Christmas is Delayed This Year

by Forest Rohwer, head researcher on the Microbe Team

A busy reef scene on Christmas Island. Photograph by Jen Smith.

The wrap-up of an expedition is always hectic. This is doubly true for the current trip because we needed to switch from a ship-board operation to a land-based one. This meant that two days were spent packing up everything on the ship and moving it on shore. First, the equipment had to be sorted into three groups: (1) things that we did not need for our remaining days on Christmas and that could thus be packed into a container; (2) heavy things that we needed on Christmas and that will be shipped home later on a cargo flight; and (3) light equipment that we need on Christmas that we can take back on the charter plane with us, i.e., effectively just data and samples. All of the sorted items had to be packed securely on pallets and lifted by crane off the Hanse Explorer. Then we all pitched in and moved the items we needed to the dive shop or our hotels. My room, for example, is now the water chemistry lab. We were doing well until we hit an unexpected delay yesterday.

The delay was in getting the air needed for diving. Dive Kiribati, described as a land-based live-aboard dive operation, had provided us dive support on numerous other trips to Christmas. This time, though, when they were filling our air tanks, we found that their compressor had been having some problems. Our initial air quality checks failed, prompting the changing of all the filters in the system. The second check showed that the air was good and a set of their tanks were filled. Even though we had completely emptied the tanks of old air and filled them with new, the third check showed the quality was not safe for diving. So yesterday was spent scrambling to completely clean up their compressor and tanks. We also had to dive into our supplies packed in the container and get our tanks that we had used on the Hanse Explorer. BZ, who has done an amazing job arranging the trip, spent 2 hours in the shipping container filling our tanks from the compressor banks that we had on the ship. While that was happening, the people at Dive Kiribati and a couple of our people changed the oil, filters, and lines on all of their compressors. All of this work paid off and we are now back on track. Altogether, though, this cost us a full day of expedition time. We’ll still be able to get all the experiments and surveys done here at Christmas if no great problems loom in the future (fingers crossed!).

After a day of successful but often frustrating problem solving, we did get to have a wonderful party hosted by one of the ex-pats on the island. Henry has a background in marine biology/oceanography and has been living here for 4 years. Last night he arranged to have pig roasted for us and a number of people from the island came over to join us. A great break from the running around.