17 November, 2012

Epic Bluewater Whale Shark Encounter

Figured this would make as good a first post-reboot... post... as any. We'll get this up on the Rock & Reef channel soon, but it's currently available on my old YouTube account as well.

A group of friends and I got the rare chance to swim with a very friendly (and large!) Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus) while enjoying a long-range South Kona dive charter with Kona Diving Company. Herein, your humble host decides to shut up and let this magnificent fish speak for itself.

 This is the raw footage -- I was not intending to shoot video that day an only had a dome port equipped GoPro at hand, so there are some underwater focus issues, but it was certainly better than not getting the shot at all!

Blog reboot:

Oh hell. One real post, and two years of nothing to follow. Shall we try this again?
We'll go for a reboot here in the next few days... looking forward to more outings to share in the coming year, but in the meantime we'll have quite a few to catch up on.

To start with, you can check out Rock and Reef's new allied YouTube channel, if you fancy a few quick videos of pretty dolphins and sharks, and huge waves in the middle of the Alenuihaha channel.


I'll get another post up soon. Really. I promise.

04 August, 2010

Pu`u Wa`a Wa`a

(Photos are cut off a bit, click on them for a full view)

My, my, but I have some catching up to do.

I knew it was going to be tough getting blog pieces done, but rather thought I'd be more on top of it than
this. I mean, I did the hike I'm about to report on simply ages ago. 

What with the dive shop and the fish farm and... well, the dive shop and the fish farm, I've not had time to get out and actually do much, much less pontificate at length on matters in which I may feign expertise sheerly by virtue of my remote anonymity and linguistic panache. 

But you, dear reader, don't come here to read about me (I wouldn't, don't feel bad); you come here to bask in the glory that is the Natural World in Hawaii. So onwards and upwards we go, speaking of being on top of things.

 A few weeks past, the girlfriend and I took a wee ramble up a deceptively voluptuous-looking mound of cinder known as Puu Waawaa (many-furrowed hill, apparently), a vent cone on the north flank of Hualalai volcano. Forgive my lack of proper diacriticals, but they're damn'd cumbersome when typing. I'll just pull a Timothy Dexter and leave you a bunch of them here so you "may salt an pepper them as you please":  `````````------.

The Puu is the main eruption site for one of the largest-volume flows on the island. At roughly 900 feet thick, the Puu Waa Waa/Puu Anahulu flow consists of some 5.5 cubic kilometers of lava. Heavy, man. Around 105,000 years old, the Puu is a trachyte dome, which I gather is a considerably unique feature in Hawaiian volcanism. Trachytic magma is lower in silica than most Hawaiian lavas, which are basalts, and higher in feldspar, potassium oxide, and a slew of other simply fascinating... er, rocks. This (apparently) makes it one of the only places in Hawaii where one could reasonably expect to find the volcanic glass Obsidian. Cool!

There she is, as viewed from the reserve entrance over the hood of the Range Rover. Doesn't look that bad, eh? 
The area on and around the Puu was designated a state forest reserve in 1992, and was intended to be used for "Hawaiian Forest Biome Research". Unfortunately, it appears to be surrounded by working ranchland, and not very well isolated from it. As such, most of the land around the hill itself is rife with introduced beasties such as feral goats, sheep, pigs, cattle and Mouflon. It's an easily accessed parcel of backcountry Hawaii, perfect for a day hike into Kona's hinterland. Go and you'll find native trees and birds, lots of introduced wildlife, and some creepy semi-historical structures left over from ranching and mining operations that previously occupied the site.

After you drive through a couple of ranch gates, you come up to a hunter check-in station, which is where you dismount and begin the hike. Yes, this area is a wildlife sanctuary, but only for native species. All introduced hoof-critters, which can wreak singular havoc on native ecosystems, are emphatically on the menu, and subject to year-long open season. And a bag limit of, I kid you not: one goat, one pig, and one sheep. Per hunter. Per Day. Any mainland hunter could tell you how extraordinarily ruthless that seems on the part of the State, but they're serious about protecting this place, I guess.

