampled beaches at two different motus yesterday and found some interesting results.  Because sandy beaches tend to be low in diversity on their beach face, we changed our protocol for the Cooks to take more cores in the sand submerged in water than is our norm.  As a consequence, we found multiple species of tube worms, horn snails and crabs. One of the larger motus, Motukititu, was naturally built on uplifted coral and had the highest biodiversity of the motus we have sampled.  Honeymoon Island (also a motu) had the lowest diversity, although more studies need be conducted to make a clear connection between the structure/geomorphology of an island or given beach and its associated biodiversity.
Another interesting observation we have made about these moths revolves around the imprints in the sand.  In California, we are so used to seeing every beach filled with divots made with footsteps, we have assumed this look to be normal.  On the nearly untouched motus of Aitutaki, the beaches lack such ubiquitous divots, but do have hundreds of hermit crab tracks, shells, and pristine, smooth sand.


Heading Home

We are on our way home after two fantastic weeks of learning, service, all manner of interdisciplinary coastal monitoring and assessment, cultural exchange, and making tons of new friends.

Our internet credits have all expired, so we have been unable to post for the last day and a half, but check in the next few days for our pent up posts.

We had a wonderful final few days.  There were many watery eyes among our CI students and new Aitutaki friends alike as we held our final farewell to the Islands ceremony as the sun set on Aitutaki minutes before we boarded our plane to Rarotonga.

We will see everyone soon!

Teaching the next Generation

On Tuesday, August 4 we were blessed with a visit by group of students from the local school here on Aitutaki.  These young people (who ranged from middle to high school ages) were in the middle of their two-week Independence Day holiday but still managed to muster up the energy to come by our “Base 1” (aka End of the Runway) site.  We (hopefully) regaled them with ecological stories and showed them various aspects of our monitoring efforts to characterize lagoon health.  After patiently sitting through our overview, they got down and dirty and helped with everything from our sand coring to looking for micro plastics in beach sand via our ESRM mobile microplastics lab.  They and their Araura College Principal Tracy Spiers (who we first met on last year’s preliminary visit to Aitutaki) had a fun time (we hope!).

Portable microplastics lab Base 1 08-04-15b

Our mobile ortable microplastics lab.

Araura College students learning how to search for and quantify microplastic particles in beach sand.

Araura College students learning how to search for and quantify microplastic particles in beach sand.


Sifting through core sand to hunt for invertebrates.

Sifting through core sand to hunt for invertebrates.

Coring at our Base 1 beach site.

Coring at our Base 1 beach site.

Tevin showing students a just-collected worm to our  Aitutaki students.

Tevin showing students a just-collected worm to our Aitutaki students.

Our CSUCI students had a great day showing the local kids how we do what we do.  The kids also taught us a thing or two (what it feels lilt to get ciguatera poisoning, etc.).  We hope to get them up and running with some subset of our lagoon monitoring protocols throughout the school year to help integrate more environmental science into their routine classes and simultaneously building a cadre to local Aitutaki folks into the routine monitoring we hope to foster here.

Tug o’ War with the World

Today we all went to the island of Motukitiu on Aitutaki. This island was previously a pit stop for planes traveling the Pacific in 1950 to 1962. During this time planes could not travel far distances, so Tasmanian Empire Airways Limited (TEAL) built up this island for wealthy travelers to visit. This island has one side facing the lagoon and the other side facing the open ocean.

IMG_4579 web The team conducted a beach cleanup on the island starting on the lagoon side and then we made our way to the other side. In pairs, we took off with giant trash bags. Laura and I started following other groups down the beach and thought we would never fill up the bag or even have trash to pick up. The lagoon side of the island had no trash. I even had the thought that this beach is the cleanest beach I’ve ever been to. This thought quickly changed as we made our way across the island through the “jungle.” Slowly, trash started appearing until we made it to the other side of the island where there were large quantities of marine debris. There were tons of plastic bottles, flip-flops, and multiple pieces of rope, even a pair of eyeglasses. The trash bag became full fast. Then, we saw a 98-pound rope we began to dig up from the bushes. We then tugged and pulled until it was free and dragged the rope all the way to the path that led to the other side of the island and got help. Sean and John continued carrying the rope to the other side of the island where we met up with the rest of the group who made it all the way around the island. We then filled the boat with trash bags and ventured back to our camp where we sorted and weighed all the marine debris.

This beautiful, remote island was accumulating massive amounts of trash. This really had an impact on me because this is just one small island and there are so many larger coastlines around the world that are being affected by the same problem of marine debris taking over the beaches. This is a problem that is growing with the world population as humans resume to use non-reusable goods. This problem could easily be remedied if others begin to recognize the impact of non-reusable goods and made changes in their buying and consumption habits.


Day 4: Aitutaki Lagoon & Motu Intro

Today we rented a second boat.  This allowed us to take the entire class as a whole to several sites across the southern extent of Aitutaki Lagoon (across much of the lower third of the map below).  We were able to snorkel an explore a wide array of subtidal communities and get a good sense of the conditions, seascapes, and littoral landscapes that comprise this section of the lagoon.  In addition to exploring everything from just-forming Motus to rat eradication experiments, we ended our day with our first quantitative data collection at Akaimai Motu.  The icing on the cake was our beach clean-up wherein we harvested all the macroscopic trash on the motu’s seaward perimeter (we categorized and weighed all that flotsam and jetsam…more on that later).


We are again running into internet bandwidth issues, but here are some initial videos I was able to upload before burning out my internet allotment for the time being.  Check back later for additional pics and vids.