Sunday, November 28, 2010


“The sea was angry that day”, that day being today. I woke up from a rocking bed to the sight of numerous white caps through my porthole window. The first beauford +5 conditions since my time on the Sunshine Coast. They threatened to cancel the crew transfers this morning, but after a bumpy wet ride we made out to the Taurus. Surprisingly it’s been raining all morning, something I thought never happened in this dry and inhospitable climate. I wonder what kind of growth will emerge on the island after a well needed soaking. The brilliant white caps and streaking rain is reminiscent of those many stormy mornings of Monterey Bay winters, chasing parasite infested Gray Whales as they navigated the rugged coastline. It was so cool in fact that I felt the urge to roll my sleeves down, but didn’t act on it.

The seabirds as usual are reviling in the breezy conditions, harnessing those forces born from the interaction of the wind on the sea, in their pursuit of any tasty morsel they detect with an acute olfactory since. The seabirds I’m speaking of are those sparrow sized storm petrels which flutter and dance in the wind as they walk along the tops of the swells, picking off tiny crustacean and fish larvae, copepods, and any other small planktonic organisms that occupy the upper limits of the water column. One Wilson’s Storm Petrel flew close enough to the vessel for me to photograph; notice the white patch on its rump which betrays its specific identity. This small bird is a relative of one of the most majestic birds of the ocean, the albatross; although you’d never guess from its size.

The bird with the forked tail and black wings fringed with white is a Bridled Tern, which circled the vessel for quite a while looking for a good place to land.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

65 Million Years in a Box

I’m now more than half way through this swing and I can’t believe how boring it has been. I never thought I would dislike staring at the ocean for 12 hours, but I do. It would be different if we were doing transects or some scientific study, or actually moving. This mitigation work is just mind numbingly dull. All I keep thinking about is having a beer with good friends and family, taking Reef for a hike, and surfing my board. It doesn’t help that I’m stuck in a wheel house full of LOUD people speaking freaky deaky Dutch…I don’t understand why they need to yell to carry a conversation. Good god it’s annoying. And they keep pointing out the damn turtles. YES, I see the turtles; I’ve been watching them for the past 6 hours. It’s nesting season for crying out loud (which you won’t stop doing!).

On a more positive note, I’ve been seeing more Wilson’s Storm Petrels and boobies. No not those boobies, it’s been weeks now since I’ve encountered them. I’m talking boobies of the Pelicaniformes variety. They are a nice change from the numerous terns flying about around the vessel, diving after fish that leave the shadowy protection of the hull. The highlight of today was a Bridled Tern standing on the flat back of a flatback turtle. At first I thought the turtle was dead, but it proved me wrong after lifting its head for a breath then down for a quick dive. I’m assuming the tern was picking off ecto-parasites, or perhaps it just needed a spot to perch; they seem to take advantage of any floating object out here (mooring lines in particular). It was a pretty strange sight.

I kept my mind busy yesterday by studying some pieces of sea floor extracted from the backhoe dredge. The rocks were riddled with mollusk fossils consisting mostly of bivalves from the late Cenozoic Era, representing the period of time between the KT boundary (when the Dinosaurs were obliterated) 65 million years ago to the present. They are very strict about taking items from the island, or in this case from the waters surrounding the island, so instead I snapped a few photos. Most of the specimens were only a few millimeters in diameter, smaller than the nail of your pinky finger.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Duuuu Dun, Duuuu dun

So I’m sitting here in my usual chair on the Baldur, next to the communications desk. There’s a nice big window that allows me to spot fauna without having to bake in the relentless sun outside. I’ve been watching the flatbacks surface here and there for a few breaths; with mud spilling off their carapaces from what I’m assuming were a foraging dives. I just finished listening to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata when John William’s epic piece “Jaws” came next on my random playlist. I thought this was fitting seeing as how I was staring at the deceptively empty ocean in front of me. Just as the piece reached its climax where in the movie that iconic white shark Jaws hurls itself out of the water at the stern of the decidedly “too small” of a boat; at the moment when the violins began the screeching crescendo, I kid you not, a cream colored shark surfaced not 50 meters from the vessel, chasing a school of fish. I couldn’t believe it…was it irony…or foreshadowing?

