May 07, 2018 - National Geographic Orion
Eyebrows were raised, a three-hour tour to the inner lagoon, over corals covered by mere inches of water? As the tide began to rise, our zodiacs carefully weaved their way through the maze of the coral atoll’s inner webbing of shallow coralline pinks surrounded in turquoise blues. Cautious navigations were well worth the journey- we found ourselves at the wreckage from the sole inhabitant of Millenium Atoll, the sky filled with magnificently soaring birds. Though the castaway that used to inhabit the small yacht and little shack left on the beach was all by himself, one could immediately see the appeal of such a life. Fairy terns, frigates, and not one, but three (of the seven in the whole world) species of boobies were gliding effortlessly above us. Not only were we able to relish in the company of these winged beauties, but we were also treated to some delicious ice cream upon landing. As much as I love diving in the rich seas here, it sure would be difficult to enjoy the underwater wildlife while indulging in sumptuous chocolate simultaneously… challenge accepted none the less!
Before long we were back in our zodiacs navigating the shallow channels to explore deeper into the lagoon. We found reprieve from the bold equatorial sun in the cool, clear water as we took a snorkel excursion. Sadly, we found that many of the once prevalent small giant clams (I did not make up their paradox of a common name) were wiped out after months of elevated sea temperatures. A few individuals had survived amidst the limestone columns of coral and shells of the many clams that were not so fortunate. Black sea cucumbers littered the sandy bottom and many reef fish still darted about in the shallow waters despite climate change’s claim of so many reef-building invertebrates. Eager to beat the falling tide, we zipped back out of the narrow channels back to the ship.
The afternoon consisted of more snorkeling, diving, and glass bottom zodiac excursions. How could one ever get enough while visiting the Southern Line Islands? The wildlife so calm and unperturbed by our presence, it is a welcome novelty. Swells crashed between the spurs and grooves of reef as clouds of fishes swam through the crystal clear water. The evening came to a close with a riveting recap, French inspired cuisine, and our one, non-marine-biologist-Naturalist, Dr. Martin Cohen revealed the wonders of working with bats with an after dinner presentation.
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