Diplomacy, Tiger Sharks and Hospitality

Day 1 French Frigate Shoals

Expedition Log #4

Reported for: 9 July 2003

Reported by: Holly S. Lohuis

Latitude: 23 degrees 46.7 minutes N.

Longitude: 166 degrees 14.3 minutes W.

Location: French Frigate Shoals, anchored just inside the lagoon, East of La Perouse Pinnacle and 1 mile west of East Island

Weather: Patchy clouds and sun

Sea conditions: Flat seas with a 1-2’ wind chop, E winds at 17 knots

Plan for the day:
 To send Jean-Michel, Beth Flint, Ed Cassano, Antoine Rosset, Mike Westgate and Paul Atkins to the USFWS and NOAA's field station on Tern Island to strategize and refine the expedition film plan. Our goal is to form a plan approved by USFWS and NOAA allowing us to have multiple underwater teams, as well as a land team to best capture the abundance of this small atoll both above and below the surface of the water. Our underwater team will work with Dr. Jim Maragos to document the highest concentration of stony corals of any of the NWHI as well as focus on the high percentage of apex predators – those critters at the top of the food chain. The land team will work with Beth Flint in hopes of filming the 18 different species of sea birds that nest here. Some of the team will most likely spend a few nights on the island to get footage not only of sea birds but also nesting sea turtles and possibly some sea turtle hatchlings.

 From Ed Cassano, Vice President of Exploration:

"We moved into sight of French Frigate Shoals at dawn, still 15 miles south of the perimeter. Today is our first entry into the atoll system within the NWHI and we slowed the boat down to make sure we entered the shallow, coral-lined lagoon with caution. I have great expectations for this day. This type of transition requires time, especially since we want to properly introduce ourselves to the field station staff and explain our objectives for our 6 days here. Our operation requires complex logistics that include the use of small zodiacs in potentially rough conditions, and the coordination of NOAA's vessel, Manacat, which is officially a part of our operations and will be used on a daily basis. Another important logistic is working under the guidelines of our different permits with the USFWS and NOAA's National Marine Fisheries, so we do not disturb any of the wildlife, including the threatened green sea turtles and endangered Hawaiian Monk Seals that depend on this very sensitive atoll system.

To me the highlights of the day were meeting the field team at Tern Island and seeing the vast diversity and abundance of sea birds I’ve been reading about for months, as well as seeing the vastness of the central lagoon and enjoying some flat sea conditions!
Today sets the stage for what is possible to focus on while we are here. It is imperative that we work closely with the field team stationed here who knows these sandy spits and underwater habitats intimately. To no surprise, we found them completely supportive of our desires to film unique animal behavior, and offering to accompany us so we know exactly where to go and what time of day to focus on the different interactions. This positive teamwork, between expedition members and government experts, is the collaboration this project will need to be successful. We each add our own expertise and together meet our similar goals of marine conservation.

I have great expectations for documenting this wonderful natural history story that includes dramatic interactions of animals including Tiger Sharks and Black-Footed Albatross fledglings. It sure makes me nervous to put a team in place where four or five Tiger Sharks have been congregating in the last few weeks to feed on the newly fledged Black-Footed Albatrosses!! But not too nervous to jump in on anchor with Holly and snorkel while our camera team, Yves and Matt, get familiar with the different channels in the reef so we know exactly where to go first thing in the morning. We have learned from the field biologists that virtually all Tiger Shark attacks on albatrosses at East Island happen a couple of hours after sunrise.

As we enjoyed a couple of hours exploring the reefs around East Island, I had to remind myself of the fragility of this small sand spit. We enjoyed the sight of rare creatures - a dozen large Green Sea Turtles basking on the beach, Hawaiian Monk Seals looking like driftwood and Black-footed Albatross stretching their wings, getting ready for the morning flight. So today's plan worked and was a success!"

Dive team For the La Perouse Pinnacle

Cameramen: Paul Atkins
U/W lights: Blair Mott

On-camera divers: Jean-Michel Cousteau and Holly Lohuis

Guide: Jim Maragos

: All 18 species of sea birds that nest within the NWHI are found here at French Frigate Shoals.

What's good: Getting on the beach at Tern Island and getting in the water for the first time at East Island.

What's fun
: Everything! Being together and hosting guests from the field station - Chris Eggleston, USFWS, and Arron Dietrich, with NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service and the crew of the Manacat, Don and Tony--as well as working with such a confident and professional crew/family - the Littenbergs. They own the Searcher and operate a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting other marine non-profits, such as Ocean Futures Society with research and film expeditions using the vessel for live-aboard operations.

Life aboard Searcher
: GREAT! The Littenbergs are a cohesive, team and family. The fun and positive attitudes they have, as they jump right in and deal with any incident as if it is no major problem, is refreshing!

Rest and relaxation activities
: Alas, still non-existent!

Fun stuff
: Working in the galley when it gets crazy with all the great energy from our galley chef, Ronda Friend, and seeing a ship turn into a cohesive team. We are a diverse group of people coming from different agencies, companies, and NGO's. As we move through this expedition, our team is growing stronger with people who are articulate, have specific expertise and bring knowledge that adds an important element to our mission.