A Better Understanding of Coral Reef Ecosystems

Pelagic predators such as these barracuda, Sphyraena qenie, are part of the coral reef ecosystem in the U.S. Line Islands (NOAA Photo by Kevin Lino).
A team of scientists have embarked from Hawai'i on a three-month survey of coral reef ecosystems at Johnston Atoll, the U.S. Phoenix Islands, the islands of American Samoa, and the U.S. Line Islands in the tropical Pacific Ocean. The overarching objective is to better understand the coral reef ecosystems of these areas, many of which are seldom explored. The research expedition is part of a regular monitoring program, conducted by the Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED), headquartered in Honolulu, Hawai'i. The expedition is supported by NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program and involves extensive cooperation among NOAA scientists and research partners, including the University of Hawaii Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research (JIMAR), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, San Diego State University, and the Papahānaumaokuākea Marine National Monument.

The research expedition will be carried out from February 27 to May 24, 2012 aboard the NOAA ship Hi'ialakai. Under the leadership of Chief Scientists Dr. Jill Zamzow, Dr. Bernardo Vargas-Angél, and Jamison Gove, a diverse team of researchers will be conducting multidisciplinary coral reef ecosystem surveys, assessing the status of fishes, corals, algae, marine invertebrates, and the oceanographic conditions in which these organisms exist. The scientific data collected during the three-month research expedition will enable informed and effective implementation of ecosystem-based management and conservation strategies for coral reef ecosystems, helping to ensure their protection for generations to come.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Behind The Scenes

by Julia Ehses 

     Today is not only the last day of the expedition HA1008, but it is also the last day of a long field season. The CRED research cruises usually last from March trough November. This is a long time especially for the scientists who come on and off the ship for month long adventures but the Hi’ialakai is home for those who work the whole season, and take part in every expedition, and repair and stock the ship during in-ports. I’m referring to the crewmembers of the Hi’ialakai who spend the majority of the year away from their family and friends.  The crewmembers share a big portion of daily responsibilities on the NOAA research Vessel Hi’ialakai.
     Seven NOAA Corps officers control the ship and find the safest and most comfortable path by navigating trough rough waters, wind and weather.
     Six engineers operate the ship while monitoring, fixing and controlling 4 engines plus one emergency generator, the steering system as well as the air conditioning, water treatment systems, and much more. The daily checklist for the engineering staff is very long.
     The electronics technician or ET does the maintenance and repair of all the electronics including the navigation systems, data acquisition systems, and communications that allow the ship to stay connected to the rest of the world from many miles offshore.
     A survey technician is also onboard. She supports the scientists and facilitates scientific operations including CTD, pCO2 and water column properties measurements as well as running the seafloor mapping system.
     The dive chamber operator is an important crew member particularly if a dive accident were to occur. He administers and supervises any hyperbaric treatment required. A member of the National Health Service, affectionately referred to as “Doc” is also one of the officers and takes care of any injury and sickness that may occur on board.
     One of many responsibilities of the eight deck-team members is small boat operation. This means launching 5 small boats every day, driving these boats through rough waters to bring the divers to their survey sites, and recovering the boats every afternoon. Watching the team launch and recover the boats is like watching a well-choreographed performance. The safety of many is at stake with cranes lifting the heavy loads, lines in tension, and pinch points galore.  Each member of the deck crew knows and executes their role perfectly time and time again.

     And of course all this work couldn’t be done without sufficient nutrients. The Chief Steward and his staff do an incredible job taking care of hungry bellies with a huge range of cooked, boiled, baked, steamed and fried specialties. You might be asking, “Fresh fruits and veggies every day…..is it magic?” Well, it may not be magic, but creativity and a talent for management is certainly required. Many sailors say that the role of the Chief Steward is the most important job on the ship because good food equates with high morale and a job well done.
     This is just a glance into the variety of jobs on board but one thing is for sure; A successful expedition is like a big puzzle where everyone (both scientists and crew) represents the small pieces that come together to form the whole big picture.
     A big THANKS to the crew who, once again, have brought the scientists safely back to shore.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

You just can’t win them all.

by Oliver Vetter

I like oceanography. I’ve been studying it and doing field work my entire adult life, it has offered me amazing experiences as well as a rewarding, challenging and exciting career but there are a few things I’ve learned along the way... like it or not oceanography, and particularly the study and practice of field oceanography, is wrought with failure, occasional danger, frustration and mistakes. There is the old oceanography tale on an ocean wide cruise of the Professor leaving his graduate student in charge of a mapping instrument while he went for dinner, in days before high-frequency, high powered, computer aided instruments. The student was instructed to sit and watch the instrument and GPS. The instructions were simple; click the ‘on’ button once for every minute passed. An hour later the professor returns to find the instrument off and the student is sitting with his feet up. The professor asks, rather angrily why the student wasn’t concentrating on the GPS. “It ran out of memory after 45 minutes” the student replied. The professor, in rising horror and disbelief, repeats his instructions with the vital amendment: “click the ‘on’ button once for every minute Longitude passed…”

But a large part of oceanographic mishaps have to do with the inherent nature of the medium in which we, as oceanographers, spend much of our time: The ebullient, treacherous, unpredictable and seemingly endlessly challenging ocean. The first hurdle is that the moment perfectly well-made tools, knives, shackles, dive gear, boots, clothing, your own skin, anything electrical or any other article you might take for granted hits salt water, the timer starts: If you don’t have it washed packed and rinsed in ‘x’ number of minutes or hours, it will fail, break, tear, short or simply drop off and sink. Nothing is sacred and nothing is spared from the inevitability of corrosion. The second issue is weather and subsequent ocean state. What might be a simple operation at 8 AM, becomes a high-current torrent of white water with fire-hose like wind-spray by mid afternoon, making positioning, boat handling and even moving around the deck of a 18 ft boat likened to a sickness inducing dance on the back of a bucking horse. Just finding the correct position to drop divers becomes a juggling game of how far upstream to drop so they hit the mark, how much time to give them on the surface etc. To shed some light on these observations I will give an example from this very cruise. The oceanography team on the Hi’ialakai cruise HA1008 was requested by some colleagues to help them out by collecting some of their moorings from around Kauai. Each mooring was in approximately 100 ft depth and simply required a diver to find the mooring and remove the instrument from the mooring line with a large pair of bolt cutters. Simple enough.

