On the weekend of the 14th and 15th of September, Stephen Lyon (Founder and Director of PICI), Shaun Gilmour (Expedition Leader), and Mareike Sudek (Chief Scientist) flew to Aitutaki to scope out the logistics for the upcoming Aitutaki Lagoon Monitoring Project (ALMP) expedition. Here’s what Mareike had to say about their trip!
On our first morning, we met up with Richard Story, field station manager for the Ministry of Marine Resources, who was so kind to point out the locations of Ra’ui (traditional no-take areas) in the lagoon. We also met with the Mayor of Aitutaki, to introduce Mareike and Shaun, and then continued on to Aitutaki SCUBA to talk to Neil Mitchel about logistics of the dive operations.
In the afternoon, we hired a boat from The Boat Shed and drove out to the beautiful motu Akaiami where Gina’s Garden Lodge is located – which will be the base of the ALMP volunteers. The owners Tutai and Des greeted us on our arrival and gave us a tour of the facilities.
They are a wonderful, friendly couple, and after Tutai quickly and effortlessly opened a fresh nu (young coconut) for us, she topped it all off with delicious sandwiches and a fresh papaya for lunch! Shaun was inspired by watching Tutai and picked a nu himself, but his opening technique wasn’t as smooth as hers 😉 I’m sure over the three weeks of the expedition we will all become experienced coconut huskers! On our way back to the main island of Aitutaki, we stopped to check out some beautiful snorkeling spots and took photographs of various fish and corals!
The next day, we picked up our boat in the morning and set out to spend the entire day exploring the lagoon. Aitutaki’s lagoon is breathtakingly beautiful, and once you’re out there, you really appreciate its size: it is enormous!
We snorkeled at various patch reefs within and outside of the Ra’ui, and we also checked out the giant clam hatchery.
Giant clams are beautiful animals with iridescent colorations – one of my favorite invertebrates! For lunch, we stopped at Honeymoon Island, where we had a great picnic near the beach! On that day, we spent about 5 hours out in the lagoon, snorkeled at beautiful patch reefs with crystal clear water, and used a GPS to mark potential survey sites for the ALMP.
All in all, the weekend trip was a great success, and it got us even more excited about the upcoming ALMP!