7/13/2013 – Towing for Turtles

Ready to tow

View from a tow board

Kev and Kate towing

Turtle surveyors

Today I finally joined the Turtle survey team to complete the towing survey of the southern half of the island.  We broke the ten miles that we wanted to cover today into 6 blocks of 1 hour two person tow teams.   We have a basic set of hand signals to let the data recorders on the boat know what species, approximate growth phase and activity for each turtle sighting, and we sighted a bunch.  Towing is one of the most fun experiences I have had in awhile.  Flying over the reef, without effort or noise is bliss for a marine enthusiast.  I could have done it for hours more.  The experience is akin to flight, and compared to the logistics and gear of a rebreather, and the noise and bulk of SCUBA, towing with a mask and snorkel is a dream.  We cover so much ground, silently angling down and around coral heads and limestone structure, I feel like a dog with his head out the window of a car.

cocos on the cliffCocos

The eastern side of the island is awash in coconut trees, that cascade down improbable gullies and cuts in the steep terrain.  Jesse mentioned that the US Fish and Wildlife service seeded the coconuts from the ridge tops decades ago to help stabilize the soil from erosion.  Makes for dramatic groves of tenacious plants on the precarious cliff edges.

Kevin at workTammy recording turtle data

The spinner dolphin pod was present again today, this time about 50 strong and full of play on the bow wave of our small boat.  Dolphins always make crew and guests alike smile and shout, and today was no exception.


Spinner dolphin pod

Kevin on scuba

Kevin Kelly – turtle diver

We began recording turtles almost immediately after starting our series, and saw turtles on pretty much every stretch of coastline.  At one point we were recording turtles every few minutes – mostly juvenile green sea turtles and some hawksbills.

C. mydas

Green sea turtle – named for the color of it’s tasty meat, not shell

For an isolated Pacific island, Pagan has quite a few land mammals.  Feral goats, pigs and cows (yes, feral cows) roam the island.  The goats are especially enticing to hunters, where skillful shots can hit a goat on a seacliff (from a pitching small boat!) and then collect the goat at the waters edge, with no trudging around the hot island, lugging a stinky carcass in the fly infested island.  The flies are impressive in volume – luckily they are non-biting.  For the dreamy eyed developers who envision resorts on Pagan, the flies might cloud the ointment.

Fruit bats emerge around sunset, sniffing the air to see where their evening ripe fruit meals lie.  They prefer pandanus fruit, but also will take Kaimani nut trees, coconuts, and breadfruit.  For some reason, the fairy terns don’t like the bats, and we witnessed the pure white fairy terns harassing and diving at the jet black bats – seems like material for a Disney scene.

Caranx lugubris

Caranx lugubris in 15 feet of water

Ptereleotris zebra

Zebra Dartfish (Ptereleotris zebra)

Apparently, there are four separate geological survey teams working on Pagan right now, all studying the seemingly very active volcano.  A steady stream of white steam/gas/smoke billows from the top, interspersed are yellow bursts periodically throughout the day which seem sulferous.  Steam and smoke also occasionally emerge and settle out a different layers in the atmosphere.  It isn’t difficult to determine which way the wind blows here.

thorfin below volcano

SS Thorfin below the Pagan volcano

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