Day one of this particular operation we had everything we needed; a GPS position, a basic understanding of what was happening, 28% oxygen NITROX gas for the deep dive and the 4 ft bolt cutters in hand. The wind was blowing about 25-30 knots by this point, so we knew there’d be some current at the surface so dropped a little upstream to try and hit the point correctly. We roll off the small boat Rubber Duck and quickly headed downward to get off the surface and out of the chop. At around 60 feet we could start to see the bottom and the current was lessening with distance from the surface wind. All was just fine but one small thing: there was no mooring. We started a search pattern, found some hard substrate, and dropped to 110 feet. We continued the search… and found nothing. I’ve no doubt the mooring was there, somewhere, but at 110 feet you’re limited on bottom time, we had about 10 minutes total, limited by nitrogen toxicity and volume of air. We return to the small boat empty handed.

There was no time for a repeat, these dives were one shot deals; particularly since we had special gas mixtures there was no time to return to the same place on a different day.

Day two and another mooring attempt, this time on the north side of Kauai and the weather was better. I was driving the boat and dropped the team on the site and watched them disappear beneath the waves. Expecting at any moment to see the mooring come to the surface I waited… and waited. The divers returned. This time they found the mooring; a success! However, the instrument that was supposed to be attached was gone with only a loop in the line to show it had ever been there. Failure again.


Empty mooring line at 79 feet.
Day three and one more mooring; this time on the east side of Kauai. Again, we dropped with our bolt cutters and spare air sources aiding our descent. Quickly we found the upper buoy of the mooring and hoping for better luck. Dropping to the bottom, at 120 ft, we find the instrument, real success!? I raise the bolt cutters to remove the instrument and triumphantly return to the surface… but it was not to be so simple. The bolt cutters were either old or poorly set, the cutting blades didn’t close all the way so wouldn’t cut the wire rope regardless of how hard I tried. Time was running low. We removed the instrument but had to leave the mooring to become part of the reef; it was already heavily grown over. We retrieved the instrument, but this was one small triumph in a succession of time consuming failures, on one of the most basic of operations.

On a typical year the oceanography team retrieves and replaces hundreds of scientific instruments of one type or other, through precise metadata (GPS points, descriptions) and well-executed and practiced operations, but for some reason, this particular series of events just didn’t work in our favor. And, after the ranting and raving and calculation of losses, you just have to learn, smile, and give the ocean a little more respect.

Bolt Cutters and spare air.......ready for the dive

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

It is day 25 on our 30 day research expedition

by  Bernardo Vargas Angel

The HA 1008, Main Hawaiian Islands RAMP cruise has unfolded successfully. In addition to having benign weather and sea conditions, daily operations have run quite smoothly, no doubt the result of the high level of training, experience, and professionalism of all aboard. Equally important to this success is the positive and up-beat attitude of all involved, and the strong cooperative spirit, in spite of many of us having been out here for a long time. It's not always easy to keep the pace of long work days, with just a few breaks.
Daily small boat launch with team of divers
So far we have visited and completed work around the islands of Hawai’i, Maui, Lana’i, Moloka’i, Ni’ihau, and Kauai, gathering data on the relative abundance and spatial distribution of reef fish, invertebrates, coral and coral disease, algae, as well as on water temperature, salinity, and other physical characteristics of the coral reef environment. To date, more than 100 towed-diver surveys examining over 260 km of coastline have been completed; the fish and benthic teams have conducted more than 150 and 70 surveys, respectively, and about 30 oceanographic instruments have been serviced and re-deployed with hundreds of water samples collected for further chemical, biological, and microbial analyses. In addition, nearly two dozen Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures (ARMS) have been recovered and processed to assess the coral reef cryptic invertebrate biodiversity. Altogether, the teams have tallied more than 1000 SCUBA dives since the beginning of the expedition. 
Benthic diver Jacob Asher collecting coral demographics 
and disease data
As we wrap things up, during the next few days of operations, divers will be working around the island of Molokai. The Main Hawaiian Islands RAMP cruise is a challenging mission given the unpredictability of weather conditions around the islands (high winds and surf), as well as the extent of the marine ecosystems to be surveyed in such a short period of time. So far, activities have unfolded exceptionally well, and the data collected thus far are critical to the understanding of the long-term dynamics of the coral reef ecosystems in the Archipelago.
Nightly meeting meetings held to plan next day operations


What’s Shaping Kaua`i’s Coral Reefs?

by Courtney Couch 

We set sail last Tuesday for Kaua`i and Ni`ihau with several new scientists and crew members (including myself) and hopes for continued good weather. Kaua`i is the oldest of the Main Hawaiian Islands (approximately 5.1 million years old) and one of the most geologically complex islands. Since it is situated further west out of the shelter of the other islands, a large portion of Kaua`i’s coastline is battered by persistent strong trade winds and heavy swell. These factors together with the heavy rainfall have etched spectacular landscapes of precipitous valleys and ridges along the windward coasts. The leeward coast of Kaua`i is comprised of arid cliffs and gradual slopes of tan and red soil. Although the leeward coast is protected from the brunt of the trade winds, Kaua`i’s small size (1/7th the size of the Big Island) and its round shape, allows the winds to wrap around the island. We experienced these conditions first hand this week. Immediately following our departure from Pearl Harbor the trade winds started to pick up.  By the time we reached Kaua`i, the winds along the west coast were sustained at 15 knots with gusts to 30 knots, and this was on the leeward side of the island! Most days since then have been a challenge to find regions that are safe enough to launch the small boats, conduct our fieldwork, and retrieve the boats at the end of the day. 
Rough seas along West Kaua`i. Photo by: Courtney Couch
 As you may expect, these environmental conditions have dramatically shaped the coral reef ecosystems surrounding these islands. I spend all of my time researching coral health and disease along the leeward side of the Big Island, so the MHI RAMP cruise has been a unique opportunity to see the myriad of factors shaping coral reef structure on other islands. On the leeward reef slopes of the Big Island, you generally see dense Porites compressa beds as far as the eye can see.  The lower wave action due to deeper water along this coastline facilitates growth of this fragile species, which provides important habitat for many reef fish and invertebrates. Kaua`i’s leeward reefs are a different story. Many of the leeward study sites are comprised of flat algal covered pavement, bolder and small patches of consolidated reef. On the windward coast, reefs are primarily composed of flat pavement, rubble and boulders covered with low profile coral colonies. Overall, Kaua`i’s coral communities are sparser, comprised of smaller colonies and dominated by the more wave tolerant genera such as the pocilloporids and montiporids. So where has all the coral gone? 

