This morning the strong westerly winds that have been making work challenging for both the science and film teams finally turned to the south and began to drop. While sea conditions didn’t ease enough to allow sampling at the more exposed islets to the north-east of Meyer, we were able to get in the water and conduct our first dives around South Meyer Island.
Sam and Phil went sponge sampling on the eastern and western sides of South Meyer. It was spongetastic! They recorded more sponge species in today’s two dives than they’ve seen in all their other dives over the last 11 days combined. Apart from the sponges, there was also an amazing array of invertebrate diversity on display on the rock walls they were sampling. Gorgonian corals and zooanthids impersonating liquorice allsorts were two of the highlights. While Sam was loving the sponge sampling, he wasn’t enjoying the close attention he received from the Galapagos sharks. Although the sharks were probably just curious and coming in for a look, it can be a little daunting having a half dozen sharks circling your fins while doing a mid-water safety stop.
Meanwhile, Tom, Dave and Libby were surveying corals and conducting non-lethal sampling of Crown of Thorns starfish for genetic analysis. Unexpectedly, they came across a section of sandy sea floor covered in giant sea hares. Some of them were as large as rugby balls. Further up the reef, in a large patch of drift algae, Dave noticed an odd looking fish pretending to be a piece of algae. Luckily, Dave is quick and this particular fish is slow. Dave was able to capture the fish by hand and deliver it to Tom who identified it as a Leaf Scorpionfish (Taenianotus triacanthus), a species never recorded in the Kermadec Islands or in the Pacific islands in the region. This find is Tom’s highlight of the expedition so far.
For the Natural History New Zealand crew their favourite Kermadec resident is a bit bigger: the massive spotted black groper. Growing to nearly the size of a full grown person this fish means business. By day they amble across the reef, but by night they actively hunt with lightning speed. They are very curious and love coming right up to the camera for a close up. They can also be quite sneaky. They love to creep up on the camera men when they’re not looking and surprise them with their big fishy grins.