This city has ensnared my heart completely. I’ve been wanting to write about my new love affair for quite some time but have been uncertain as to how to put it - New York is so elusively enchanting there are almost no words. This small island of Manhattan is absolutely humming with energy, it’s enough to simply walk on the streets to be instantly invigorated, to be reminded that we are all so vibrantly full of life. I am so grateful to be able to conduct my graduate studies in a place so conducive to thought and creativity and movement. As hard as it is to stay focused with sheet amount of things happening here (man, is it hard), I simply can't imagine a better place to stimulate the growth of my mind and character. New York, I love you. Already, I do.
A wonderful woman passed out of this life yesterday. Words simply don’t seem to be able to contain the magnitude of my Grammy’s character. I could describe her awe-inspiring photography - photos taken from all over the world that could still your heart, from the polar bears of Alaska, to the cherry blossoms in China, wildflowers in Death Valley, and roses from Huntington Gardens. I could describe her fierce independence - still driving her own car and keeping her own house at 92, teaching herself how to use Adobe Photoshop better than anyone I know my own age. I could describe her astonishing intelligence - accepted to UCLA as a young woman on aptitude scores alone after attending a non-accredited charter high school, and blowing us away every once in a while with her particularly astute political observations. I could describe her age-defying health - hiking daily up her hill and playing tennis until only a few years ago, traveling to China last year on a photo tour, beating me every time at the crossword and impressing everyone who met her and assumed she was 70. I could describe her amazing angel food cake, her smile wrinkles, tennis obsession, love of hummingbirds, penchant for turquoise, her special relationship with my dog Sammy…but none of this would be enough. Because she was my Grammy, and she meant more to me than the sum of all her parts. I will miss her every day, and our family will not be the same without her.
This blog wasn’t intended for such personal posts, but it is largely due to my grandmother’s influence that I am the independent and adventurous person I am today. I feel that my travels, photos, and studies are all inherently linked to this amazing woman, and in continuing to pursue my passions and share them with the world, I will truly have my grandmother with me for the rest of my life.
Annnd we’re back! We arrived in Suva yesterday after a week of sample collection in Nagigi (pronounced Nai-ni-ni) on the northern island of Vanua Levu. And man, what a week…I’m at a loss for words when I try to articulate what we’ve experienced. Coming to mind right now are the vibrant colors of the reef fish - brilliant oranges, silvery greens, pale yellows, deep reds, fading slowly from the limp fishes’ tissues as they wait patiently in their plates for us to process them. The cerulean blue of Nagigi’s lagoon, impossibly clear as the prow of our tiny boat cleaves a path through liquid color. The weightlessness of diving, being suspended in space with the tip of my spear glinting five feet ahead and the mechanical sound of breathing through my regulator punctuating the depths. Life in the village was elegant in its simplicity, everything revolving around those few hours spent underwater and the golden afternoons processing samples. The villagers were among some of the kindest and most generous people I’ve ever met, especially our hosts Nancy and Nyo. These wonderful people cooked our every meal, insisting we eat more than our fill, and made sure we were comfortable and well-kept throughout our time spent in the village.
More importantly, our research endeavors were extremely successful. By the end of the trip we had collected over 100 different species of reef fish, and had observed over a dozen endangered species that we can’t collect but can record as present. The biodiversity on Nagigi’s reefs was astonishing, while apparently not even being up to its full potential. We collected dozens of surgeonfish, damselfish, butterflyfish, angelfish, parrotfish and triggerfish, a handful of groupers, jacks and mullets (which are more commonly fished by the villagers), two lionfish and a handful of extremely small gobis, blennies, and cardinalfish. I’m definitely missing a lot of fish families there, but that’s what I can remember without looking at my field notebook. :) And, like most field expeditions, we did experience a few hiccoughs in the plans - delayed ferries, boat problems, having to take time off because of terrible weather, etc. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned about fieldwork, and not just on this expedition, is to always expect the unexpected. It sounds really cliche but it is truly crucial to have a back-up plan for when things don’t go as planned. For instance, one of the days we were supposed to collect a lot of data we woke up to torrents of rain hammering on our little tin roof, and when we saw the current absolutely RIPPING in the lagoon, all chance of diving that day went out the door. So we had to improvise, sending a few of us into the nearby town to run some necessary errands we had been putting off, and the others staying behind to do interviews with Helen. It ended up being a productive day despite not getting our expected work done, and that day was chalked up as a success. Thankfully the weather wasn’t always like that and we did get to dive in some absolutely fantastic waters (eee!), and collect all the fish and sediment samples we needed.
Sitting here in Suva, heading back to the US in three days, I realize how much I’m going to miss this place over the next year. BUT, I’m also bolstered by the possibility of returning next summer for my thesis research (!), and am so looking forward to what my graduate school experience holds in store - it has certainly started off on the right foot. :)
Stumbling upon a praying mantis in the street, we fall to our knees - cameras up, voices low, immediately ensnared. It starts moving towards Amy’s arm, which is outstretched in hopes of a species to species greeting, and soon she has the insect close to her face, cooing encouraging noises. I keep my distance, perfectly content with getting a close-up of its alien-like eyes through the lens of my camera. We hear a car approaching and reluctantly get out of the street, urging Sir Manty out of harm’s way. This is such a field biologist moment.