Running past the check-in station is a long, straight, and increasingly steep paved path indicated as "Vulcanite Road" on the map-pamphlet available at the start of the hike. This road will take you up through scrubby grassland, scattered ohia and silk oak, a lot of cows, and eventually a decent patch of mesic dry forest before leveling out after a few miles at an old cinder-quarry camp at the base of the cone. There are a couple of other trails that zig and zag their way up to the old mine over rougher ground, complete with numbered landmarks corresponding to informational blurbs on the map. This gives a very national-parky experience. Having done that on a previous trip, we opted for the steeper but far more direct Vulcanite Road. 

This side of the cinder cone was largely cut away for what looks like a fill-quarrying operation, leaving a massive cleft and scree flow behind. 

There was a herd of goats, nimble and fleet of foot but of dubious intelligence, who ambled within a stone's throw of us while we rested here. When the dog noticed them , they bolted up the nearly-
vertical cinder cliff face with an alacrity surprising for animals which had moments before displayed all the verve and incisiveness of four-legged compost barrels. 

Continuing the ascent around the base of the cone's north flank, the trail climbs onto open pasture land with a good view of the surrounding Ohia forest. An old corral marks the spot where the trail deviates from the old ranch road network and heads up the side of the cone. 

There's something wonderfully forlorn about these derelict old structures, something that begs photographing. For all the damage it's caused, ranching has been an integral part of life on this island since the first cows came ashore in the early 1800s. There were vaqueros here before the "cowboy" ever entered the american consciousness. The old cattle chutes and bunkhouses and other such artifacts you can still find scattered across the backcountry on this island, now falling into decay and rot, won't be here terribly long. I always feel compelled to take a few shots of these generally neglected pieces of Old-Hawaiiana.

 At this point, we were getting impatient to gain some serious altitude and abandoned the trail altogether in favor of a direct hill assault. This is not something I recommend. Stay on the trail, it's there for a reason. Our route was extravagantly steep, prickly, and tiring. But the north flank offers some awesome views: 

Underfoot, the spongy open turf on the side of the hill looks like it would be more at home on a Yorkshire moor than a Hawaiian volcano. It gets cold and blustery up here; Puu Waawaa bisects the saddle between the massive baulks of Hualalai and Mauna Kea, which acts as a funnel for compressed wind currents. Unlike the moors however, the terrain is so steep that some of the views give the impression of soaring. 

As we neared the "summit", we noticed that we had committed an error in navigation by striding brazenly up the flank. The Puu actually consists of two cones, and we were on the shorter of the two. Thoroughly winded after our climb, we accepted the runner-up position and settled for a look around. 

On the descent, we came across a herd of Mouflon sheep. Native to Asia Minor and the Caucusus, these guys were introduced to Hawaii as a game animal in the 1950s and have since caused much destruction in the islands' upland habitats. The sheep totally clearcut swaths of land, removing most vegetation and allowing massive soil degradation to take place.  A magnificent creature to behold, sure, but a pest and one that needs periodic culling to keep populations under control. Hence the Caligulan bag limits. Despite this, they didn't seem too perturbed by our presence. 

We eventually came down and around the east flank and joined up with the route we had left behind, retracing our steps downslope as the late afternoon clouds blew in across the saddle between Hualalai and Mauna Kea. All in all the hike as we did it was a round trip of about 8 miles, with an elevation gain of about a thousand feet, most of which is in the last couple of miles. It's beautiful country back there and, while easily accessed, gives a good feel for what the island's mostly uninhabited interior is like.

There are loads more pictures of the area's flora and fauna to be seen on my facebook page for those of you who are interested. Hope somebody finds this helpful, or at least mildly entertaining. If you're planning a hike here Google-Earth it first and you can get a better idea of what I've been rambling on about. I will leave you with a visual representation of the hike's strenuousness, using my patented Jack Russel Terrier Scale of Knackeredry (ranging from "Still Frothing Mad" to "Abruptly Comatose"):

 As you can see, Stella here gives the hike a tongue-lollingly strenuous mark of "Well Shagged Out". 

That's it for now then. Later on, expect a write up on a motorcycle trip from Kailua to North Kohala, and a step-by-step guide to the dissection of a Borg-Warner 4x4 transfer box. Scintillating stuff, I know.

