Pitkern’s Citizen Scientist Expedition to our Outer Islands – Henderson, Ducie and Oeno


Mel’s Daily Blog - Day 1, Posted September 6th 2021

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North Beach, Henderson Island
Photo Credit: Andrew Randall - Pitcairn Tourism

We’re all knackered!! The plan was to land on East Beach; however, it became obvious at first light that passage through the reef was not to be. Activate Plan B and try North Beach. Things seemed alright, so, the Staby was launched for the first group ashore. Watching from the ship we were relieved to see them land, then carry bags up onto the beach.

But, it wasn’t long before we saw them bringing everything back to the Staby. Shawn’s voice came crackling over the radio, “We are returning to the ship. Tide’s too low; it’s not safe to bring the shore party in.”

They returned soaking wet. The boat has scraped bottom all the way across the reef, and waves knocked the craft around as they tried to disembark; so, Char and Steve climbed back on board, and Plan C was activated. Shawn and Kimiora zoomed off in the Staby and Captain Sergei steered the ship to West Beach.

We made it ashore on West Beach with little trouble. Unlike the landing at North Beach where the boat crew were baptized in the passage, we managed to keep our top halves semi dry. Stepping ashore on the soft white sand was like a religious experience, a distinctly spiritual moment with all of the elements of a truly tropical environment in front of and around us.

Frigate birds had sailed out over our ship at first light- a welcoming committee or simply a curious scouting party. They were all females; not a single solid black bird among them, indicative of the males of the species.

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The Land Research Team doing our thing

Our shore party's duties were to record bird sightings, specifically, the endemic species of Crake, Murphy's Petrel, Henderson Warbler, Henderson Fruit Dove, and the Henderson Lorikeet. We were frustratingly disappointed by the absence of most of these species. While Frigate Birds, Fairy Terns, and Curlew were found in abundance, of the endemics, we spotted just three Murphy's Petrels, a handful of Henderson Warblers, and one lone Lorikeet.

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Mayor Charlene has refreshments under control

We will, hopefully, get a second chance to return to Henderson after completing the tasks on Ducie Island.

The expedition leader has decided to make for Ducie, with a window of opportunity for good weather during the next two or three days; so, we had less than four hours ashore at Henderson.

The ocean team had the time of their lives, accomplishing all of the BRUV drops for the West and South locations within the four hours.

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Yep! Even at sea there's Laundry to fold!!!!

Back on-board ship, after stowing away gear, hot showers and dry clothing, and laundering our wet clothes, the Silver Supporter’s cook, Simonet, had a delicious lunch waiting for a tired and hungry crew. And while we ate, we uploaded photos from cameras to our laptops, and marveled at the beauty of West Beach.

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Marie working on the Sea Research Data

After lunch, Marie got busy moving data from the BRUV Go-Pros to her computer. We would rush to the com-room every time she said, "Oh, look at this!"

It would appear that Henderson's waters are as pristine and biologically healthy as when the National Geographic expedition took place in 2012.

The plastics problem that litters East Beach is barely in evidence on West Beach. There are some pieces of rubbish on West Beach, for sure but, what was seen was minuscule, compared to the travesty at East Beach.

The whole evening was spent discussing our time on West Beach and looking at each other’s photo images.

I think we'll sleep well tonight. We're underway to Ducie Island. If all goes well, we should arrive around ten o'clock in the morning. We look forward to another long day of tramping one of our beautiful outer islands.

Mel’s Daily Blog - Day 2, Posted September 7th 2021

Duuuuuuceeeeeeee! Oh, what a welcome we received today!
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Ducie Atoll
Photo Credit: Andrew Randall - Pitcairn Tourism

We arrived just before 10AM. The ocean team was ready to go as soon as Captain Sergei stopped the vessel. Both boats were launched to check out the passage into Ducie’s lagoon. Bad news came back for the shore team. Due to the low tide it would take too many trips back and forth to ferry us and our equipment to shore, given that it was already a late start.

Both boats, without passengers, were scraping the reef going in; so, we had to hurry up and wait while the ocean team did their thing before we could go ashore. Unlike the situation at Henderson, the air was filled with birds soaring and wheeling across the skies, and we were eager to get on shore to start our activities. Alas! It was not to be.

We busied ourselves with housekeeping and any other chores we could find. Simonet, the ship’s excellent cook and hospitality boss now call us the ‘new crew’. Pitkern women don’t know how to just sit and do nothing. Some of us caught up on job responsibilities - anything to keep us occupied while we waited. And waited. Until suddenly, Char yelled from the bridge to come up on deck, … and bring your cameras! There, just off the starboard bow, a humpback whale breached. Then another. And another. The three put on a fantastic show, breaching and splashing their way west; and, off to the east, two more whales turned acrobatics traveling eastward.