Life here has settled into a comfortable routine. Breakfast around 7am at the Hot Bread Kitchen amusingly located on Butt Street or the coffee shop on Loftus, reading the paper and discussing our day’s plans in between bites of coconut buns and fruit rolls. The beginnings of our days are usually filled with field preparations, yesterday involving permitting (always, always checking on the permits), tracking down ethanol and formalin, maps, and liquid nitrogen. Today involving more permitting, tying up loose ends from yesterday’s errands (the formalin quest has taken us on a wild goose chase around various University of South Pacific campuses), and playing with underwater cameras and GoPro rigs. Lunches are taken at the food court just down the hill from our hotel, filled with amazing Indian food and sushi, and afternoon activities usually involve either doing interviews with Helen in scenic places or the tedious but extremely necessary prep work like filling hundreds of microtubules with ethanols and sharpening pencils. Evenings usually consist of more amazing food, lots of laughter and story telling, a bit of down time and then early to bed to prepare for another jam-packed day ahead.
While this time in Suva has been ridiculously enjoyable (the Drew Crew’s ab muscles have significantly strengthened from all the laughs), we are all intensely focused on the prize ahead - our week in the village of Nagnini, diving daily to collect samples, conducting interviews with fishermen and fisherwomen. This is what our expedition is all about, everything comes down to this week in Fiji’s “hidden paradise” (which we were delighted to hear the Suva locals calling it). We depart tonight at 7pm, after one last day of frantic errand running and equipment packing, boarding an overnight ferry that will land us on the northern island at 4am the next day. After arriving in Nagnini I will be effectively off the map, not using internet or phones both because it will be extremely difficult and also for the purpose of fully immersing myself in our work, enabling myself to be fully present for every aspect of the field.
Edit: We are now leaving tomorrow morning at 4am, arriving in Savusavu in the afternoon to head to the village. The ferry was delayed so we have scrambled to make it work and it looks like we won’t be too set back :) Ahhh the challenges of fieldwork! Adios everybody, talk to you again when we have 800+ fish added to our inventory!
Hello from Suva, Fiji! It’s so crazy to actually be here, after months of talking and planning and prepping. The entire Drew Crew (which we dubbed ourselves this morning for an 8k fun run) arrived in Suva in a state of near disbelief, stunned that we had actually reached our destination with every single bag and piece of equipment fully intact. We landed in Nadi (pronounced “nandi”), crammed all of our things into a flower print, velvet-covered minivan, piled onto the plastic-covered seats (think grandmother's house) and shot straight over to Suva, the capitol of Fiji, where we’ve been for the last 3 days. And from there it’s been an absolute whirlwind! Buying gear for the field, checking up on permits, giving talks, unpacking equipment, playing with cameras (two waterproof GoPros lent to us by some colleagues - woohoo!), and planning our week of sample collection. And in between all the important things we have been doing, there are the gems of cultural experience that inevitably occur when halfway across the globe. We stumbled across a music festival last night, where we got to watch a bunch of adorable children do adorable dances and listen to some great music by a few local Fijian bands. We have been eating amazing food as well, lots of Indian curries and coconut dishes, although we have yet to eat any traditional Fijian food here in the capitol. The fish market in Suva is amazing, so many colorful reef fish alongside large offshore species, and whenever we walk through it’s kind of like a collective ichthyology nerdgasm. There is a beautiful flower market as well, and a very interesting kava/tobacco market where we’ll be getting our kava roots to present to the village officials for our sevu sevu (kava ceremony). We’re heading to the village of Nagigi on the south coast of Vanua Levu (Suva and Nadi are on the island of Viti Levu, Vanua Levu is the island just to the north) on Wednesday, and staying there for about a week.
More updates and photos later, mothe everybody!!
Once again, 2:30 am finds me wide awake and restless...oh weekends, how you throw my sleep schedule so. Well, I thought I would share this story my dad emailed me the other day - Japanese scientists have confirmed the existence of flying squid! What the what?! These little guys use their jet propulsion to propel themselves out of the water and then open their wing-like fins to catch the air, gliding above the water for a few feet before plunging back in! So cool!! Once again, cephalopods rock our socks off. In my personal opinion, squid are constantly being outshone by their super cool relatives, cuttlefish and octopuses (or octopodes - as I just learned - an alternative, more scientifically-oriented plural form), but these flying squid plus the recent footage captured of the Giant Squid by Japanese scientists are giving this group of creatures a serious leg up in my book. And now that I think of it, they also have super cool egg sacs! I've done a few night dives down at Redondo Beach and have seen a few bunches, they look like big fluffy bouquets of flowers to me, moving softly with the surge. A reminder of how ethereal and strange the underwater world can be...
Also, I took my new little Nikon to Griffith Observatory on a beautiful, stormy Los Angeles day recently. It was perfect timing, right after one wave of showers had stopped and just before another one rolled in - you could see the ocean all the way from Griffith. Here are some of my faves - gah I love this camera!
Yayyy, no more taking photos with my iPhone!!! Haha I just got this beauty as an early birthday present from my kickass photographer grandma, it's a Nikon P5100 and it's perfect for my (beginner) photographer needs! I've been looking for a new camera ever since I ruined my last one scraping the lens on some coral while army-crawling across a reef at low tide (lesson learned, always look at the tide charts even if you're just going for a "15-minute" snorkel...because 15-minute snorkels don't exist). So I've been taking photos with my little iPhone ever since I returned from that trip (which actually may have had a higher quality camera than my little underwater Fuji haha) and I figured it's time for an upgrade. So, little Nikon, here's to becoming best of friends! And to the upcoming adventures we will capture together!