25 May, 2010

Ocean-minded minutes

So I've been writing a series of ads for the family dive shop trying to capitalize on our marine science cred. Education's definitely a big facet of what we do, so we decided to go with an "edu-tising" radio campaign for the local market. Every few weeks I pick three topics in oceanography, marine fauna, etc. on which to pontificate for 30 seconds each. Just now, for example, I've finished one for manta rays, one for the plankton, and one for tidal generating forces.

This is rough. I have the tendency to wax lyrical about topics that interest me and am utterly flat and boring when I'm uninterested. It's also difficult to dispense complete nuggets of informational gold in only 30 seconds, which forces me to pick topics about which I can make simple statements and sweeping generalizations without feeling too much a tool.

Perhaps I can use this blog as a means to assuage my guilt. You, fellow naturalists and assorted laypersons, can listen to the completed commercials here www.bottomtimehawaii.com. Feel free to call me out on any mis/over/under-statements, disingenuous omission, befuddlements, fudges, confusions or other offenses I've overlooked.

And offer advice. And ideas for more bloody commercials.

Thanks stacks,

17 May, 2010

A new blog, then.

At the behest of several friends, and on my own recognizance, I have agreed to start a blog. I enjoy writing, and I'm told that others enjoy reading the products, but since my graduation from UH-Hilo a year ago I have had little opportunity stretch my literary legs. If my langauge for the first few posts, especially this one, seems stilted or overly dry, chalk it up to rustiness or a general lack of enthusiasm when talking about myself.

Because I suppose this first posting is where I should state my interests, my background, my goals, and my intentions for this log.  Well.

My name's Gavin. I am, as I mentioned earlier, a relatively recent graduate of the University of Hawaii at Hilo's Marine Science program. I've wanted to be a marine scientist (of various stripes) since I was about four. I'm still not really decided on what my main area of concentration should be, but while at school I mainly studied marine ecology and conservation biology. I also enjoyed studies in oceanography, and a research assistant position with the island's extension agent for aquaculture, Dr. Jim Szyper. My future areas of work will likely be decided by where I end up for grad school, if I end up going at all.

Unlike many of my co-graduates of the class of 2009, I had the dumb luck to obtain a good job in my "field" more or less straight out of college, and I've been there since. I'm nominally a research technician working for a local Kona mariculture (open-ocean aquaculture) company. It was great research experience to start with, working on sustainable feeds trials, fish health studies, and some oceanography work. There has since been a "major restructuring" at this company, however. While I was lucky enough to keep my job, the former research team is now entirely employed in getting hatchery production up and running. I now raise live feeds for the larval rearing operation. I've gone from scientist to sea-monkey farmer. They swear they'll get us back onto research as soon as possible, but I don't see it happening any time soon.

My family moved to Kona from Arizona around the same time that I came out to Hilo for school. We were all avid SCUBA divers before we moved out here, and living so close to some of the greatest diving on earth has made junkies of us all. It was inevitable then, really, that we'd end up trying to make a life out of it. My Mom got her instructor's certification and the 'rents bought a small dive operation (of ill repute) which we are busily trying to resuscitate. When I'm not working at the hatchery, I can generally be found around the shop or the boat we keep moored at Honokohau harbor. We've got a charter full of recent UH grads tonight, actually.

Right, enough of that for now. On to the fulcrum of this post which is... what can you, dear reader, expect to see on this blog henceforth?

I hope this blog (along with possibly a companion youtube channel) will turn into a running advertisement for diving, the Big Island in general, and topics in science and nature that I find relevant. To that end you'll probably see a lot of posts pertaining to dive sites, marine species, Big Island back-country areas, general adventuring, interesting new papers, and possibly some equipment reviews for you kit-hounds out there. Along the way you'll probably learn more than you ever wanted to know about the vagaries of Land Rovers, rotifer culture systems, and backplate harness BCD's. Just wanted to let you know the potential side-effects.

I think for now that will be all. I've got to get some work done on a paper I'm co-authoring before the charter tonight and setting all this up has allowed me far too much procrastination.