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Welcomed by breaching Humpbacks

That was a WOW! moment, the first of several for the afternoon. Shawn was able to finally collect us at 2:30 in the afternoon. Due to the lateness of the day it was decided that the shore party would only have a maximum of an hour and a half on shore, so it became a scouting activity for us to check out the area and get an idea of the scope of our activities, starting bright and early next day.

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Picking our way through the reef

Now, we already knew about Ducie’s reputation as a shark haven and so I was on the lookout for dorsal fins skimming the surface, and I was not to be disappointed. Two sharks followed us in, while three others zipped by near shore. That was a little more excitement than I was looking for; but, as there were none about where we disembarked, the adrenaline quickly dissipated, and we got on with the business of birds - except that, there were so many feathered critters in the air and on the ground that it quickly became overwhelming, and I wondered how in the world we were going to count all those birds.

It soon became obvious that the first order of the day was to watch where we put our foot down. There are young birds, in all stages of development, literally everywhere! Murphy’s Petrels. Kermadec Petrels. Red Tailed Tropic Birds. Gannets. Even unhatched eggs just laying on the coral ground. Fairy Tern babies and Tern parents sitting on eggs are in abundance. Birders would think they had died and gone to heaven! given the opportunity to visit this bird haven.

The beach, itself, is composed of billions of bits of corals and shells, weathered or weathering to a dull grey and having a beauty of its own. There is plastic rubbish on Ducie too. It seems we can’t escape the awful consequences of plastics usage. Much of the detritus comes from fishing vessels. Although there isn’t much of it on Ducie, none of it should be there, and a clean-up operation should be considered while the volume is in a manageable stage.

Mayor Char took the opportunity to go for a refreshing swim in a picturesque pool inside the lagoon. She said that the water was icy cold on top, but warm underneath. We’ll take her word for it😊. All too soon, we had to return to our floating home away from home. Shawn took us around the lagoon for a tiki tour and to check out the shark scene again.

Oh, my word! Groups of sharks littered the lagoon! At one point we counted ten in a line just skimming the surface. A closer look revealed another ten submerged behind them. And odd single creatures all around our boat. Breathe. “Just…breathe. There are plenty of fish in the lagoon.” I told myself. They weren’t interested in happy people meals.

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Equipment loaded and ready to go

We detoured to the motu where we will start our work tomorrow morning and spent a few minutes in this gorgeous lagoon. There’s a hole in the seafloor where black groupers hang out. Shawn fed them some breadsticks and Mayor Char took underwater photos of the several varieties of fish that came to feed. Like the previous motu we had just left birds ae everywhere, on the ground and in the air. Reluctantly, we made our way across the reef through the passage and back to the ship; thoroughly pleased with the way the day had gone.

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Feeding Fish at the Motu where we will be working

We passed Kimiora in the other boat, also headed back to the ship. Clambering back onboard, happy and satisfied, we prepared to get cleaned up and ready for supper when someone said Kimiora had fish. Sure enough, he had trawled and brought in three beautiful yellowfin tuna (Pitkern Islanders are permitted to fish their MPA waters food).

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Kimiora's Catch

We thought the day couldn’t get any better. We were wrong. Within moments of tossing the entrails overboard sharks arrived. They were not the smaller reef sharks but a much larger variety. Steve said they were Galapagos Greys. I’ll take his word for it. What a show they put on for us! We counted six altogether. I have decided that I am definitely not going for a swim off the ship, and I might not even climb down the Jacob’s ladder into the oh so small boat now. I - umm - don’t fancy cozying up next to a shark.
We’ll see what tomorrow brings - besides fresh sashimi and poisson cru for dinner.

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Sharks Everywhere… Even alongside the ship!

Mel’s Daily Blog - Day 3, Posted September 8th 2021

A readers note about Ducie.
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Ducie Atoll
Photo Credit: Adam Cropp - Lindblad Expeditions / National Geographic

This amazing island is characterised by exceptionally high coral cover and an abundance of top predators (accounting for 62% of fish biomass, which is one of the largest ever recorded worldwide). The atoll’s nearshore waters are also home to the highest percentage of endemics of the four islands. However, being the most remote of the four islands, Ducie also has the lowest species richness.

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Shark passing by Divers at Ducie
Photo Credit: National Geographic

The 2012 National Geographic expedition to the Pitcairn Islands revealed the presence of encrusting algae at 312 metres depth off Ducie, making this the deepest known record of attached plant life on the planet.

On-board 1330: I’ve decided that I need to feed my frustration and have managed to carry a dish of soup to the table without spilling a drop!!

The rain stopped around 11 this morning and the sun has been brilliant since. The ocean team were able to get away to make their drops and have returned most of their team back to the ship. Marie is in the com room downloading data from the Go Pros.

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Launching the Staby Craft

The swells out there are huge; and, sometimes, it’s difficult to hang on…as Steve said, “We spent the whole day bouncing and pounding about in the boat.”