Kaua’i’s older age plays a large role the overall reef structure. As Kaua`i moves further away from the hotspot that the Big Island currently resides over, it moves into higher latitudes less favorable for coral growth. The slow erosion of the land and reefs also generates sand and together with the high wind and wave action can act like sand paper and scour the substrate. Wave action is arguably one of the most significant factors shaping reef structure in Hawai`i.  High wave action prevents the development of fragile species and large colonies that can be easily broken off the substrate. Heavy rainfall along the windward coasts also transports large amounts of sediment onto the reefs reducing water clarity necessary for coral growth. Along the leeward coast of Kaua`i agricultural and residential development has facilitated sedimentation events during infrequent large rainfalls. These events blanket the reefs with fine red silt than can smother coral and reduced light. 
Coastal erosion along West Kaua`i. Photo by: Courtney Couch
While many of Kauai’s reefs no longer have the structural complexity and coral cover that the Big Island now has, it does have flora and fauna not commonly found on the Big Island. While Kaua`i lacks vast stretches of coral like we see on the Big Island, there is quite a diversity of algae (limu).  My dive buddy is a phycologist (limu expert) and frequently finds uncommon species, which is very exciting for him, and very educational for us.  From a coral biologist’s perspective South Kaua`i does have unique coral communities. We found one of the largest populations of Pocillopora eydouxi I have ever seen. This beautiful species can reach up to 100 cm in diameter and its intricate branches serve as a refuge for a range of fish and invertebrates.
Pocillopora eydouxi colonies provide important habitat for reef fauna. Photo by: Courtney Couch
At a site not too far away we also encountered an unusually high number of cryptic coral species such as Leptoseris incrustans, Leptoseris tubulifera, Leptoseris papyracea, and Cosinaraea wellsi.  As for fish, Kaua`i and especially Ni`ihau still have large curious predators such as uku and `omilu and kahala that come to see what you are all about on the dives.   However, none of the teams saw more than a couple of sharks here and there, which was surprising.  Where there is complexity (a lot of vertical relief of the substrate), there are nice aggregations of fish, and they typically are much larger up here.  
Antipathes sp. found along South Kaua`i. Photo by: Courtney Couch
Even with the less than ideal weather conditions, the scientists and crew aboard the Hi`ialakai have successfully completed our surveys around Kaua`i, Ni`ihau and West O`ahu.  With two days left in the second leg, we are ready for the last segment of the cruise, South Moloka`i.




 






 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Rest, recharge, and reloading for leg TWO

by Jacob Asher
We pulled into Pearl Harbor for a short import of one night, disembarking a handful of scientists for the last time on this RAMP cruise, while others scheduled to return for a final series of dive surveys around O'ahu, Kaua'i, and Ni'ihau.  The cruise really hasn’t been out on the water for all that long…we only left on the 7th of October!  However, we’ve already packed in 17 dive days with one day of rest.  Multiplying the number of dives between all teams combined gives us a staggering number: without accounting for the last two days, we’ve tallied over 728 dives onboard, tens of kilometers surveyed with towed-diver teams, 51 REA sites and 107 fish sites surveyed, numerous water samples collected for dissolved inorganic carbon and microbial analysis, dozens of CTDs deployed, and ARMS arrays recovered/re-deployed.  Folks worked hard, and were excited at the prospect of getting a bit of rest in town, back with friends, loved ones, with all the creature comforts of home.


There will be some personnel coming off, and several others coming onboard for the last push, leaving on Wednesday the 26th and heading straight to Kaua'i.  Some folks are old salts, spending time on several RAMP cruises this year, while a handful of scientists will be newcomers, bringing in new perspectives and an infusion of excitement and experience levels.  With work remaining on O'ahu, Kaua'i, and Ni'ihau, it’ll be an amazing, albeit challenging, 10 more days before the cruise wraps up.  Stay tuned for more episodes and blog posts!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Ocean sounds

By Polly Fisher-Pool

Do you ever wonder what makes snap, crackle, pop underwater? The culprits are thousands of tiny snapping shrimp; they create a cavitation bubble by closing their enlarged claw and use the acoustic wave to stun their prey.
Alpheid sp. (snapping shrimp) collected on an Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structure (ARMS). NOAA Photo by M. Timmers.
That is just one amongst the myriad of sounds that can be heard underwater. A well known sound producer is the Humpback whale. Humpbacks come to Hawaii to breed and calf during the winter season. Word through the grapevine is that this year’s first whales were sighted recently.
http://www.badongo.com/audio/24444826
(by clicking on this link you will be redirected to a page with the soundfile)
Humpback whale song recorded by an EAR.

Other, lesser known signal producers may be swimming in your tank at home. There are ~700 known species of sound producing fish species, although this is a relatively new field of study and sounds are still being documented. Dr. Tricas and his lab at University of Hawaii at Manoa use the Ecological Acoustic Recorders (EARs) and video to record behaviorally relevant sounds produced by Hawaiian fish species.

(by clicking on this link you will be redirected to a page with the soundfile) 
Unknown fish sound recorded by an EAR.



CRED uses the EAR, an autonomous non-intrusive tool to record acoustic data on coral reef biological activity. There are a total of 12 EARs currently deployed within the main Hawaiian Islands. So far, during this cruise we have retrieved 3 of these recorders and replaced them with new ones to continue acoustic data collection.
Divers Polly Fisher-Pool and Oliver Vetter replace an EAR on the island of Hawaii for continuous acoustic monitoring. NOAA Photo by F. Mancini.


Each recovered dataset provides new and exciting sound files. We will listen to what our main Hawaiian EARs heard once we get back to land.
For more information on EARs visit:  http://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/cred/ear.php

Friday, October 22, 2010

Good bye to Maui County, hello to O'ahu

By Mary Donovan

After 5 days of surveys in Maui and 3 days in Lāna'i and Moloka'i with the great weather, we are heading to O'ahu. People who have not been to O'ahu may picture the island based on some movies and television shows such as Lost and the most recent, Hawaii Five-O. It is home to the scientists of the Coral Reef Ecosystem Division. We will do surveys around O'ahu for a couple of days before some of us disembark and the ship heads to Kaua'i County.