As a side note just to keep you in the loop, a whale shark was reported over the radio not far from the Finnmarken (the cruise ship I’ve been living aboard) a few days ago. They are not that common this far south I’m told, and are seen more frequently around Shark Bay.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

An Insight Into Sousa

It’s only 9am and already I’ve seen 20 flatback turtles and a unique sighting of Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphins, otherwise known by their genus as Sousa. The observation was made from the Baldur, a backhoe dredge being used to construct an island which will be a part of what they are calling the Marine Offloading Facility (MOF). The water is relatively shallow here, with a mixed mud and rock habitat blanketed with macro algae and sponges, which would explain the high presence of turtles and dugongs; the dugongs feeding on the algae and the flatbacks eating the sponges. It may also explain the unusual Sousa sighting that had me confused for a few minutes.

It’s amazing what can be discovered with enough observation. I’ve been seeing small groups of Sousa around the MOF area for the last week, some with calves. Amongst the white caps of this beauford 4 morning I noticed their characteristic humped dorsal fins break the surface, a pod of around 15 individuals with at least 1 calf. Suddenly I noticed a golden brown round object emerge around the pod, which I at first thought was a dugong swimming near the dolphins. Then I saw a dorsal fin associated with the golden brown sphere, which eliminated the dugong hypothesis. I thought it must be a Sousa holding something out of the water in its mouth…but what? I have read that river dolphins have been observed holding rocks out of water as a display of fitness to females; but this did not look like a rock, it was corrugated and seemed too large for the dolphin to be holding it up with such ease. One of the engineers who I alerted to the sighting assumed it was a turtle, which I asserted that it definitely was not. I then remembered hearing somewhere that some dolphins use sponges to protect themselves from the poisonous barbs of fish while rummaging around the bottom; and that’s exactly what was going on here.

The adult animal was most likely teaching the younger dolphin the sponge technique. After looking up some articles online, this behavior has been observed in Shark Bay in Western Australia, which is relatively near Barrow Island, but in bottlenose dolphins. As far as I know no one has yet witnessed Sousa exhibiting these same behaviors. It is possible that bottlenose dolphins look similar to Sousa here and that I’ve miss identified them, but this is unlikely. I’ve seen plenty of bottlenose dolphins and quite a few Sousa in Eastern Australia, and I’m confident that the humped pale dolphins with a narrow rostrum were Sousa and not bottlenose. Perhaps the behavior is spreading through Western Australia, and not just between bottlenose dolphins but also through populations of Sousa. I’ve seen bottlenose and Sousa associating off of Straddie, so it’s possible the Sousa have picked up this behavior from bottlenose, or vice versa.

I small scientific discovery that has made my morning, now it’s back to counting turtles; I should get up to 50 today. Here’s a link to a National Geographic article about the usage of tools amongst bottlenose dolphins in WA if you’re interested:


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Chapter 56: The White Whale

Dan, the MMO that preceded me on my first swing, suggested the best way to deal with the painful boredom of standing watch for 10 hours a day over a period of 4 weeks, is to listen to audio books on your IPod… or for those of you who are still strongly opposed to Apple technology, your personal MP3 player. At first I thought he was just being dramatic, how could staring at the ocean all day in search of all its mysterious secrets beneath the surface possibly be painfully boring? Oh how I was wrong.

The turtles grew old very fast, well actually that’s literally not the case in fact they age quite slowly. As I mentioned in a previous post some of them don’t mate until 50 years of age and not because they are hopelessly inept around the opposite sex. My fascination for these flat backed slow moving speed bumps is about par with that of Monday Night Football, expect for the leatherback simply because it’s unique. Birding kept me occupied for the first week, until I became familiar with the local assemblage, which follows from most frequent to least: Silver Gull, Lesser Crested Tern, Bridled Tern, Little Tern, Caspian Tern, Roseate Tern (pictured), Little Pied and Pied Cormorant, Wedge-tailed Shearwater, Reef Egret, Brown Booby, and only one sighting of both the Wilson’s Storm Petrel and Grey-tailed Tattler. I’m of course still on the lookout for any new winged species, but this only fulfills a fraction of my day. I spotted not just one, but 3 Dugongs on my first post; so I can check them off the list. Lastly the Cetaceans, that is the whales, dolphins, and porpoise, on the contrary are always a welcomed sight, but really the only species sighted near Barrow Island are humpbacks and Sousa (humpback dolphins), and yes Flipper. Oh and I shouldn’t leave out the phyla that need not rely on air to make a living, which tend to leap out into it anyways to either chase prey or escape the gape of a predator.