1900: Well, no bird counting today, and the ocean team were not able to make a drop in the lagoon. The swells were incredible and the waves even more impressive. The reef was indisputably closed for business today. But, no amount of swells kept our intrepid boat crews from carrying out their assigned activities, dropping BRUVs and sonar to photograph fish and record seabed depths.

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Steve descending into the Staby Craft

One more assignment was completed in late afternoon. Meanwhile, Kimi went trolling for dinner, coming back with two Wahoo and one Yellowfin Tuna. Here, I must make a correction on yesterday’s fish haul. Kim brought in three Kingfish and one Amberjack. Today’s Yellowtail (aka: Yellowfin) was promptly dispatched to the kitchen. Fresh sashimi for dinner.

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The BRUV team on the go

With everyone back on board, conversation around the dinner table was all about images captured during today’s activities. Whales are always exciting to see; and, having the opportunity to see them up close and personal is a privilege to be treasured. Three more sharks came up to the ship as the sun was setting, to close out another busy day for the ocean team.

We have one more try to get to shore tomorrow morning. If that fails, we will head directly back to Henderson to continue operations there.

For those who may be wondering, this expedition is funded by the UK Government under the Blue Belt programme for Overseas Territories - learn more about the Blue Belt programme here:

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/the-blue-belt-programme

Mel’s Daily Blog - Day 4, Posted September 9th 2021

Ducie. Nature's Bounty

Woke up to brilliant sunshine and a sea that was much, much calmer than yesterday.

The shore party was able to start the task of counting birds. We quickly came to the conclusion that it would take a team of ten people a minimum of two months to count the number of birds on the five motus making up Ducie Atoll. In a word: Overwhelming!

There are so many birds on Ducie! We have to be careful where we step to avoid crushing the young. They do not make nests; the females lay their single egg on the ground, and is where the hatchling spends its entire growing up life. Murphy's Petrel chicks far outnumbered the other species. We split into two teams, each taking a sector measuring eight square meters, and counting the number of birds in each sector.

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Char Checking out the Fish

The terrain is all broken, weathered coral in dense overgrowth of cabbage trees. We had to climb over and under branches to move through the sectors. The sheer numbers of birds on Ducie is overwhelming!

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Dense Cabbage Trees Where Nesting Birds Breed

Here are comments from expedition team members regarding the Ducie experience:

Mayor Char: It's wonderfully overwhelming, counting the birds. Where does one even begin!? See the Austen… it's not afraid of us. It just stays there, saying, "I'm not moving; you go around me." There's no way you can capture everything. There's just so many of them!

Mandy: I feel privileged. My senses were overwhelmed by the colors of the lagoon and the intensity of the light that seemed to produce colors and shades that my eyes were having trouble interpreting. I imagine there are few places on earth with such brilliance.

Michele: It's a display of nature in abundance, without any threat to their existence. Ducie is a rat-free atoll, and there are no natural predators here.

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The BRUV Team heading out

Ryan: I love every bit of it! I would come here every day. The diving is so beautiful! This has been a great opportunity. I'm really tired now, and all I can think about is sleeping; but, the work has been so worthwhile! I saw my first Putuputu (Murphy's Petrel). That was cool.

Kimiora: It's very nice. Just being able to see the islands. It's been very hard work, but at the end of the day, its all worth it. Waking up, knowing I have to do it again. It's a new experience for me, and it has all been worth the effort. The sharks! So many of them!

Steve: It's been a really interesting and enjoyable experience; especially because we have not had the opportunity to do this research ourselves before; and, we are doing something to benefit all of us and the uniqueness of our islands. It has been 50 years ago since I visited Ducie for the first time.

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Nesting Chick

Bren: I'll have a coffee, please, and...(laughter) For me, it's my third time to Ducie. I've enjoyed doing the sea work; but, today, having the day off, it was lovely to go ashore and walk down Memory Lane. Campsite was empty of Ungas; but, full of Putuputus. Tautama Gold duncan now is the home for a new Putuputu. Olive's stack of firewood is still there. The cod hole - was good to have a look in there again with a proper camera. Walking along and diving again on the coral towers in the lagoon, was great to see again. Bird life hasn't changed; but there were more Boobies and Gannets out on the coral beach in 2001 than what was observed today. It was great fun to see my nephew (Ryan) doing all the different things and learning about the new experiences. Second memory was the new memorial to the wreck of the Acadia, which was erected in 2015 by Jack Grove and team to replace the one originally erected in 1990, the year of Pitcairn's Bi-centenary. That's my trip down Memory Lane. This trip has been good; the weather has been in our favor. It's been nice.

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There is an abundance of fish in the Lagoon of Ducie

Shawn: Shawn is sequestered in his cabin, downloading drone footage.

Mark: Humpback Whales. Sharks. Plentiful bird life. Cooperative weather. Good company. The expedition couldn't be going any better.

