Concluding six days of continuous operations on Pagan, we have fired up the boilers, and are heading south to Saipan, where the ship will conduct a few repairs, and resupply – we are out of beer and toilet paper, you can imagine future morale without timely resupply. Pagan was a great host for our expedition. After the tropical storm cleared the weather systems in the area, we were able to work all sides of the island, including the north and east facing shores which are usually inaccessible due to trade wind driven swells.
After exploring around Pagan for about 10 days, I think this is one of the really cool places; active volcano, brackish crater lakes, wild cows, no development, 269 species of shallow reef fish (by my current count), dramatic geology, blow holes, great fishing, coconuts on cliff faces, sea arches and pinnacles. There are also some enticing underwater drop offs on the west side, that call out for a deep rebreather expedition, with warm water, good visibility and multi-level diving.
There is also a healthy population of green and hawksbill turtles, which I finally filmed during a night dive a couple days ago, and yesterday off the east coast.
We should arrive Saipan by morning, in time to launch the small boats to start survey work on Tinian next door while the ship conducts repairs and resupply. I will start the fish counting all over again – the team is teasing me that I am on a Big Year – from the birding movie of the same name, and they keep asking for count updates at meal time. I left some unfinished business with the garden eel – we were unable to capture one to determine if it is a new species, despite some creative attempts. The Spanish Inquisition plotters would have had competition with this crew in terms of designing diabolical devices to dispatch the eel.
I am working from a series of lists to try to describe an accurate count of the fish both on Pagan and Tinian. The latest is a Fish and Wildlife survey from 2010 with 245 species. I didn’t find all of the fish their team recorded, but have come up with a few more, as I am trying to get to as much habitat diversity as possible. I also believe that using high definition video is really a helpful tool, as I am constantly recording species that are in the video clip, that were accidental recordings when they swam into the frame. I also really believe in having proof or evidence to back up my assertion that an organism is present, to allow future researchers to make their own conclusions. I would have liked to have had that ability when reviewing the Fish and Wildlife list.