'Oahu is the most populated island in the State of Hawai'i, with the population of 880,000 (U.S. Census 2000). High rise condos and hotels in Honolulu district show the development of the Island. Its great location and accessibility also attract tourists from all over the world. In each month of 2009, more than 300,000 people visited to O'ahu (Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism, State of Hawai'i). At night, it is the one of the brightest places in the Pacific Ocean. 
The earth at night. The main Hawaiian Islands are within the circle. Source: Image and data processing by NOAA National Geophysical Data Center.


Marine ecosystems associated with high human populations have traditionally suffered the consequences of overfishing, pollution, and invasive species (just to name a few). Directly or indirectly, human lives and activities negatively impact the natural environment, and the marine/coastal environment is not an exception. Our work around O'ahu will help us understand how coral reef systems in the proximity of high human populations are different from those without those stressors. With this insight, we hope to educate people about the importance of taking care of our marine environment so we can continue to enjoy our weekends at beautiful beaches!!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Maui from the surface

by Tomoko Acoba

As a data manager, my days are slower than the scientists who dive everyday. The cruise around the main Hawaiian Islands is especially busy for the scientists because there are no transit days between the islands. Therefore, hardly anybody is around during the day. Besides 3 meals and occasional exercises to avoid my butt gluing to the chair, my work mainly revolves around the 13.5 inch laptop screen (may be 15). I have to say…it is not as exciting as seeing the marine creatures and sceneries.

A view of the east side of Maui. NOAA Photo by T. Acoba

I cannot describe the underwater world for you, but Maui Island is beautiful from the sea surface. I am excited for the rare opportunities to see the whole island from the ocean. Everyday when we wake up in the morning, the views are different. The east side of the Island, by Hāna, is fully vegetated in various shades of green; we can even see the waterfalls in the distance. The southwest side looks dry, but the landscape with the rugged terrains is astonishing. And then, there is Mount Haleakalā (Hawaiian for House of the Sun), rising imposingly in the distance with the summit cleared from clouds. It is probably obvious how often I take “coffee breaks”.
A view of the southwest side of Maui. NOAA Photo by T.Acoba

My little pleasure at the end of each day is watching the sunset and eating sweets (for most of the time, chocolate). The sunsets are beautiful without a doubt, but the sweets make them so much better. I realized, though, that having time to watch the sunset everyday is a luxury. Maybe very subtle to other’s eyes, but these little things make me come back to be on Hi'ialakai and make sitting in front of the computer a bit more exciting.
Of course, the sunset. NOAA Photo by T. Acoba

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Coral Reef Oceanography: The CTD

by NOAH POMEROY
The bow of the Rubber Duck plowed through the frothy white cap of another wave and drenched us with sheets of salty water as we motored closer to the southern-most point of land in the United States; South Point on the island of Hawaii. The two 90 horse-power motors pushed us doggedly upwind toward our next survey site. With a trusty oceanographic instrument known as a CTD onboard, we were ready to collect some valuable data about the water column.
The view from below as a CTD is lowered over the side of the Rubber Duck by Oceanographer Oliver Vetter.  NOAA Photo by N. Pomeroy
CTD — an acronym for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth — is a tool for measuring a variety of physical properties of sea water. Although a large version of this instrument can be found on our research ship, the Hi’ialakai, we make use of a smaller version of this classic oceanographic instrument when conducting operations from our small boat, the Rubber Duck. When we arrive at a survey site in our small boat, we lower a handheld CTD over the side of the boat to collect data about the water column. The protective steal cage of the CTD houses a variety of instruments that collect data continuously as the device descends through the water column. This data includes a detailed account of water temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and turbidity. This information helps us to better understand how ocean water characteristics are distributed across space and time around the islands we visit. Shallow water CTD data, coupled with results of actual water samples that are collected at CTD survey sites, helps paint a picture of major influences on reef life, such as transport of warm or cold water, nutrients, and possibly organisms from one region to another.
With our CTD full of detailed oceanographic data, we secured it to the console of the Rubber Duck and began our transit to the next survey site.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Big Island of Hawai‘i

by Darla White
The windward coast of the Big Island is very rugged and beautiful, with steep cliffs and characteristically rough waters. Access to these areas is quite limited, and human populations along the coast are sparse. The Main Hawaiian Island Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program (RAMP) expedition got off to a great start, with nice weather and favorable ocean conditions along the windward shore of North Kohala. The five small boats launched on their first day with views of Pololū Valley under blue skies and light winds. Of course, that did not last long; the winds picked up, and after a couple of days rains moved in, and the swell increased. However the diving was still good, albeit a bit murky at a couple of sites.

Waters off North Kohala, on the northeast coast of the island of Hawai’i. NOAA Photo by B. Vargas-Ángel
 

The opportunity to dive in these remote areas is uncommon, so I would like to share with you a little about what we do and what we have seen on our dives from the perspective of the Benthic Rapid Ecological Assessment (REA) Team. Benthos is the life that inhabits the sea floor, effectively attached to it, whether sessile (attached) or mobile (moving) on it, such as corals, mobile invertebrates, and algae. The Benthic REA team has a pair of divers for each of these three categories. Bernardo and Jake are the coral team, recording coral species and colony sizes and diseases. Molly and Max are the mobile invertebrate team, and they count critters and also work with the ARMS (Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures; which Max is going to tell you more about soon).
Divers conducting belt transect surveys on the North Kohala Coast of Big Island. NOAA Photo D. White

Rodney is the limu (algae) expert, and he and I are the Line-Point-Intercept (LPI) team; whereby the organism (usually algae or coral) falling underneath the transect line is recorded to species level at every 20cm interval for 25 meters on each of two transect tapes. Photoquads (photographic images of the benthos) are also collected along the transect line. These methods combined gives a good ‘snapshot’ of the benthic community composition at this place and time. Everything out there has a role to play in this complex ecosystem, and looking at community composition can give you the pulse of an area. Our teams return to monitor the same locations year after year, and so will record changes over time.
Species of hard coral, encrusting sponges, and other sessile invertebrates populate the shallow benthos along the east coast of the Island of Hawaii. NOAA Photo D. White


Each of our sites is in depths of 45’ – 60’, too deep for pounding waves, but these areas observe plenty of water motion from surge and currents in these windward waters. Many of the sites that we surveyed were boulder habitats, where fields of boulders were encrusted with all kinds of life: hard corals, rubber corals, algae, sponges, urchins, and a variety of other critters about. It’s a veritable wall of mouths of a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. The closer you look, the more you see…in fact, it is truly amazing just how much life is out there!


