Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Iakwe/Yokwe: "You are a rainbow"

This is the way you say "Hello", "Love" or "Goodbye" in Marshallese.  But directly translated, "Iakwe" (or "Yokwe") means "You are a rainbow".

And this deeper meaning says so much about their culture.  

Rainbow over Arno lagoon
After only a few days of being on the islands, you can quickly see how the rainbow has become a cornerstone of their language.  Frequent tropical rain showers give way to beautiful rainbows over the turquoise waters.

Although somehow I captured so few pictures of these beautiful rainbows, their beauty remains clear in my memory.   

But that's not what has really stuck with me from this trip.   It's the people and their incredible generosity.

I want to say "Kommol tata" ("thank you very much") to Tamara, Karl, Cary, Rodney, Tanta, Kalena, Flo, Emma (and the other MIMRA folks!) for making our work possible.  An especially big thanks to Tamara, who was instrumental in helping us make local connections and arrangements!  

Can't wait to work with you all more next year!!

Monday, July 4, 2016

"Majuro Corals" off "Mount Majuro"

Mount Majuro.  The highest point on Majaro Atoll.  

The garbage dump.

Today we went surveying off of the south side of Majuro, near the airport and the garbage dump, and found (drum roll please): lots of garbage! 

Slipper lobster?  NOPE.  That's a used diaper waving in the surge.  Gross.

The scientists at the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority call the pieces of trash "Majuro Corals."  There were some incredibly huge Acropora tables holding on, but much of the reef consisted of dead coral framework.  

We talked to the expert "garbologist" (as he called it), Alice Leney, who helped Tarawa Atoll with their garbage control by creating a bottle and can recycling program with monetary incentives called "Kaoki Mange" ("Return the Rubbish").  

He said not only are there not any incentives like that here, but infrastructure and space are an issue. The US sent American-sized garbage trucks to Majuro, which are completely impractical for the much smaller-scale operation needed on the island.   

People are working hard on this issue here on the island to try to solve these problems.

In the mean time,  rubbish ends up on the top of mount Majuro.  A mountain with bounds.  After mount Majuro can climb no more, they've proposed to dredge up more reef to create more "land" for another land fill.

Most places in the world, we can go about our daily lives blissfully unaffected by the magnitude of trash we produce as a society.  We throw our rubbish in the garbage, a trash man comes and picks it up, and that's the last we ever see of it.  

But Mount Majuro isn't unique.  We're just fortunate to have a place to put it.  For now. 

But the impacts of our rubbish are here and now.

Inspired by the movie "American Beauty"

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Fossil hunt/biking adventure on Arno atoll

Please pinch me...

I must have died and gone to heaven.  In Arno.

On Monday and Tuesday I "toodled" around Arno Arno on a fixie beach cruiser with my local guide Tonta is search of fossil corals. Besides a brief moment when I was chased by a scary looking dog, it was one of my favorite bike rides (and for that matter days) of all time.  Riding over palm fronds along a faint car track, it was basically mountain biking "island style".

Tonta and I rode side-by-side in the two single track bike trails created by the few trucks on the island over the years. Every so often, we would have to dismount our bike or ride slowly through/ under a softball or volleyball match between the local boys and girls.

Then suddenly the thick canopy of palms opened up to a sight of the turquiose lagoon as we rode to the end of Arno Arno, where we spent much of the day in search of coral.   I baked under the tropical sun in the guam dress that I wore out of respect for the local culture, but I loved every second of being in this enchanting place.  Plus, I've never looked so nice while sweating my buns off working in the field ;)

I arrived back to our house just as a tropical rainshower started pouring on me. It was admittedly quite refreshing given that I was covered from head to toe in glistening sweat.

Arrived back to our hut completely stoked and soaked :)

As I dashed under the tin roof, my colleagues handed me a fresh coconut.  An extremely refreshing treat after a long, hot day; the perfect end to a perfect day.


On Tuesday we biked towards the other end of the island along a thin strip of the atoll-- the turquise lagoon on our one side and ocean on the other-- looking for fossils.

But the highlight was definitely when Tanta and I rode down the lagoon beach to avoid the angry dog.  It was quite a work out and absolutely gorgeous. colleagues Simon, Sara and Emma had an exciting day surveying the reef (to say the least!).  They caught a ~120 lb yellowfin Tuna, which Emma ended up helping reel into the boat!  While they were all laboring as a team to bring in their catch, a pilot whale was breaching nearby.  You can read more about their crazy adventures on Sara's blog.

I was bummed to have missed what was quoted as "the most insane 10 minutes of their lives", but my time spent on land was incredibly rewarding in itself.  In some strange way, I was thankful for my surgery, because it gave me the chance to take advantage of the opportunities on land that I otherwise wouldn't have had.

Life is good.  And science is awesome.

I'll have to save the details for another day...