Marie: It's been the trip of a lifetime, working with everyone on this scientific expedition. Very fortunate to get to visit such beautiful islands that many others may never get to see. So happy to be here. Great experience! Everybody's working so hard; everyone's so tired; but the camaraderie has been great!

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On Ducie, most birds next on the ground, free of predators.

Me… how privileged are we to be able to play our part in the conservation of our beautiful Ducie.
Catch ya tomorrow.

Mel’s Daily Blog - Day 5, Posted September 10th 2021

At Sea
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Sunset at Ducie

So much for the early morning wake up call “All ashore who’s going ashore!” Can’t remember the last time I leapt out of bed so quickly.

Turned out the call was premature. Drifting off the north shore, the passage did not look promising. Swells had built up again overnight, so Captain Aivaris proceeded around to the south side only to discover that swells were that much worse than it had been two days prior.

With 99% of the Ducie objectives completed, there was no point in hanging around another day hoping for impossible to predict favorable sea conditions; and so the call was made to steer course to Henderson.

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Huge Swells at Ducie

Before getting underway, Ducie farewelled us in grand style by putting on a whale of a performance. A humpback whale appeared directly in front of the ship, performing acrobatic movements for a good half hour.

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Whale Farewell

When the ship finally moved on, the whale followed for several minutes. After an early lunch team members found various ways to relax and rest from the labors of the previous day’s intensive works.

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Austen Birds perch on the ships mast as we watch the Whale

We have spent countless hours reviewing images captured of creatures in the sky, on land, and underwater. That continues today. We expect to arrive back at Henderson in the morning. Weather forecast is calling for three-meter swells and gusty winds. We’ll have to see how it looks when we get there for prospects of getting ashore. Stay tuned.

Mel’s Daily Blog - Day 6, Posted September 11th 2021

High Seas Offshore at Henderson

We’re back at Henderson but it’s been a down day for everyone due to uncooperative weather. We arrived from Ducie early this morning to sea conditions that were worse than that at Ducie. We drifted off the southern coast in rolling swells, while discussing options.

Do we hang around and see if conditions improve? Head for Oeno? Or maybe return home to Pitcairn?

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When in doubt… a 1000 piece Jigsaw!

Smart phones pinged as messages flew back and forth between us and home. What was the weather like there? Would they be able to launch the longboat if we returned now? How was the sea at the Landing? So many things to be taken into consideration.

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High Seas as far as the eye can see

These are the hazards of remote exercises. There are no guarantees of cooperation by Mother Nature. Our goal had been to disembark at East Beach; and, if that was not possible, then try for North Beach. Captain Nemo suggested we sail up the west coast to North Beach after lunch, and see if conditions had improved. We didn’t even get to North Beach before seeing just how awful conditions really were. There would be no beach landings today.

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Bren taking photos from the ship

A check of the weather forecast indicated improvement over the next 24 hours; so, we will stay overnight and hope for the best. At dinner time, already, the sea here at south side is considerably calmer than it was this morning. Things are looking up for tomorrow.

Day 7, Posted September 12th, 2021

THE BLUE BELT PROGRAMME - The UK Government Organisation behind Pitkern’s 2021 Citizen Science Expedition.

The Blue Belt Programme supports delivery of the UK government’s commitment to provide long term protection and sustainable management of marine environments across the UK Overseas Territories.

The marine environments across each of the Overseas Territories, that make up the programme, are some of the most biologically unique and important on Earth. From the elephant seals and penguins of South Georgia to the butterfly fish and whale sharks of St Helena, these incredible ecosystems need our protection.

The Blue Belt Programme works across five key themes:
• Understanding and protecting biodiversity
• Supporting sustainable fisheries
• Strengthening governance
• Managing human impacts
• Supporting compliance and enforcement

Overseas Territories like Pitcairn continue to be central to driving the work of the programme since its creation in 2016, and their commitment and determination continue to underpin the programme’s success.

Within the Pitcairn Islands, the programme has also funded a new MPA Officer role for the territory, who will help implement the day-to-day management of the MPA. The post was filled early in 2021 and will be guided by the new Pitcairn Islands MPA Management Plan. Now into its fifth year, they’ve published the new Blue Belt Programme Annual Update for 2020/2021, outlining the key achievements of the programme across the last 12 months” for more information go to; Click here to read more about the work of the Blue Belt Programme over 2020/21 

The Pitcairn Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA)

The Pitcairn Islands MPA is a large protected area and a natural reserve situated around the Pitcairn Islands. It is almost 3.5 times the size of the United Kingdom at about 830,000 square kilometers (320,465 square miles). It serves as a pristine natural habitat to at least 1,249 species of marine mammals, seabirds, and fish.

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Mel’s Daily Blog - Day 8, Posted September 13th 2021

Incredible Oeno Atoll
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Oeno Atoll

Oeno snuck up on us. We weren't supposed to be here for another two weeks; however, with uncooperative sea conditions at Ducie and Henderson Islands, the team took a calculated risk and headed south for calmer waters (we hoped). It was.

