Friday, October 26, 2012

Exceeding Expectations

We've been very busy the last few days!  Woleai Atoll was fantastically beautiful and over two days yielded some stunning scientific results.  On our first morning, we went to Falalis Island to meet with village elders to both ask for permission to conduct research within their reefs, and also to  seek their knowledge about the condition of corals and local fisheries within the atoll.  After introductions, I explained our science goals and the village chief, named Fabian, told us the elders agreed we were welcome to do our research.  I showed them pictures of the kind of large coral we were looking for, and Fabian showed me places on the map where we should go.  He asked in Woleaian who amongst his people would like to go out with us and show us the corals, and was met with silence.  He asked me if we would be OK alone and I said "Yes, of course".  He asked again who would like to guide us and again got silence.  He leaned over with a twinkle in his eye and said "It appears that no one wants to go with you - everyone is too shy".  We chatted some more, and I gave him some gifts to show our thanks - t shirts and hats, pens, pencils and notebooks for the kids, and food including canned meat.  Then we left the island to go study the reefs

A while later, as we were preparing to leave our ship in the small working tenders, Fabian pulled up in a small boat with several other fishermen.  They had decided to join us after all!  We all headed out together for the nearest spot indicated on the chart but only found small of broken-up coral colonies.  We kept looking and I found a larger one, but still too broken.  Fabian then said there was a bigger one near his island.  We went there and it was almost on their doorstep.  We had gone around it that morning on the way in to meet them.  It turned out to be truly huge and beautiful (to a coral scientist, anyway).  It was smooth with no deep cracks or crevices or worm burrows.  We drilled a core and it turned out to be 4.5 meters long - almost 15 feet!.  [Note in the photo you can see the pieces of core lying on the surface of the coral]  Looking at the annual growth bands, I guessed it might be close to 400 years old.  I was so happy I felt like I could fly.  We could never have done this without the help of our island friends.  We had a barbecue dinner on board the ship that night to celebrate and enjoyed another spectacular sunset, then dropped into bed exhausted.  There is much more to tell about the other science results and our return visit to the village.  Stay tuned...


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