Latest News
For Teachers
For Keiki (Kids)
About the Area
Photo Images
Video Images
Maps and Satellite Images
More Info

You are here: /main/research/NOWRAMP 2002/journals/grain of sand/


Ship Logs

A Universe in a Grain of Sand
Written By Carlos Eyles
Photography by Jim Watt
October 4, 2002

Slate-pencil sea urchin at Midway Atoll.We are four hours away from completing our thirty-seven hour transit. During the night we passed through several large squalls that brought considerable downpour. To the north, mountainous cumulus hang like rejected beasts that missed the bus, unable to catch our wake. Clear skies to the south with benevolent seas before us. Throughout this long leg Jeremy Polloi from Palau and part of the limu team working tidal pools has set out trolling lines with big lures that if struck will have to be hand lined to the deck. It is common knowledge among the crew that no fish has ever been caught in this fashion off this boat in these waters; either the boat is moving too fast or the signature of the hull scares off the fish. Yet Jeremy faithfully stands by the line, gloves on, at the ready, waiting for the line to snap, waiting for Godot. I envy that kind of devotion to scant possibility, he is teased by the crew, but he tends to the line undaunted, full of faith, smiling, saying, "When I catch the fish, then you will believe." I think his devotion reflects the patience and the will of all on this the boat to have the world see what we have seen, and then they will believe. And in their belief this refuge within the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands will get the protection it deserves.

Dr. Dwayne MintonDr. Dwayne Minton is an ecologist for the National Park Service, who was trained as a marine biologist. He is one of those guys who is always smiling, always cheery, seems to mix easily with everyone. I am drawn to him not because he is an invertebrate guy; I'm not even sure what that means. He was just a good conversationalist and throughout this trip I enjoyed his company from time to time. Today I asked him what the deal was with invertebrates. He smiles, he hardly is never not smiling, like he's privy to some grand secret that has eluded the rest of us, anyway, he smiles and says, "Everyday I go out I never know what I am going to find. Everyday something new comes to light. Can you imagine having a job like that? I'm the luckiest guy in the world, and I've been doing this for thirteen years."

Mushroom coral at Lisianski Island. Fungia scutaria.And so our talk begins. He tells me that anything you can imagine, anything that Dr. Seuss can imagine can be found in the form of invertebrates. Before we go further it should be pointed out that invertebrates are animals that have no vertebrae. You've seen them in every Sci-Fi movie ever made. They are worms, they are shells, and they are coral, lobster, brittle stars, sea urchins, sponges, sea slugs, jellyfish, and anemones. Sea squirts, crabs, the list goes on. Their dead skeletons, coral and small shells, comprise about 70% of the famous sand at Waikiki Beach. They have a rainbow of colors and a plethora of markings, they have projections, spikes, and the oddest shapes one could conjure. Their life is as complex as a human's. What would look like a spec of dirt is revealed under a microscope to be the wildest creation imaginable. "Invertebrates operate on every scale from the giant squid (longer than a schoolbus) down to the micro-mollusc (smaller than the period on this page) so it's like looking into smaller and smaller worlds, like a universe in a grain of sand," continues Dwayne.

Each day Dwayne returns to the Rapture with buckets of rubble, and after dinner he and Anuschka Faucci, a grad student at UH Manoa, Dept. of Zoology, begin to filter down what they have. There are so many invertebrates that they could not possibly classify them all, in fact one bucket is a years worth of work for an expert specific to a particular field. They separate and filter, then put what they have in a solution and later send them off to be properly identified. He put a saucer with a tiny bit of rubble under the microscope and I was able to take a look. I really couldn't see anything with the naked eye, just a bunch of red looking twigs. Once under the scope this infinitesimal world opened up and was absolutely spellbinding. Some of the patterns were astounding, designs you might find on say a lobster appeared on an animal the size of a pin head. I suddenly understood the attraction, and how mesmerized one could be become in the endless observation of the minuscule.

Mixed invebrates at La Perouse Pinnacle. Sponge, cowry, coral.I asked my standard question, what would happen if there were suddenly no invertebrates on the reef? Dwayne smiled, "well, there would be no coral reef because corals are invertebrates. There might be algal reefs but even they may not exist without the invertebrates. Invertebrates clean the reef, they clean the sand, they clean fish, and provide food for fish. They occupy every level of the food chain. And, you can't rebuild a coral reef any more than you can rebuild a rain forest or an old growth forest. You can't do it. That's why it's so important to sustain and keep what you already have. In truth we don't really know how a coral reef works, there are so many interactions going on, it would be impossible to tie it all together."

There it is, the reality of it all, we, no one, knows how things work. Really work, the true depth of the machinations of a coral reef system, its all too convoluted. We just whittle away at it, get a smidgeon of understanding, move forward in baby steps, and hope we don't let someone destroy it before we can get some kind of handle on it. With all the work being done on the Rapture and the research that is being generated, we have to go slow with the NWHI and make sound decisions that will keep it protected and intact, always bearing in mind that you can't rebuild a coral reef.

<<Journals Home

Home | News | About | Expeditions | Photos | Video | Maps
Discussions | Partners | Teachers | Keiki | More Info | Search
Contact Us | Privacy Policy
This site is hosted by the
Laboratory for Interactive Learning Technologies
at the University of Hawai`i