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All Ashore

Oeno is like home for Pitkern Islanders. It has been our home away from home when we took a vacation; which, in times past, was an annual event. As kids we lived in the lagoon while our parents fished or did whatever parents do on holiday. Today, I stepped on shore for the first time as an adult. I cried. Oeno is everything and more than I remember it being.

The first thing to hit home happened while we stood on deck in the early morning just before sunrise. The brightness. Despite overcast skies the glare from Oeno white sands was almost too much for unshaded eyes. I recalled the time when my friend Tamo had to spend a few days inside the darkened tent after walking the beach for a few hours without sunglasses. Her eyelids swelled shut and, all I could remember were the adults talking about "sand blindness." We didn't want that to happen; so, everyone had their shades at the ready.

The two boats were loaded with all the gear needed for the day's work, and they made their way to the passage entrance to pick their way through the reef. This was Kimiora's first experience at taking a boat through this particular passage; in fact, it was his first visit to Oeno. Steve stood in the bow of his boat and guided him through and around the treacherous shoals. Well, done, Kimi!

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Marie with the BRUVs to be dropped in the lagoon

After unloading the gear Steve and Brenda stayed on the island while the two boats returned to the ship to pick up the shore party. This is pretty much the routine that has been established for getting everything and everyone to where they need to go.

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Michelle & Char at the Pool

We got ourselves situated in the two boats. Shawn told us it would be a hairy ride in. He wasn't kidding! The boat bucked waves like a bronco, zigging and zagging to avoid the shoals, and fighting the wicked current of the ebbing tide. When a large swell came, we rode it as far it would take us. I believe that one of the pax was scared out of her wits! Then, just like that, we passed the reef into the enormous lagoon surrounding the entire island. We still had to dodge a few shoals; but - just wow!

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Beautiful Oeno

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Mandy sets the coordinates for a sector

We hadn't felt such calm water in 8 days! And, the colors! Oeno's incredible beauty cannot be overstated. What a lovely, lovely place on this planet!

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Adult Murphy's Petral

The two teams quickly set about their activities for the day. For the ocean team all of today's work was to take place inside the lagoon - a respite from the arduous labor of the past week. The shore team set off to count birds. While not as plentiful as the flocks on Ducie, Oeno's bird population is thriving, and we, once again, found it necessary to watch where we step, as most eggs are laid directly on the ground, where they hatch and the chicks grow. Oeno's vegetation is more diverse than that found on Ducie; consequently, greater care must be taken not to step on chicks. Work for both teams will resume in the morning - provided the passage is passable.

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Murphy's Petral Chick

What a privilege it is to participate in this worthwhile endeavor.

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Nesting Red Tailed Tropic Bird

Mel’s Daily Blog - Day 9, Posted September 14th 2021

Oeno

I write after all of the day's photos have been downloaded. The team sits around the dining room tables looking at film from the day's work. There is a lot of laughter coming from that sector. It's been another busy day of hard work with great reward.

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A Shoal at low tide. Oeno's Beaches offer an interesting diversion so ones docent get bored with smooth sandy bits.

The weather continues to be favorable, allowing the ocean team to successfully carry out their tasks in a timely manner. The ocean team worked outside of the reef today. They had the bonus of observing several whales in the area. On one occasion, the crew in the jet boat wondered if there was a problem with the motor; so, stopped the engine.

Then they heard it. And. felt it. The whale underneath the boat was singing, and the crew could feel the vibrations hitting the bottom of the boat.

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The Whale underneath the boat

A short distance away in the Stabbi, Steve and Mark were in conversation when they heard Kimi say, "Holy $#!%" while looking directly ahead of the boat. Not 30 meters away from their boat, an adult whale rose up out of the water, falling back with a mighty splash. All Steve and Mark saw were two giant plumes of water, surrounded by a massive spray. The whale swam a short distance away, slapped its tail, then poked its head out of the water, as if to ask, "Did I scare you yet?"

Shawn said that he has seen more whales in the last couple of days than at any other time he has been to Oeno. It is encouraging to us that the whale population in these waters appears to be healthy and thriving. They will be here for another month or two before starting the journey back to Antarctic waters for the southern summer.

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A part of the Keel is all that remains of the wreck of the St. James.

Shore side, the bird count continued through the Mikki Mikki and coconut palms. It isn't always easy to spot the young but, they are not shy about voicing their complaints about our invasion into their territory. It is the most disconcerting thing to hear a loud squawk coming from somewhere near one's feet. You freeze; listen to hear where the sound is coming from, and look carefully around you, not moving until you spot the bird.