Close-up of sponge. NOAA Photo. D. White
 

When you are on the benthic team, you tend to have your head down most of the time and really don’t see many fish, apart from saddle back wrasses (Thalassoma duperrey) and the Hawaiian toby (Canthagaster jactator), and a few eels hiding out in the cracks. Loving fish like I do, I have made it a point to look around when I’m finished collecting data to see what I might find, and other times a buddy will point something out that I’m missing. I have a number of favorite fish, and so far I have not been disappointed. On the first day a couple of large kahala (Seriola dumerili) swam close to me as just happened to finish my data collection. The next day two reticulated butterflyfish (Chaetodon reticulatus) swam straight up to my mask as I fumbled for my camera. You know that you are in a remote area when the fish come to check you out instead of swimming away! Okay, the flame angel (Centropyge loricula) was a little shy…but that’s typical. At one site a manta ray (Manta birostris) glided around and around a swirling column of ‘opelu (Decapterus macarellus) 30’ high, which could only be topped by the two longnose hawk fish (Oxycirrhites typus) perched in the branches of a black coral. And, I think we’ve seen spinner dolphins every day thus far.

Longnose hawk fish (Oxycirrhites typus) perched on the branches of a black coral. NOAA Photo N. Pomeroy

We have spent the last couple of days on the leeward side of the Big Island and wow! The coral reef communities over here are truly amazing; I really wish my camera could do it justice. I’ll try to get some better pictures for you at South Point tomorrow!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Drawing to a close

By Russell Reardon,

Well, we are nearing the end of our return transit to Honolulu and are on schedule to pull into Pearl Harbor tomorrow morning.  During 15 days of in-water operations on this expedition, favorable weather allowed the scientific party to safely and comfortably conduct a total of 768 SCUBA dives, documenting the coral reef biota, habitats and oceanographic parameters of the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

We have but one more quick stop to make today at a location known as “Five Fathom Pinnacle,” approximately 25 miles west-southwest of the island of Ni`ihau, where the Oceanography Team will conduct one last dive to swap out an Ecological Acoustic Recorder (EAR).
An Ecological Acoustic Recorder (EAR) rests on the seafloor and records ambient sounds.
An EAR is an instrument that sits on the ocean floor and records ambient sounds as a way to characterize the presence and activity of sound-producing marine organisms on the coral reefs and in surrounding waters. The recorder is also well suited for monitoring human activities on the reef. The noise produced by anthropogenic sources, such as boat engines and anchor chains, is also captured along with naturally occurring sounds.  To learn more about the EAR and passive acoustic monitoring of coral reef ecosystems visit http://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/cred/ear.php

Over these last transit days, the scientists have been busily entering and checking their data and pulling together the bits and pieces that will comprise the official cruise report.  Equipment has been cleaned and dried, offloading and refueling arrangements have been made, and preparations for the next cruise are being finalized.

In just one week after our return to Honolulu, the Coral Reef Ecosystem Division’s next research cruise as part of the Pacific Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program will begin.  The 30-day expedition will study the coral reef biota and habitats in the main Hawaiian Islands. During the brief time the ship is in port, the small boats will be serviced and necessary repairs will be made, scientific equipment will be added, the ship will be re-provisioned, and a new compliment of scientists will prepare to embark on their journey through the ‘Main 8’ (though 1/3 of the scientists currently aboard will actually be departing on the next cruise as well).

Thank you for following along with us on this mission to the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, and be sure to check back on this website to follow along with the next compliment of scientists as they embark on the next cruise beginning October 7, 2010.

Stepping back...

By Annette DesRochers

We’re now down to the last few days of transit, and while they have been more relaxed for some, for me, not so much.  As data manager, one of my responsibilities is to work with each of the teams to help compile all of the information that was collected into a final cruise report for the mission. We have learned the hard way that the more that we are able to complete prior to the end of the cruise, the better. As soon as we pull into port and disembark the ship, all of us will quickly be immersed into the life, work, and responsibilities that await us back home.  So the push is on. 

The first quasi-annual masquerade ball, a welcome diversion from the winding-down activities. A great morale boost in the final days of the cruise.
While working on database stuff for the report today, I kept thinking about how I would find the time to write my blog, and then debated what I would write about. For a bit I thought I might talk about the responsibilities of a data manager during a research cruise, but let’s face it. Who really cares?  I manage data. Enough said. Rather than talk about my small role in this large effort that we’ve all contributed to, instead I’d like to try and take a step back and take a look at the big picture.
Those who know me will easily concur that I can tend to be a bit of a workaholic at times. Out here it is even easier to get sucked up into the work to be done because you never get to go home and separate yourself from it. To work at such a pace can be taxing, both physically and mentally. Individual morale can be all over the map depending on how much sleep you’ve had, how many days in a row you’ve been working, what the sea conditions and weather are like, and so on. And sometimes, when all you want is a moment alone, it’s really hard to find it when there’s 40-something people on a 240-something foot ship. So your emotions are pretty much out there, exposed for all to see. But that can be a good thing too because when you’re having a moment, someone is there to laugh you right out of it. The comradery amongst the scientific staff and the crew is really incredible.
The highly-prized trophy for the winner of the masquerade ball, handmade by Chief Engineer Jesse Duncan.
As the cruise quickly winds down, there is still a long list of “to-dos” that must be accomplished. Myself and others included have spent hours on end at the computer, writing the reports and doing database things, others have been checking supplies, breaking down gear, and packing up, and some are even prepping for the next cruise which departs only one week after we return.  But despite the push, there is still the need to stop working for a bit to take time out for ourselves and to appreciate all that has been accomplished.
Paula Ayotte, forever our (my) ring leader. You can't not smile when she's around.
So I took time out tonight to watch the highlights from Ben and Cristi Richards’ trip to Mongolia, followed by a much needed 8-min abs workout and stretch with our ring leader Paula Ayotte.  Though I could have done without the workout (bazinga Paula!), it was just what I needed after a long day at the computer. We were up on the aft deck on our yoga mats stretching, and I just gazed up at the evening sky. I so wish that I could have photographed it for you all to see. A clear dark night lit only by the stars. It reminded me of why it is that we are all out here in the first place. We’ve just been to one of the most beautiful places in the world, and we came here so that we might help to protect it. We just have to remember that while we’re engrossed in our own work to accomplish that end, that it’s important to take that step back and appreciate all of it while we can.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Traditional Hawaiian Observations and Western Science

By Mark Manuel

‘A‘ohe pau ka ‘ike i ka halau ho‘okahi.
Not all knowledge is learned in one school.

