So I’ve learned quickly here that every day is filled with its own surprises. Waking up yesterday to the sound of the waves crashing gently on the shore and the bright sun rising up from the mountains, the promise of a bright beautiful day seemed evident. Or so we all thought. Around noon, the winds kicked up and the rain came down in a frenzy. In what seemed like an instant, the entire day rearranged its bearings. The once bright sunny day soon became a different kind of beauty. As the rain kept pouring, strong gales gusted through, and the usual calm sea in Cook’s Bay rapidly became full of white-capped waves that tossed the boats around and came racing toward the seashore, breaking and fuming at the rocks that stopped it. Palm trees bowed as the wind came roaring through in bursts. In Tahiti, the locals call the ferocious wind storms ‘maramus.’ They are low-pressure systems that arise from the southern trade winds and can bring in wind speeds up to 20 or 30 knots.
As the evening wore on, the wild winds slowly began to die down. The once gray sky and foggy landscape was suddenly relinquished as blue skies took hold of the island and calmness began to return to the bay. As quickly as it appeared, the storm passed through. And as nature would have it, she beckoned us with a rainbow that both began and ended in the bay. It was a sign, at least to me, that all was once again as it should be.
As for my life in the sea, let me begin here. Moorea is an island that was created by the eruptions of a volcano millions of years ago. Once the volcanic activity ended, the island slowly began its descent back into the sea where it came from. It’s a process that will take another tens of thousands of millions of years, but at one point, the island of Moorea will no longer rise above the ocean, but instead sink back into its depths. Right now, Moorea is in the slow process of sinking. When an island is young, corals are able to grow along its rim, building their skeletons out of calcium carbonate, known as limestone, that retain their structural integrity long after the coral animals have died. Coral reefs that push up right alongside an island are called fringing reefs, as they fringe and circle the island. As time passes, the island continues to sink. The reefs that were once pushed right up along the edge of the island now stand at a distance, and become what scientists call a barrier reef. Between the island and the barrier reef, a lagoon forms, and in the lagoon corals and marine animals of all kinds become abundant due to the shallow waters that allow light to penetrate and corals to thrive. On the other side of the barrier reef is the fore reef. It is the side of the coral structure that is directly exposed to the vast open sea. Here, corals and marine animals thrive in the crystal clear blue water, along with many other bigger animals such as sharks, rays, and even whales! This is where I will be diving all summer.
So last Sunday we went to the fore-reef in order to deploy and retrieve some of our underwater instruments and also to assist a graduate student, Heather, working on her Masters thesis research. Arriving to the site on the boat, I was of course blown away by the breathtaking scenery that surrounded me. As we left Cook’s Bay and headed out through the pass to the open sea, behind me I could see even more of Moorea’s landscape. Looking down into the water, I could see the sea floor, nearly 70 feet below me. It was incredible.
After gearing up and jumping in, I was happy to be back in the water. I assisted Heather in deploying her experimental plots that were to sit five feet below the surface. The wind had started picking up as we were underwater, and the waves became stronger and stronger. It was a challenge to pull down three floats, even five feet underwater, and tie them off to a chain running along the bottom. Once we finished, we made our ascent back to the surface. By the time we reached the surface, the waves had picked up drastically, with huge swells crashing loudly against our boat. As I headed up the swim ladder, I unfortunately placed my hand in the wrong place, because before I knew it, a huge wave came down and my finger became pinched between the ladder and the boat… When the wave relaxed, I removed my hand and continued up the ladder. It was bloody, but the cut only looked worse than I knew it was. Still, we made sure to get to the station as quickly as possible to investigate the damage. Luckily it wasn’t too painful, but I was frustrated that it happened because I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty, and even more, now I had a new injury to monitor for the next couple days.
After checking it out, I found that it wasn’t too deep. But it also wasn’t a clean slice. The boat had wedged my finger, so it was very swollen and jagged. I’ve been taking good care of it all week, and it looks much better. Unfortunately, I haven’t been diving for the past couple days in order to let it heal as much as possible. I’m really making sure this thing closes up soon. I want to get back out in the water!
So today is the Fourth of July!! Happy Fourth of July to all my friends and family back home!