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Looking through the skylight at the Cabbage Bistro

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Looking through the window at the Cabbage Bistro

It is breeding season for the Red-Tailed Tropic birds, the Murphys Petrel, and Gannets, the birds on our list for today. After calling out my count to Mandy, who carried the clipboard and kept the tally this morning, my tongue got twisted as I called out 4 Tropics "...and 7 Pretzels." Without skipping a beat, Mandy ticked off 7 Petrels. We work well together.

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A survey marker installed by the U.S Navy in 1969

We took some time to walk all the way around the island, observing rubbish that has washed up on the beaches, and chatting about possible clean up expeditions. The situation is not remotely as bad as Henderson's East Beach; however, making a cleanup effort while the situation is still manageable makes a lot of sense. Another project for another time.

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Aptly named Sharkey Hole. Two sharks were in residence.

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The two boats met us two thirds of the way of our long walk, and took our bags up to the landing site

Mel’s Daily Blog - Day 10, Posted September 15th 2021

Day 10: Oeno...at sea Two and a half days.

We knocked ourselves out, feeling a one-ness with this fabulous place, and a desire to give it our best. Oeno delivered.

Once again, around the dinner table tonight, looking at images captured during the past three days, we marveled at the beauty of this unspoiled jewel of the Pacific. Steve remarked, "There are other places in the world similar to this; but, this one is all ours!"

Five years ago, I wrote this on my Facebook page: September 14, 2016 I had just about decided to go into hibernation until the weather decided to remember that THIS is the South Pacific (OK, so I've slipped a hot water bottle under the covers and I don't care who knows);

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One of the Ocean Teams at work

BUT, tomorrow is a huge day for us - me, anyway, so I'm not missing it. Tomorrow, the 15th, Pitcairn's EEZ officially becomes a Marine Protected Area - the largest in the world (for a little while, anyway). What that means is, don't steal our fish, and don't foul our waters with your refuse. What we have is near-pristine; and, when your seas are dead or dying, our ocean may be your only hope for recovery. Thank you, Pew's Global Ocean Legacy, and National Geographic's Pristine Seas, for partnering with the Pitcairn Island Council. Specifically, thank you to Heather Bradner, Elisabeth Whitebread and all of the amazing folks at Pew - you know who you are; and, to Enric Sala and his incredible dive team from NatGeo, for revealing the most stunning treasure that is the Pitcairn Islands marine ecosystems, and for your dedication and hard work that has turned this dream into a reality.

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Another of Oeno's diverse beach systems. This one of broken coral and seashells.

Thank you for allowing me the privilege of working with you. I may not be fully recovered from that jet lag yet or the endless meetings with Members of Parliament; but, I'd do it again - in a heartbeat - if it was necessary, to protect this priceless environment. Well done, Team.

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Succession underway. The beach that once was not there. And then there was a beach with nothing growing there. Now, young coconut palms, cabbage trees and Mikki Mikki proliferate. Soon it will become another hatcher.

This expedition, and this visit to Oeno, has validated my passion for conservation and the need to protect Pitcairn's splendid marine ecosystems. There is work to do here that is not a part of this expedition. We need to come back and clean up the mess that is washing up on Oeno's fabulous beaches.

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The Yellow Submarine tank that wash up on the beach overnight.

We can't blame it all on plastics, though. The majority of the rubbish onshore appears to have come from fishing vessels. There are, also, lots of glass bottles to collect and remove. But, it's manageable, at this point, so long as we get to it soon. Today, the ocean team pulled a large water tank from the beach. It must have washed ashore overnight, as none of us spotted it while walking around the island yesterday., and it's kind of hard to miss. The tank has been dubbed "the yellow submarine." It is one less piece of trash to be picked up off of Oeno's beaches. We didn't quite get everything done that we wanted to do.

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Leaving Oeno at sunset

We thought we would have one more day here; but, conditions in the reef passage started deteriorating; so, it's been decided that we go back to Henderson to attempt a landing at East Beach. There is still a need to assess the condition of the plastics mess, and to see if more rubbish has washed ashore - more accurately, how much more rubbish has washed ashore since the cleanup effort two years ago.

The weather forecast is looking favorable for the next three days. Knock on wood, we'll get ashore on East Beach this time.

Tomorrow, September 15th, Happy 5th Anniversary, Pitcairn Islands Marine Protected Area

Mel’s Daily Blog - Day 11, Posted September 16th 2021

Return to Henderson
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The North East Point of Henderson knows as "Ships Stern"

We arrived back at Henderson from Oeno this morning. The weather hadn't calmed down as much as we had hoped; still, the Captain made a lee to lower the boats off at West Beach, and the ocean team was able to complete the BRUV drops off of North Beach.

What an exciting day for them! As at Oeno, whales were in abundance, including mother and calf pairs. The team in the jet boat were visited by a young calf, and enjoyed several minutes watching it surface and play around the boat. In a move reminiscent of Kimi's experience yesterday, not 15 meters behind the jet boat, Mama Whale shot straight up out of the water. Surfacing, she gave a sharp slap with her tail, which everyone in the boat interpreted to mean, "This is not a warning! Get out of here! NOW!" And so, they did. Throttle up, full speed ahead! Marie said, when the whale rose up out of the water, everyone froze, speechless. Mark just happened to have his camera in hand and was fortunate to react in time to capture the moment. Said Marie, "You just can't buy this experience!"