You would think that with all of these fascinating specimens to seek out each day, no hour should be lost to boredom…but it is. Fortunately I have but one audio book on my personal MP3 player otherwise known as an IPod, and the most fitting one for the scene I’m engrossed in; Moby Dick. I picked up the book a few years back and couldn’t make it past the first couple pages, just a little too much narration for my taste. So I figured it would be easier to listen to rather than read Herman Melville’s magnum opus of the great white whale. There are actually quite a few parallels; Ishmael is a similar name to Michael, he joined a whaling fleet because it meant free beef and board with a chance to experience whaling and see the world, I joined the MMO fleet for the same reasons aside from the obvious whaling, and some of the guys even reported seeing a white whale (although it was a humpback and not a sperm) swimming around the dredgers yesterday…very interesting.

Given the book is somewhere in the range of 600 pages, listening to it should chew up a great deal of my time here and keep my mind from wandering too far, as it tend to do. Once that is over, I've noticed that many of the workers use porn to keep thier minds from wandering (or is it doing the opposite)...perhaps I could give that a shot. I'm not exactly sure what some of these workers actually do, although no doubt they are thinking the same about my job.

Note: the photo of the brown turd arching up for a dive is of a Dugong. Not too impressive an animal from a distance. Another note, Microsoft Word doesn’t recognize “turd” as a word; albeit it crude to use in text but it exists as a word known the less I’m sure.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

You Calling Me A Flatback?

I’m currently sitting on the bridge of the Taurus 2, a cutter dredge that is stopped at the moment. They are stopped because the Griffin is docked to our port side and is using their deck crane to unload material off the foredeck of this vessel. There’s no need for an MMO when the dredging stops so I’m kicking back and tacking in the scene with a cup of coffee. Yesterday from the Baldur (scoop dredge I think they’re called) I spotted a few Wilson’s storm petrels flying about, small dark birds related to albatross which have a distinctive white patch on their rump. So I’m keeping an eye out for their presence, even though I should be resting my eyes. I’ll be stationed on the Taurus until the end of the week. They’ve been doing cyclone drills for the past 4 days and are now back on the job.

The Taurus is an interesting dredge. It has a massive drill bit essentially that extends via a big arm off the front of the vessel (or is it the stern I can’t tell), which can be lowered onto the seafloor. It pivots in an about a 60 degree arc back and forth off a spud on the stern of the vessel. The drill bit breaks up the hard material as it moves along. This particular cutter dredge does not suck up any material, its purpose is to loosen the seafloor for another dredge to come along and clear the way. Due to the nature of the operation, the vessel shakes quite a bit. I’m glad I get transferred back to the Finnmarken to sleep, otherwise sleep probably wouldn’t happen.
I’ve been seeing loads of Flatback Turtles, some of them mating, along with several sightings of Green Turtles. I was sure if I was identifying them correctly at first; however after reviewing the photos I’m pretty confident the majority are flatbacks. I also spotted 3 Dugongs from the Baldur yesterday, my first sighting of this relative of the manatee. I didn’t get any photos so you’ll have to look up what they look like. Apparently this is only the second confirmed sighting of Dugongs throughout the whole project. There have been some shearwaters about but they haven’t come close enough to ID, but I’m sure they are probably just Wedge Tailed.

3 days down…28 more to go.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Jumping Off the Deep End

Writtin Nov 12th

Feeling like a small tuna in a big ocean once again. It’s easy to get comfortable with your life and forget what it’s like to take a risk and try something new, and all of the complicated emotions and uneasy circumstances that follow. This is especially true for someone like me who lacks confidence and becomes immediately guarded around unfamiliar faces. And man the ocean really is a big place.

This Gorgon natural gas project that I’ve signed onto is by far the most intense undertaking I’ve ever been a part of, and I haven’t even started work yet. I’ve spend the last 4 days learning about how important natural gas is to the global economy from presentations by Chevron, how they are striving to show that industry and nature can coexist in harmony, how Barrow Island represents what mainland Australia used to be before non-indigenous humans invaded, why it’s important to quarantine all items coming over from the mainland to the island, and what my role will be as an MFO for the next month. So needless to say my brain feels like an incased mass of slop at the moment.