As our voyage on the Hi‘ialakai comes to an end, there are many great moments instilled in my memory as well as an exceptional amount of ‘ike or knowledge that I’ve gained through this experience. The ‘ōlelo no‘eau or Hawaiian proverb above speaks of the ability to learn or acquire knowledge in different ways and that not all knowledge is gained from one source. It is one that I live by every day and one that I try to live by when encountering new environments or situations. To me there is never a point in which you stop learning and there is never only one place to learn from. Similarly, there is never one fixed way in doing things in life to inevitably reach the same goal or achievement. That is why I would like to compare my experiences on this cruise with the western science approach of using experimental designs, statistics and quantifiable data to the simple observations taken by my Hawaiian ancestors, both of which strive for conserving resources.
Stationary point count method
Through my experience as a fish team diver, I’ve had the opportunity of observing numerous reef fishes around the various atolls and islands that we’ve visited using a method called the stationary point count (SPC). This is a unique method that utilizes two divers working along a 30 meter transect in which each diver identifies, sizes and counts all fish within their respective 7.5 meter cylinder. These surveys are done at various depth stratums around each atoll to get a thorough quantifiable representation of fish abundance, diversity and biomass. Other teams on the cruise also utilize various methods with strong scientific background and research objectives. The oceanographic team uses an intriguing instrument called the RAS (Remote Access Sampler), which is deployed to collect water samples. The benthic team deploys ARMS (Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures), which are recruitment apparatus’. All together as a team this cruise has been filled with intense scientific data collection, which can be used to help ensure the proper management and conservation of these finite resources and help understand the coral reef ecosystem as a whole.
Fish diver Mark Manuel trying to count a large school of ‘ōmilu or Caranx melampygus
From a Hawaiian standpoint simple observations were made daily and transcribed in mele (song), oli (chant) and mo‘olelo (story). These important observations were a necessary part of their survival and utilized to conserve resources that could be limited due to the geographic isolation of the Hawaiian Islands. Hawaiians viewed all living things with respect as if they were part of their ‘ohana or family. They tried to observe everything from a holistic standpoint and made connections or correlations with their observations. In many cases there was always something on land that was connected to the ocean and vice versa. This comes from the perspective that what is done on land will inevitably have some kind of influence or effect on the sea, whether good or bad. For example, this is the Hawaiian Lunar month of Hilinamā, which gets its name from the switching of weather from calm/stormy and humid/breezy conditions during this equinox time period (Kalei Nuuhiwa 2010). According to the ‘ōlelo no‘eau, Pua ke kō, kū mai ka he`e, when the sugar cane blossoms the he‘e or octopus appear, refers to this time of year in which sugar cane blooms and he‘e are abundant. Interestingly, one of the other fish divers and I have noticed that there were quite a few he‘e on a number of dives we’ve done during this trip. Some may view this traditional knowledge as coincidence; however, we must consider that this information has been passed down from generation to generation as a way of life. This is just one of many examples of the intuitive connections Hawaiians had with their surrounding environments and the conclusions that were drawn in order to conserve resources.
Day octopus or Octopus cyanea
Fortunately, through my collegiate career I’ve had the opportunity to take part in numerous research projects that have allowed me to gain valuable insight into various western science approaches, all of which inspired me to continue my affiliation in the research field. However, I’ve also been exposed to many great Hawaiian elders and practitioners that have inspired me to embrace my Hawaiian culture and learn from those who have come before me. So whether it be conducting SPC’s or just making simple observations of my surroundings, there is one saying that comes to mind, Ma ka hana ka ‘ike, knowledge is gained by doing, so we as conservationists need to get out there and make a difference. With that said, Mālama i ke kai…Aloha!
Amazing sunset following a long day of diving

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Green Island

By Hailey Ramey

It’s been exactly one year since I last stepped foot aboard the Hi`ialakai. This is my second trip to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and I feel so privileged to be here again. I am a visiting scientist who has been contracted by NOAA to count and size fishes. I can’t think of a better job or imagine a better office.  After an amazing 22 days at sea we have begun our four day transit home.  As I reflect back on the cruise I thought I would share one of the more memorable days with all you blog followers.
Green Island, a tropical paradise.

After our last day of diving at Kure Atoll I was fortunate enough to be one of the few scientists who actually got to go ashore on Green Island, the atoll’s largest and only habitable land mass. We were asked by the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) to assist with the transport of water samples back to Honolulu.  The samples were collected from a fresh water seep in the island’s interior by Cynthia Vanderlip, the manager of the State of Hawai`i’s Kure Atoll Wildlife Sanctuary. She has been doing work on Kure for the last decade. She and three other people are currently stationed on Green Island for half the year working on the eradication of the terrestrial-based plant Verbesina encelioides (aka Golden Crownbeard).  It is an invasive species that is rapidly overtaking and outcompeting native plants for precious and limited space. The Green Island crew also plant several native species of ground cover in an effort to stabilize the fragile dune structure of the eroding atoll. A fifth and recently arrived team member is responsible for observing monk seal behavior and in particular mother and pup interactions.
Scientists Zoe Dagan, Hailey Ramey, Erin Looney, and Kaylyn McCoy dressed in Kure garb.
We were greeted at the shore line and given shoes and a sarong to wear. There are strict rules in place to ensure the island remains isolated and free from foreign contaminants, and visitors are not allowed to wear clothes that haven’t been previously frozen.  The freezing kills any foreign seeds that might be stuck to clothes. The shoes that were provided to us were to protect our feet from the thorny balls of the native ground cover.  We got a quick tour of the Green Island camp which consisted of tents, a couple small buildings, and a picnic table. It is evident that birds are the dominant life form on the tiny, one mile long island.  I couldn’t imagine living for an extended amount of time in such small, secluded quarters.  I was thrilled to get the opportunity to experience it but after a half hour my curiosity was satisfied and I was ready, if not eager, to get off the sun drenched island and get back to the ship and all its amenities.
Booby birds keep watch from a tree near the camp.
As we loaded up the boat to depart I spent a few minutes beach combing for alien marine debris that the people living on Green Island regularly pile up for removal from the island. I found a glass bottle that must have drifted thousands of miles to wash up on these shores. I couldn’t help wondering how long that journey must have taken and what cool things it might have encountered along the way.  How many tiger sharks had it unknowingly floated by?  I kept that bottle as a memento because what most people view as trash or marine debris will always remind me of this remote paradise. Kure Atoll, with its stark white beaches and crystal clear water, is by far one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.

