60 miles north of Oahu, Hawaii | 22° 45' N, 158° 00' W | July 2, 2019
Kilo: to watch closely, spy, examine, look around, observe.
Moana: Ocean, open sea
Kilo Moana is Hawaiian for oceanographer.
Science says the olfactory system provides our strongest sensory connection to memory. When I step aboard the R/V Kilo Moana in Honolulu Harbor, I notice the smells first: the unique mix of industrial cleaner, steel, salt spray, and cooking oil immediately bring back memories from the months I spent at sea last year. I’ve never been on this ship before, yet everything looks familiar: the beige hallways, the bolted handrails, the posted safety protocols, the bright orange EEBDs, the red immersion suits, and the strict, bold reminders printed on paper warped from humidity: Shut the doors quietly. Use hand sanitizer before meals. If it hasn’t been digested through your body, don’t flush it down the toilet.
I make my way to the front of the ship, down a flight of stairs, and into the mess hall. Dan Sadler, the chief scientist, introduces me to Joey Daigle, the captain. We chat briefly about my role on board as a photographer and videographer, and how excited I am to be here. They nod politely. These initial exchanges always feel a bit perfunctory, but living on a ship together breeds quick bonds. Within just a few days, we’ll be engaging in long, insightful conversations.
I continue to wander around the ship, meeting more people, and making a point to remember names. There are two Dans, two Patricks, and two Ryans. The burly marine engineer is Blake. The young, bubbly student assistant is Kelsey. The guy from New Zealand is Tim. The guy from Canada is Peter. My roommate (from Boston) is Hayley.
As the ship departs Honolulu Harbor, the rest of the world slips away as effortlessly as the sun dipping below the horizon. Instead of checking emails, text messages, or social media notifications, I focus on getting to know the people around me. My family, friends, and colleagues suddenly feel extraneous. My to-do list can wait until I return to North Carolina.
For the next five days, my energy centers around the people, equipment, and operations on board this vessel.
Within just a few hours of leaving port, science operations begin. Like clockwork, the researchers and crew members fall into their well-versed routines, deploying the CTD rosette, as well as sediment traps, gas arrays, a Hyperpro unit, an opitcal package, and a plankton net. The data gathered from all this instrumentation will contribute to the Hawaii Ocean Time-Series program, which has been running continuously since 1988.
Along with six other people, I am one of the newcomers on board, but many members of the team have worked on this ship for years as part of the. In previous visits to Hawaii, I found the locals to be warm and welcoming, and the folks on this ship are no exception.
In the lab next to the storage bay, Blake Watkins explains the process of collecting zooplankton with a net tow, and shows me some of his samples. At first they appear as gritty, dirty water — then the details of this tiny world emerge.
“This is something so few people get to see,” Blake says. “Everyone knows what tigers and bears and whales look like, but very few people know what zooplankton look like.”
1500 Deck 02
Sweat trickles down my back as the blazing afternoon sun beats down on the weather deck. I place my camera and notebook at my feet to slather sunscreen on my face and arms while Jinchun Yuan, Director for the Center of Excellence in Remote Sensing Education and Research (CERSER) at Elizabeth City State University, fiddles with the controls on his hexacopter drone.
Jinchun and I have two things in common — we are both from North Carolina, and we are the only people on board with FAA 107 licenses to fly drones. We didn’t know each other before meeting on the Kilo Moana but we have quiet naturally become “the drone team”. Yesterday we flew a small DJI Phantom drone to film and photograph the ship for outreach purposes. Today we’re putting the larger hexacopter drone in the air to take atmospheric measurements at various altitudes.
While Jinchun operates the controls, I record the time and altitude at 60 second intervals. Alternating between watching the timer and watching the drone (roughly 100 feet off the starboard side of the ship), I am reminded of how much I love being part of a research team. It’s fun to document the science, but it’s even more fun to help make the science happen.
On the bridge, I chat with Joey. A captain since 1980, his career at sea spans several decades and well over 100 countries.
Originally from a small town in southern Louisiana, Joey tells me he is the quintessential “black sheep” of his family — out of seven siblings, he was the only one who left the area to pursue a career that would take him around the world.
“When I was a kid in elementary school, there was this giant world map in the hallway, and I couldn’t walk by without stopping to stare at it.”
On our final evening, I spend a few hours editing photos and video clips to show the team after the debrief meeting tomorrow. I finally shut down my laptop, quietly close the door to the lounge, and head down the narrow hallway back to my bunk. Just as my hand touches the door knob, I hear my name.
I turn and see Ryan Tabata, one of the researchers I’ve enjoyed chatting with in the lab. “Have you been outside tonight?” he asks.
“No, I’ve been glued to my computer — what’s going on?”
“You have to check out the sky,” he says emphatically. “The Milky Way is so clear.”
I walk out to the top deck, breathing in the salt air and warm breeze. Off the port side, the distant lights of Honolulu glow on the horizon. I tilt my head straight up to stare at the distinctive cloud of the Milky Way. The last time I saw a sky like this was a year ago — on another research vessel, in another corner of the North Pacific. I smile at the stars, thinking about how the next time I see a sky like this will likely be two months from now — on yet another research vessel in the South Pacific.
To see more action shots from R/V Kilo Moana, check out this video: Hawaii Ocean Time-Series Cruise 313