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Mark's exciting Whale Pic

At all three outer islands, the whales have made their presence known, abundantly - so much so that whale sightings have become common, and we no longer rush to the railing, camera in hand. That is not to say that we are not impressed whenever we do see them; because, we are. They are magnificent creatures!

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Steve's Catch

The ocean team spent some time fishing in the morning, needing bait for the BRUVS. Yes, in order to accomplish the mission, the BRUVs must be loaded with fish bait. Fortunately, the waters are rich with sea creatures, and locals are permitted to subsistence-fish within a 12-mile perimeter around each island and at the seamount called 40-Mile Reef.

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Steve let Kimiora hold his fish!

It was Kimi's goal to catch a Snakeskin Cod during this expedition. He finally saw one when Steve hauled up a beauty. Kimi will have a couple more opportunities to haul up his own before we return home. For now, he has to be satisfied with holding Steve's fish for a photo. The shore party didn't get ashore today, due to unfavorable conditions in the passage. Our time was spent catching up on paperwork, and searching for positive identification of certain birds spotted on Oeno. Mandy found time to work on her watercolor artwork, impressing us with her talent.

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Mandy's watercolour work

The sea is already calming down, and we are preparing for a full day onshore tomorrow. We have completed almost all of our tasks a full week ahead of schedule. The ocean team has slogged through some uncomfortable working conditions while capturing incredible footage of undersea life around the Outer Islands. I take my hat off to them for the great work and job well done!

Mel’s Daily Blog - Day 12, Posted September 17th 2021

Henderson

What a day! This one was all for the shore party, and what a wild ride it was! We've spent the past two weeks taking on the "reef passage challenge" and today's challenge was no exception. Even getting to where the passage goes into North Beach was a thrill (not quite sure why we decided to go, except that the shore team was going stir crazy after two days of watching the ocean team get to do their thing while we stayed on board).

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Landing at the North Beach, All hands needed to manage the boat

The small boats were launched as the ship hove to outside West Beach, where the ocean was at its calmest. Our intention was to land at North Beach to conduct a bird survey and assess the plastic rubbish condition at the same time.

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Shawn & Char swim , while Michelle gets her feet wet

Even before we reached the northern point the swells were threatening a roller coaster ride; so, we turned and headed westward to travel down to the south side to take a look at the sea caves.

We could see dark clouds building and drifting our way. Within minutes the rain started, and within a few more minutes it stopped. But, with the rain came a wind change. Conditions changed rapidly, and this happened several times, creating calm followed by crazy swells.

By now, we had reached the south side of the island. Shawn radioed the ship, which had been following our progress, and asked them to cruise up past East Beach to check out conditions there before we turned northward. But, even before passing the point, Captain Nemo radioed back to say that the east side was a no-go, conditions were very bad; so, we turned back the way we had come, to return to the ship. I think that we all used every muscle in our bodies to buck the swells enroute. Great fun; but, extremely tiring.

The peculiar weather continued. By the time we reached the ship, and after passing through more rain showers, the northern point started looking pretty good. Michele, Mandy and I boarded the ship while Charlene and Shawn continued on to North Beach in the jet boat. They radioed back, that conditions had improved enough that we could attempt a landing; so, we got back in the jet boat, and set off again. We spotted a juvenile whale with its mother a short distance away, and decided to make a wide berth around them. And there, on the starboard side of the boat, was the passage, looking for all the world like someone had poked a hornet's nest with a stick. We had arrived on an ebbing tide, and the question was, how shallow will it be, and do we go in?

The peculiar weather continued. By the time we reached the ship, and after passing through more rain showers, the northern point started looking pretty good. Michele, Mandy and I boarded the ship while Charlene and Shawn continued on to North Beach in the jet boat. They radioed back, that conditions had improved enough that we could attempt a landing; so, we got back in the jet boat, and set off again. We spotted a juvenile whale with its mother a short distance away, and decided to make a wide berth around them. And there, on the starboard side of the boat, was the passage, looking for all the world like someone had poked a hornet's nest with a stick. We had arrived on an ebbing tide, and the question was, how shallow will it be, and do we go in?

The thing about an ebbing tide is that the water flows out at a rapid pace, and we needed to clear the passage rapidly; which is a difficult thing to do when our trajectory is opposite to the direction of the outgoing water. Even with a 90HP motor, it felt like we were crawling while, at the same time, having to dodge the shoals on either side of the passage; also, there is seldom a straight shot through, to make matters more interesting. And another thing, Henderson, while being a high coral island, has no lagoon. The reef pretty much starts right at the beach and goes out to deep water; so, there is no cool lagoon to enter.