I made it through quarantine after a long search for the correct terminal at 4:30 in the morning, the taxi drivers in Perth can’t seem to tell their ass from the Grand Canyon. Eventually I made my 6am flight from Perth to Barrow. Flying into the island was stunning; the landscape is like nothing I’ve seen before. It looks identical to the classic photos of the Australian outback, dry vegetation caked with rich red dust. The landscape is riddled with huge termite mounds, up to 6 feet tall. The red structures not only house the termites, they act as a storage facility for the plant material they gather, a burial site for fallen soldiers (which are stored at the base of the mound), a nursery for up and coming wood eaters, and of course a sanctuary for all sorts of small mammals, reptiles, birds, and insects that use the mounds for protection from the oppressive rays of the relentless sun. All of the fauna on the island are nocturnal, so I hope at some point to spend some time on the island at night (although they have strict regulations about who is allowed to leave the base). There are apparently 24 species endemic to Barrow, including a small type of kangaroo.

Upon disembarking the plane, we were herded onto which taxied us to a port on the north side of the island, where we were then loaded onto one of the transport vessels the Sea Stryder. A choppy 25 minute ride took us out to where the Finnmarken, a mortified cruise liner, is moored. I then met up with Dan, the MFO that I will be replacing, who ran me through all of the ins and outs of the ship. It’s equipped with a dining area and 24 hour snack bar, coffee in several locations, a gym, pool, spa, lounge, offices, lockers, movie/entertainment room, and observation platform. I also get my own cabin, complete with TV, shower, and toilet (all you need really, although the TV is arguable). At 4:30 I have a formal intro to the ship. I will complete my first day with a rundown of report writing and who to send them off to, assigned a locker, go out to one of the dredgers for a another ship induction, dinner, and at some point hopefully sleep. The boat I’ll be working on is still offshore doing cyclone drills, and may not be back for a few days. So hopefully with any luck I’ll have my first day of work off.

If you want more info on the Finnmarken and other vessels used in this project, try Google searching Finnmarken, Gorgon LNG Barrow Island, and Chevron Barrow Island. I’ll bring some documents home with me too.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sunsets Over the West Once Again

11/07 Preparing for Month of Turtle Madness

I am now leaving the realm of whales and interring turtle territory. During the Mackay coal trestle job, most of the delays were caused by migrating humpback whales, particularly the mothers with their calves as they traveled close to shore (although the majority of the population migrates close to shore in Eastern Australia). After reading parts of the management plan put in place by Chevron for the Gorgon project on Barrow Island, turtles are going to be the main culprit for delays. The island offshore of Western Australia is riddled with several species of nesting and horny sea turtles.

 In case you’re not familiar with sea turtles, there are six distinct species of marine turtles inhabiting the waters of Western Australia, a small subset of what may have been a diverse and wide spread group of taxa based on fossil records. Three of these species haul themselves up onto the gently sloping beaches of Barrow Island each year to dig a hole in the sand and lay their eggs; Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricate), Green (Chelonia mydas), and Flatback (Natator depressus). The other three species include the Loggerhead (Caretta caretta), Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea), and the unique Leatherback (Demochelys coriacea). Just to relate this information back to home, the Leatherback is the only sea turtle regularly spotted off Central California. It’s unique because it lacks a hard carapace, and instead has a sheath of leathery skin embedded with many small keratin deposits (at least I think they are made of keratin, can’t remember what they are called either). All of these species are either considered endangered, vulnerable, or data deficient.

The life cycle of sea turtles in a nutshell

- Incubation of eggs takes 6-13 weeks, sex of the embryo is determined by the temperature of the sand.

- Hatchlings typically emerge at night. This could be due to several selecting forces, including predator avoidance and the reliance of light cues to determine the direction of the ocean (star light is brighter over the ocean than on land, which is why light pollution has been targeted as a risk for sea turtles).

- Hatchlings swim directly out to sea where they develop in offshore waters. They may spend 5-30 years at sea developing before they return to their natal beaches.

- Once sexually mature, turtles migrate between feeding and nesting waters every 1-2 years.

