Showing posts from December, 2018

Like silver

"For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison And laid burdens on our backs. You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance." - Psalm 66: 10-12 NIV Friends, we are now nearing the end of another year. 2018 is drawing to a close, and I can feel a chapter closing in a very real way. You know, recognizing the end of a calendar year is actually unusual for me. A combination of my late summer birthday and growing up in the North American educational system with its September-to-June rhythm has meant that my years have always begun and ended in August . Each year, the summer-to-fall transition meant I advanced a year in age and a grade in school. For me, New Year's Day has always been in August. Not this year. 2018 was a year all by itself. It was the year I was engaged . It was the year I finished my postdoctoral position . As December closes, I feel the end of the y


A Japanese tank on Peleliu - the same model as on the San Francisco Maru in Truk Lagoon . Photo by Carl Kaiser. "Adventure then cocktails" - message on another diver's T-shirt I was huddled on the boat, wearing a swimsuit and an orange cotton dress. I wished I had a rain jacket. Salt spray flew over the side of the boat, soaking me and the other passengers, and raindrops fell on us from above. Behind us, a bright orange sunset lit up the horizon, while in front of us, the sky grew dim. The captain navigated through countless rocky passages in the twilight, and when we finally reached the dock, we stood and applauded him. It had been a long, adventurous day. Inside the Thousand Man Cave. Photo by Carl Kaiser. There's an island in southern Palau called Peleliu, which was host to one of the bloodiest battles in WWII. Americans invaded using amphibious vehicles and seized the Japanese airfield on the island in 1944. The battle took months and resulted in tho

Ulong Channel

“Always be yourself. Unless you can be a mermaid. Then always be a mermaid.” - Slogan of the online network Girls that Scuba, whose members refer to each other as mermaids One of the great things about SCUBA diving for me as a marine biologist is the chance to experience the environments I study in person. It’s one thing to read a textbook about how sunlight attenuates in water, how the temperature drops below the thermocline, how currents are steered by the bathymetry of the seafloor. It’s a completely different proposition to strap on a SCUBA tank, become an underwater creature, and go visit the reef yourself. You’ll notice that everything begins to look blue-green as you descend. You’ll feel like your head has been dunked in ice water as you cross the thermocline. You’ll feel the current push you along, following the contours of the rock below. Friends, today, I experienced the environment in person as Carl and I dove in Ulong Channel. Our dive started with a gentle swim

Jellyfish Lake

After leaving Chuuk, Carl and I headed to  Palau ! I was here for work in September-October, and I was more than happy to be back. Palau is one of the more developed island nations in the Pacific, and it features beautiful, pristine natural habitats for diving. After two weeks of quirky living conditions in Chuuk, it's been nice to be in a more Westernized area. Carl and I are spending our week here diving on gorgeous, densely-populated coral reefs. We're seeing hundreds of species each dive, along with sharks and turtles and manta rays and fish. The natural environment here is truly unparalleled - and I'm not just talking it up. I absolutely love diving in Palau.  One of the very famous sites in Palau is Jellyfish Lake, a marine lake in the Rock Islands. It's populated by a subspecies of endemic jellyfish that have a very weak sting. Over centuries of isolation in the lake, the jellies have not needed to defend themselves or catch food, so their cnidocytes have bec


Friends, as you know, when I am traveling, I am constantly observing. Chuuk has been an insightful place for me to be, so I’d like to share some of my observations. I’ve learned a lot just by talking to the resort employees and other expatriates who have been living here. We barbecued on an island between dives once, and this was our view - stunning! 1) Everything about life in Chuuk centers around the ocean. Dive tourism is essentially the only industry here, and many of the Chuukese employees commute to work by boat. There are ferries between the islands in Truk Lagoon – essentially, small wooden boats with outboard motors. It took us a long time to figure out that the boat traffic adjacent to the resort was actually public transit, because the dock is unlabeled and the operators are not in uniform. If you live here, you just know which boat to get on. 2) Chuuk is a very conservative, religious place. Carl and I went to the grocery store in town, and in our 5-minute cab

Outer reef

Whenever I travel, I am always observing. As we’ve been diving the wrecks this week, I’ve made mental notes of what lived on each one and tried to detect patterns. A couple things have stuck out to me. First, the wrecks actually have lower biodiversity than I expected. My only other time diving in the tropical Pacific was in Palau , and to some extent, I was expecting to see the same level of species richness that I had observed there. Not so – if I had to guess, I would say the largest, most species-rich wreck in Truk Lagoon was home to 30 benthic invertebrates, whereas a natural reef the same size in Palau hosted > 100. Shipwrecks very often have lower biodiversity than nearby natural hard-bottom habitats, and in fact, figuring out why this happens is one of the major questions in my scientific career right now. In most cases, I think it has to do with dispersal – the types of organisms that live on hard-bottom reefs simply can’t disperse out to an isolated, island-like

San Francisco Maru

“Plan the dive; dive the wreck; wreck the plan!” - A fellow diver in Truk Lagoon, hopefully joking A tank on the deck of San Francisco Maru . Photo by Robert De Jongh. Friends, today I completed my deepest dive yet! It was on the shipwreck San Francisco Maru , which rests at the bottom of Truk Lagoon. It was a fascinating wreck. We started by swimming down the mooring line, a thick rope attached to the wreck amidships with a float at the surface. Immediately, I was struck by the presence of two tanks on the deck of the ship. Yes, tanks. They rested on an incline on the sloping upper deck of the ship, covered in a thick layer of sediment. They were smaller than I expected, but still menacing. Through the metallic slats in the upper deck, I could see into the hold below. An old truck lay at the bottom, its grill and windshield clogged with brown silt. We swam down into the hold to have a look, then emerged a few minutes later and continued toward the bow of the ship. I