Glass bottles washed ashore on Green Island.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Have You Ever Felt Like Shark Bait? - A Towboarder’s Point of View

By Marie Ferguson

It’s another typical day on the towboard boat along the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. My tow partner, Edmund, and I are getting geared up to enter the water for our second dive of the day. The other two tow team members, Ben and Jeff, are coxswaining the boat and act as the look-out for any problems with the tow lines, divers, etc. Our job…to assess relatively large areas of reef habitats by quantifying and qualifying larger fish populations (>50 cm length) and benthic biota. We complete a total of six dives a day, 50 minutes in length each, covering close to 2 kilometers of reef per dive. Edmund is the benthic tow boarder extraordinaire and I’m the fish tow boarder.
“You guys ready to get in?”, blurts our coxswain as he maneuvers the small boat upwind and into proper position to splash divers. My partner and I look at each other, glance for a buddy gear check and nod at the driver. “Alright, engines in neutral. Ready when you are.” We fall back in the water with tow boards in hand. ‘Should be a pleasant and mellow dive’ I think to myself as I swim away from the boat and look around me with 100 ft. plus visibility. An ulua appears to greet us as we position ourselves and wait for the 60 meters of tow line to feed out. Shortly after, a few small Galapagos sharks show up. Edmund and I motion the ‘start survey’ signal to each other and I send up the ‘start survey’ signal to the boat via our beeper, similar to that of a morse-code signaler. ‘Start survey’, two short beeps followed by one long.
For about the first 20 minutes of our dive all is well. Visibility is still incredible and we’re not experiencing any strong current head on or large swell which can make a tow boarders’ dive that much harder and physically taxing. There aren’t many large fish to count on this dive but that is normal at some sites. I glance at my buddy for a buddy check and look around me. Those Galapagos sharks and the ulua are following behind and have decided to come along for the ride…something that is also not unusual on a tow board dive. ‘Cool’, I think to myself as it excites me to see sharks along these reefs. Sharks have historically gotten a bad rep but they are essential in an ecosystem as they are at the top of the food chain and control fish populations lower on the food chain. Sharks are a keystone predator in the marine environment and a sustaining, balanced population is indicative of a healthy functioning ecosystem.
Thirty minutes into the dive and my mind wanders for a second as I can’t help but notice the beautiful spur and groove habitat around me. I imagine how time has shaped these reefs and atolls as the continental plates have shifted over hot spots which created the entire Hawaiian Archipelago. I can’t help but think how nature is truly amazing and how we are capturing a moment in time as creation continues to take place. Towboarding is a truly unique method of surveying a reef as our tows collectively circumnavigate an entire atoll or island. On one dive you can pass through several types of reefs and ultimately have experienced the various marine ecosystems a place provides. I imagine the various reefs throughout the Pacific which our research group visits and how my tow experience has greatly varied at each one. Sharks and large fish galore at Kingman, Jarvis and Palmyra; extreme underwater geological reef features in American Samoa; fields of Acropora coral, hammerhead sharks, ripping current and 100 foot vertical walls at Howland, Baker and Johnston Atoll; and schools of ulua, galapagos and grey reef sharks as well as some of the most beautiful coral reefs along the Northwestern Hawaiian Island chain. Life is good.
A sudden movement from my peripheral jolts me back to the dive. ‘What the?!?’. I look at Edmund then around me. It’s those eight Galapagos sharks still following us. A couple are right on top of Edmund’s tag line. Ok, not a problem. They’re just curious, nothing new here. Oddly enough, we see this often and have become somewhat ‘normalized’ to it. Commence fish surveys. Seconds later something brushes against my fin blades. I look behind me. A galapagos shark swimming in between my fins. ‘Whoa. That was a little too close, buddy’, I think as I attempt to get a visual on all the sharks around me. A couple more pass quickly within a foot underneath me. ‘Okay. These guys are coming in a lot closer now’. As I look towards my tow partner I notice a shark brush through his fins while another makes a twitching and arching motion as it bumps the end of his tag line. Researchers believe that these types of movements (arching their backs and throwing back their head as well as twitching and posturing) are indicative of a shark becoming aggressive prior to an attack. Not good. I glance towards Edmund and give him the look. ‘Did you just see that?!’. He reads the expression on my face. He smirks and shrugs his shoulders.
For the remainder of the dive these sharks continue to bump our tag lines and fin tips, brush within a couple of feet of us and posture. I’m not going to lie. I was a bit worried. But there are no records of Galapagos sharks attacking humans so why the seemingly aggressive behavior? Maybe it’s a sort of territorial gesture letting us know that this is their turf. No one can say for sure. Our timer beeps indicating the end of our dive. I send up an ‘end survey’ signal and we begin our 3-minute safety stop with all sharks still on our tails. Another few minutes…3-2-1…safety stop done, ‘stop’ signal has been sent to the boat and I am swimming as fast as possible back to the boat. Michael Phelps’ got nothin’ on me. Glad I invested in a nice new pair of longblade, freediving fins before this trip! I clench my towboard close to me as a sort of ‘shield’…you know, just in case. I reach the boat in 15 seconds and grab on to the side as I catch my breath. Ben, who’s been topside, takes my board. “How was the dive”, he asks not seeing the bit of frantic still in me. “Those sharks are crazy!”, I shriek as my bulging eyes are scanning below for the sharks. Ok, I’m good, I’m good. Just breath, baby, just breath. I’m safely alongside our Safeboat so I take a few more minutes in the water to catch my breath, stare at the world beneath me and ponder what just happened. Man, what a wild ride. That was pretty awesome. A smile comes to my face. Now that is what I live for. That is why I do this. I can’t imagine a better job than getting to towboard and dive in some of the most beautiful places in the world and experiencing moments like I just did. It really is the wild west out there. Not something that you see every day or, for some, ever. So is it the raw beauty that keeps me coming back for more or the adrenaline running through you as a shark brushes just beneath you? And does it get any better than this? I’m not really sure. All I know is, I dig it and I’ll see you next cruise…    