- Mating occurs near shore along nesting beaches, females stay in this area for a longer period than the males. Basically males mate and get the hell out of there; females stick around to produce several clutches of eggs during a single breeding season.

- Females use their pectoral flippers to drag themselves up the beach just beyond the high tide line, and use their rear flippers to excavate a hole for the eggs.

- Clutches of around 100 eggs are deposited in the hole, and the female uses her pectoral flippers to cover the hole and spread the sand so that it’s less obvious to predators (isn’t evolution great).

- Once the female has repeated this process possibly 3-4 times during the breeding season, she makes her way offshore again to feed in more productive waters.

So you can see why there is a need for dedicated marine fauna observers on a vessel that is actively sucking up hundreds of cubic tones of sediment in an area ridden with pregnant, mating, and immature sea turtles. Not only are they vulnerable to ship strikes at the surface, they will often rest for many minutes on the bottom, which puts them at risk of being sucked up the dredger. Unfortunately they are so efficient at holding their breath they are often extremely difficult to spot, since they only spend fleeting moments on the surface. At least one turtle has already been sucked through the dredging unit. If a turtle ends up in the hopper (where the spoils are temporarily stored), it will be my job to go in and determine its status (dead or alive), and if dead take samples for sexing and genetic work of the victim.

Although it won’t just be turtles around off of Barrow. There are still potentially a few migrating humpbacks around, dolphins as usual are everywhere (although they won’t be halting operations for dolphin sightings), numerous sea snakes living in the adjacent reefs, and hopefully some interesting bird sightings.

Currently I’m waiting in the Brisbane airport again for my flight to Perth. I will be arriving close to midnight. I had a blast hanging out at Mindi’s house surfing arguably the best waves in the world. I managed to fit one last surf in this morning at Snappers with her green single fin pin tail. I’ll sold on pintails now, the turning capabilities are awesome, so I’m glad my latest board waiting for me back home is a pintail. Five more weeks left until my trip home, still open for ideas about what to do when I get back (aside from the obvious surfing).

11/08 Highlights of my flight to Perth.

- I think the woman sitting next to me was the zombie form of the mom from “Shaun of the Dead”, I had to do a double take when I had a glimpse of her face.

- Water started dripping heavily from the emergency exit where I was sitting. I figured it was condensation but alerted the flight attendant anyway, who assured me the doors integrity had not been compromised.

- Flew through a massive electric storm over central Australia, one cloud in particular was constantly lighting up like a strobe light. There is almost zero light pollution in the middle of the inhospitable central part of the country, so the stars were crisp and the clouds vivid in the flashes of light. The turbulence was intense at times.

- Virgin Blue doesn’t offer pillows or blankets even on their long overnight flights, and the cabin is as cold as beer from the freezer, don’t fly with them if you have a choice (although it appears you don’t want to fly with Qantas at the moment either).

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Goldie and All Its Glory

I could move to Australia just for the surf, it is absolutely non-stop fun. I’ve spent the last few days staying at Rob’s house and now Mindi’s (both fellow HARC, Straddie, and MMO people) on the Gold Coast. I really can’t describe how good I feel right now, just hanging out with some amazingly friendly and interesting people, eating good food, listening to the birds, and surfing perfect offshore sunny point breaks. I’m currently relaxing, that’s right RELAXING, watching mellow surf videos from a projector. This is the life, unfortunately this will all be changing tomorrow when I fly out to Perth to start training for my next project, but for now I’m soaking it up.

We surfed the famous Snapper Rocks today, on the south end of Rainbow Bay. It was a strange and humbling paddle out. The beach was packed with surfers and community members paying their respects to Andy Irons, who died a few days ago from Dengue fever in a Dallas hotel room. Lilly’s and other flowers were washing up on the beach, while friends of Irons talked about all the good times they shared over loud speakers set up on the bluff. Thirty two years old, he left a wife and his unborn child. It really puts into perspective how fleeting life is, and why you should never take it for granted. What made it all the more humbling was yet another shark sighting, noticed only by me. This was a big guy, maybe 6 foot, slowing swimming just beneath the surface around a hundred yards from my position. Despite the knowledge of its rows of sharp teeth, it didn’t appear very threatening; in fact it was hardly moving. The brief moment of caution I felt flew out the window after a nice set rolled in and carried me down an excellent waist high face, the only wave of the day that I managed to catch all to myself (the crowd was worse than Steamers on a good day).