Fujikawa Maru

“Blog blog blog, blog blog your dive Blog blog blog, blog blog your dive Blog blog blog, blog blog your dive Blog your dive!“ - Carl, to the tune of "Barbara Ann" by the Beach Boys, as I’m writing this post Almost every shipwreck in Truk Lagoon contains the word “Maru.” It’s Japanese for “merchant vessel,” and it indicates a ship that was originally designed for something else but commandeered by the Imperial Japanese government for their world-conquering ambitions. The Fujikawa Maru is one such ship, having begun life as a passenger-cargo vessel and then been requisitioned by the Japanese Navy in 1940. She is one of the most-dived wrecks in Truk Lagoon. We steamed out to the wreck in a little boat with dual outboard motors. At a point seemingly in the middle of nothing, our Chuukese guide stood up on the bow and signaled for the driver to cut the engine. Holding a rope in his right hand, he donned his SCUBA mask and jumped into the water. Each wreck in Truk

Fly off into the sunset

“We’re going to pack our dive gear, fly off into the Pacific, and see where we end up.” - Carl , telling his boss why he was going to be gone in December Foreigners come to Chuuk for exactly one reason: diving. Truk Lagoon, the major feature of Chuuk state, is a giant, ancient volcanic caldera. Think Crater Lake , but in the middle of the ocean, with seawater filling the crater and almost covering the volcano. Centuries of erosion have worn away the rim to leave patches of sand, so the outline of Truk Lagoon is a series of low-lying uninhabited islands. The interior contains several steep-sided islands – the remnants of past eruptions – which are covered in greenery and for the most part inhabited. We’re staying on the largest island in the lagoon, called Weno. Truk Lagoon was used as a Japanese base during WWII. Entire fleets sat at anchor in the lagoon – aircraft carriers, supply ships, and tankers, along with the numerous merchant ships and passenger liners refitted by

The island hopper

I spend a lot of time in airplanes. Usually when I am traveling, I avoid blogging about the more mundane aspects of my travels – flights, airports, cab rides. However, today, I must tell you about my flight from Hawaii to Micronesia. Carl and I left on our honeymoon the day after our wedding. We departed Honolulu early in the morning, bound for another small island in the tropical Pacific. The route we were on is nicknamed the Island Hopper because it completes short jumps between Hawaii, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Guam – six stops in all, and ours was the fifth in line. It’s the trans-Pacific equivalent of a city bus. Our first stop was Majuro, in the Marshall Islands. Carl and I actually met a Marshallese woman in the airport and talked with her about her travels to the U.S. The Marshall Islands are a U.S. protectorate, and in the 1940s and 50s, the American military used Bikini, an atoll in the northwestern Marshalls, as a testing ground for nuclear weapons incl


“Sunsets are proof that no matter what happens, every day can end beautifully” - Kristen Butler Andrew officiating. Photo by Astri J.S. Kvassnes Our ceremony was at sunset. We left our shoes in the sand and waded out until we were ankle-deep in salt water. The ocean is what unifies Carl and me, and the beach is where I go to talk to God. It was the perfect place to take our next step together and join our lives. My dear friend, Andrew, officiated. I knew he would honor our wishes for the ceremony, and it was absolutely perfect. Andrew shared his impressions of us as a couple and wisdom gained from his own 15-year marriage. We spoke our vows of commitment to one another. We exchanged our rings. I was full to bursting with love, joy, and hope. Our first sunset together. Photo by Stefanie Kaboth-Bahr Andrew pronounced us husband and wife, and then I got the first surprise of my marriage. Carl put one arm around my waist, lay the other behind my knees, and pick

The island

I used to have this fantasy of discovering an uncharted island and colonizing it with all the people I knew and loved. Mostly, I saw this fantasy as the only viable solution to unify my otherwise geographically-segregated tribe. I was tired of always being far away from someone I cared about, feeling guilty for not seeing them more often. I was exhausted by the emotional strain of having bits of my heart stretched across the globe. Like an overextended rubber band, I thought I would snap. There was one afternoon in 2015, as I was sitting in the library at the University Center in Svalbard, that I came to a realization of sorts. I had just said goodbye to a number of friends, my fellow Arctic researchers, and I realized that if all my people were gathered on a single island, I would never get to meet anyone else. I would never get to see new parts of the world. I would be stuck on my island with my tribe, which may be wonderful at first, but we would eventually suffer for our isolat


“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end” - “Closing time” by Semisonic  Every ending feels different, and many of them feel different than I expect them to. Most of them come upon me suddenly, even though they’ve been on my calendar for months. I am frequently caught off-guard and have precious little time to process the accompanying emotions. For as long as I can remember, I have loved beginnings – the first day of school, a sunrise , a plane taking off – but I’ve come to appreciate endings more and more over the past few years. I love the feeling of completeness, of having accomplished something. I relish the chance to look back and review where I’ve been. Endings are a chance to zoom out, release my focus on the details, and to feel. Music helps me. When I know an end is coming, I love to just sit in a quiet place, put the perfect song on repeat , look up at the sky, and imagine I can feel the Earth spinning. The past few years have contained a number