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The Coral Reef begins at the beach

The thing about an ebbing tide is that the water flows out at a rapid pace, and we needed to clear the passage rapidly; which is a difficult thing to do when our trajectory is opposite to the direction of the outgoing water. Even with a 90HP motor, it felt like we were crawling while, at the same time, having to dodge the shoals on either side of the passage; also, there is seldom a straight shot through, to make matters more interesting. And another thing, Henderson, while being a high coral island, has no lagoon. The reef pretty much starts right at the beach and goes out to deep water; so, there is no cool lagoon to enter.
We went in.

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Lots of Gannets with Young at North Beach

There had been much anticipation of the North Beach - it being "the" known place to see birds. We were looking forward to spotting the Henderson Fruit Dove, the Lorikeet, and - above all - the flightless Crake, aka: the Chicken Bird. Alas, while seabirds were in abundance, very few land birds were observed. Only one Lorikeet was spotted, and none of the Fruit Doves or Crakes were in evidence. After three landings on Henderson, just one Fruit Dove, two Stephens Lorikeets, and zero Crakes were spotted. What a disappointment!

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Frigate Birds were in abundance in the air

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We found a merman on the North Beach

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…er, mermaid??? Ryan taking a well-earned break from handling the BRUVs

We picked up some rubbish, making a pile to be collected at another time. Here, the worst offenders were plastic beverage bottles and assorted fishing gear; and, while some items were, no doubt, lost overboard during bad sea conditions, certainly, there can be no excuse for beverage bottles being tossed overboard. What a frustration to find this mess!

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Rubbish we picked up, waiting to be collected on a later expedition.

Because of the unpredictable weather, our time on shore was limited to less than two hours. With our hearts pounding, we made it safely through the passage to deep water, where we stopped and some of our team jumped overboard for a wee swim and to wash off any sand still clinging to shoes or clothes. I think they were just happy and relieved to be on this side of the passage!

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Mark, Shawn & Ryan take a swim after clearing the passage

We have one more sleep and one more opportunity to drop BRUVs on the east side before we head for home tomorrow afternoon.

Oh, and, one more blog after this one...

Mel’s Daily Blog - Day 13, Posted September 18th 2021

Henderson...at sea Whew! Done! Mission accomplished!
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East Beach, A closer look.

Today was another all-ocean team day. They were finally able to make the last eight BRUV drops off the east coast, even making a brief landing at East Beach, where solar powered cameras were retrieved. These cameras were installed during the 2019 plastics cleanup campaign.

The team noted that more plastics had washed up on the beach; though, nothing like the numbers prior to the cleanup. They also noted that the bags of rubbish collected by the cleanup campaign were still intact and in place where they were left two years ago.

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Henderson Green Turtle

The team observed 4 Green Turtles swimming in the coral shoals just offshore from East Beach. This beach is an important breeding site for Green Turtles, and is all the more reason for doing whatever it takes to restore the beach to a near-pristine condition.

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Preparing rope for the last drop

Our ship shadowed the boats at a healthy distance off-shore. From the deck, using binoculars, we could see the new debris accumulation since the clean-up operation in 2019. It is hoped that removal of the debris will take place sometime in the near future.

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East Beach

This Blue Belt Expedition has been an incredible exercise! Not only have we proven that we can do what the science research community required of us, but that we did it efficiently and completed the assignments in more than a timely fashion. We worked with and around the weather, everyone adapting to changing conditions, as necessary. The experience gained by all of us is invaluable and never to be forgotten. We and look forward to participating in future expeditions of this nature, in a bid to preserve the wonder that is The Pitcairn Islands Marine Protected Area

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Sea Caves, North Coast

To see the avian-filled habitats and the thriving top predators of the lagoon at Ducie; the avian-filled skies and the incredible marine life at Henderson; the stunning beauty of Oeno Atoll with its healthy bird population; and the magnificent Humpback Whale presence at all three of our outer islands, has left lasting and positive impressions on each of us.

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Sunset Bow over Henderson

The take-a-way from all of this, for me, is that the decision of the Pitcairn Island Council to seek protection for our marine environment was absolutely the right call to make. Protecting and preserving our marine bounty is a privilege and an honor.

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The Expeditions last Sunset

We return to our beautiful island home of Pitcairn in the morning. Before signing off, I want to take this opportunity to recognize each member of the expedition team for the excellent performance over the past two weeks. The Ocean Team (in alphabetical order): Brenda, Kimiora, Marie, Mark, Ryan, Shawn, and Steve; and, the Shore Team: Charlene, Mandy, Melva, and Michele. And, of course, Captain Aivaras and the great crew of our passenger/supply vessel Silver Supporter. Well done, TEAMs!

Thank you, readers and followers, for being part of our adventure.

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Pitcairn - There's no place like home!

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