30 May 2013 – Johnston Atoll – Day One

Gymnothorax javanicus

Gymnothorax javanicus

C.quadrimaculatus

After two transit days, today was a whirlwind of activity.  We arrived Johnston Atoll, the most isolated atoll in the world last evening, and restored gear that had been tucked away for our 450 nautical mile transit from French Frigate Shoals.  The diving was fantastic.  Where previously we replicated the technical diving NOAA has been doing for several years now with open circuit SCUBA gear, just using rebreathers, we now were able to use the rebreathers to their potential.  Multi-level dives of variable duration.  We dropped on a 230’ wall with huge caves and arches, and after 20 minutes at depth, moved up slope to a second area for collecting at 150’ where we spent 20 or so minutes, then contoured our way up slope, decompressing all the way into the shallows at 20’.  About a 2:15 minute runtime, which is much more in tune with the style of diving the we do on expeditions.

Pseudocheilinus ocellatus

Pseudocheilinus ocellatus

Caranx lugubris

Caranx lugubris

A new angelfish for me, Centropyge nahackyi is very common here, but endemic.  Since Johnston is administered by the US Fish and Wildlife service, this is another angelfish that commands top dollar in the aquarium trade due to difficulty of collection.  I shot some video of the fish, but will post a picture when I get a nice one.

As the atoll is not governed by the NOAA PMNM auspices, collecting here at Johnston for a federal expedition is much easier from a permitting standpoint.  This less restrictive environment meant that almost every diver carried a spear and collecting bag with them.  We just now finished processing almost 250 speciemens – fish and corals.  Processing involves recording all of the data about the collection – location, collector, method etc, then photographing the specimen, and taking a fin clip or other material sample for DNA processing.  In some cases gonads are extracted for further examination, before the fish are bagged and frozen in the wet lab freezer.  Very time consuming.

Pterodactyl  or Brown booby?

Pterodactyl or Brown booby?

brown booby - Johnston

tern - johnston

brown booby

A few birds in transit, but many nest here at the atoll and the many artificial islets, constructed for the atomic testing that was conducted in the area during the cold war, and also for storage and eventual incineration of the US stockpile of chemical munitions.  Turning swords into plowshares.  Lots of jokes on board about two headed fishes, and birds that glow in the dark.

Sunset after a tiring first day

Sunset after a tiring first day

More diving tomorrow while the weather is good – a front is forecasted to come though, as well as increased swell, which will affect our collecting / exploring locations.

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