Corals, the most beautiful part of the reef

By Erin Looney

What is the most beautiful part of a reef?  Some would say it is the fishes, some would argue it’s the algae (only the rare and highly-prized phycologists would dare), yet others, like myself, would say it’s definitely the coral.  I mean, it’s called a CORAL reef, right?  Not a fish reef or an algae reef.  I would even venture to say that coral is what makes the reef-world go round.  Without it, where would the all fish hide, or more importantly, where would they go to reproduce?  Also, without coral, what would people pay lots of money to see when visiting areas that depend on tourism?  Coral reefs support not only one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world, but also one of the most beautiful. 
Arc-eyed hawkfish hiding out in a healthy Pocillopora meandrina colony at French Frigate Shoals.
Corals serve many purposes, and it is this reason that we try to understand the communities that make up reefs in order to better protect them.  My dive buddy, Jason Heyler, and I spend our days looking at coral.  We each have segments in which we document and measure every coral present.  We can get an idea of what species are there, in what abundance, and in what size-class.  Along with this information, we are also interested in the health of corals, so we’re on the watch for coral diseases and bleaching.  

Human influences are thought to be directly or indirectly linked to most disease and bleaching, whether we’re talking about reefs that are close to human impact (pollution, run-off, over-fishing) like those off the Main Hawaiian Islands, or those that are much more isolated, like the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.  Coral disease has been a threat to reefs for some time, but the incidence and severity of disease seem to be growing steadily.  In few cases, the cause of disease is known, but mostly, we’re only left to speculate what factors lead to disease outbreaks.  Coral bleaching, while not a disease, is another threat to corals and has been linked to elevated sea surface temperatures.  Bleaching happens when corals are stressed and their symbiotic algae (zooxanthellae) are released, thereby losing their pigmentation and appearing white, or bleached.  Bleaching can lead to mass fatality because, with even just a little pollution, the exposed skeleton is easily overgrown by algae or it is broken down by storms and waves and all that is left is a coral graveyard.  Because sea surface temperatures around the islands we’ve surveyed on this cruise are higher than normal, there was a prediction of mass coral bleaching, but luckily we’ve only seen background levels.   
Bleached and half-dead colony of Pocillopora meandrina at Kure Atoll.
Porites colony with signs of Porites trematodiasis.
We strive to learn all we can about these fragile organisms and the reefs they build so that we can have a hand in protecting them.  With corals having so much importance and yet so much disturbance, often times it’s frustrating for me to look at the big picture and wonder what in the world I can do to solve a problem so large.  But that’s when I remember there is also a smaller picture, one in which we all have the power to make decisions with these ecosystems in mind.  And when we’re diving on these reefs and are witnesses to the beauty (yes, this even includes the algae and fish), I know it’s all worth it.
Beautiful Acropora at French Frigate Shoals.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

We’re out of coffee?

By Frank Mancini

Howzit blog followers?! I struggled with what to write about for more than a few days. Truthfully, I attempted to avoid blogging all together. Playing dead, running away (but the ship is only 224 feet long) and acting like I didn’t speak English all failed. Finally some increasingly less friendly reminders from my coworkers and a single blank spot on the blog calendar for over a week forced me to cave and jot down my name.

Last week an announcement was made at our morning meeting that at our current consumption rate of one bag of coffee per day, we were 5 days away from being completely tapped out and more than two weeks from getting back home. For some, this was no big deal. For me and my fellow coffee junkies, this was like a kick to…yeah.
This is what happens when oceanography team member Frank Mancini, goes without his cup of joe.
My initial reactions were: What am I going to do to wake up in the morning? Do I give in and switch to tea? Not likely. Do I go cold turkey and suck it up? Probably a bad idea seeing that I am arguably one of the grumpiest morning people presently on this ship. Ask any of my friends, family members or coworkers. They’ll all agree. There is a visiting scientist on this cruise that is seriously challenging my crown though. I tip my hat to you and welcome the competition.
Divers Erin Looney and Hailey Ramey enjoy the last few minutes of breakfast in the aft mess chatting with Chief Cook Lydell Reed and Doc Joe Harris before heading out for another day of diving at Lisianski.
Anyway it got me thinking, as I savored one of the last hot cups of joe that would cross my lips for weeks to come, that this is one of those situations that is unique to the kind of work we do. Sure we have run out of fruits and vegetables plenty of times…no problem, I’ll go to the farmer’s market when I get home. I’ve seen the ice cream bin empty one week into a 2 month cruise, whatever, no need. But coffee? Come on! Even prisoners get coffee!!

Maybe your favorite neighborhood coffee shop is closed for renovations for a few days and you are forced to go to the mega-chain on every corner for your morning fix. Ok. One cup hopefully won’t kill the rainforest. Your caffeine need is satiated and you are off to continue your day. Aboard a ship 1000+ miles from the nearest city, alternate options like that don’t exist.
Just another day at the office!
I know when you read our blogs and see our photos, our work looks and sounds pretty incredible (and I have to admit, a lot of times it is), but running out of coffee is just one example (obviously a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things) of shipboard life that might not come to mind when you see what we do.
Frank Mancini, hard at work deploying a subsurface temperature recorder.

Thankfully a few days later another case of coffee was found in the stores and the potential mutiny was squashed. I cannot say that I am getting any less grumpy in morning, but at least my mug is full and my hand is warm while I watch the sun rise out of the ocean each morning with one bleary eye open.