Yesterday evening was one of those rare and classic surfing moments, where everything came together to make a magical and unforgettable surf session. It was late, about 5:30, and I decided to grab my board, jump into Mindi’s wrecked two seater, and charge to the beach for some waves. It was my first experience driving in Australia (outside of small rural roads), and I’m happy to say I succeeded in not hitting anyone or anything, I had my doubts. Actually I came pretty close to taking out some parked cars and a few pedestrians, it was hard to judge were the left side of the car was. It’s difficult not getting lost driving in Australia; their motto seems to be “keep traffic moving”. Stop signs and signals a rare, and roundabouts and strange merging lanes abundant. Basically if you don’t know where you’re going you’re screwed. After a few debacles I eventually made it to Currumbin, the closest break to Mindi’s house.

I stepped out of the beat up car to find a welcomed scene: a light crowd, 70 degree water, offshore breeze at about 5 knots, chest to head high bumps, a dark ominous sky in the background, and bright yellow foam crests and spray from the setting sun in the foreground….EPIC. As it turned out that the light crowd was full of beginners, so I basically shared all of the waves with another longboarder. So there we were, just the two of us, alternating between beautiful late evening perfection. What finally sealed the deal for best surf session in Australia were the hundreds of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters banking up and over the rolling swell, harnessing the wind with ease as they patrolled the offshore water for food. It was the first time I’ve seen an Osprey flying and feeding amongst shearwaters (it’s unique because shearwaters are open ocean birds and rarely come anywhere near land, unless of course they’re nesting in places like Australia). Life is good.

I will now sum up the breaks I have surfed thus far in Aussieland

Figure A. Currumbin, Gold Coast

Can’t beat the crowds. Not the most popular spot on the Gold Coast, and that’s the way I like it. A bit sectiony, but a nice sand bank from river mouth. Known for my best session in Australia yet. The yellow arrow points to Kirra Beach and beyond to the south.

Figure B. Kirra Headland, Gold Coast

- Rainbow Bay to Greenmount Beach: A long consistent right hander point break. Best at low going to high, good west winds around mid day make for some nice offshore spray. Long ride if you can make the sections.

- Snapper Rocks: If you like weaving around speed bumps (people that is), than this is your beach. Probably best to catch one big set here and let it carry you to the less populated Rainbow Bay. Had some collisions during the paddle out. Watch for submerged rocks and big sharks.

Figure C. Noosa Heads, Sunshine Coast

- Main Beach: fun beach break depending on the sand bars. Great place to surf on a light swell during a low high tide, when Noosa Heads is dead.

- River Mouth: Longer rides than Main Beach, and less crowds as well. Look out for small boats steaming through the surf at the bar crossing during a big swell. They can’t stop and will hit you, so don’t get in there way. Also a place where you’ll find many standup paddle boarders…man they’re annoying. Spotted a few sharks here, but only baby ones. Apparently it can be very sharky north of this spot.

- Witches Cauldron to Little Cove: My longest waves surferd so far. Picked it up at the tip of Witches and took it all the way through Little Cove and onto Main beach. My legs were getting tired from standing. Brilliant wave during a big swell when Tea Tree and Granites are too intense.

- Tea Tree and Granite: Crowded, and therefore over rated. May as well stick to Witches. Hit the rocks a few times here, and got dropped in on one too many times. I’m the one who’s supposed to do the dropping in.

- Alexandria Bay: good place to see nudies on the beach, even though they are beyond their expiration date. A lot like Monterey surf so I avoided it for some variety. J

- Sunshine to Peregian Beach: What can I say, just another beach break. Terrible during a massive swell and onshore winds. Can be a really fun morning surf on light days, actually caught some really long waves during high tide. Good place to surf with Humpback Whales too, we even heard them singing a few times while swimming in the surf. Again spotted a shark here (are you beginning to notice a trend?).

Figure D. Point Lookout, North Stradbroke Island

Refer to the June-July posts about surfing Straddie, some good waves to be had. Cylinders is a classic point break that seems to always have something to offer. Some big sharks spotted off of Frenchman’s, but this is a bit biased since we spent all day watching the water.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Wasting Away Again in Boganville

Over the last 2 days we’ve been on standby. It’s not bad being on standby, we’ve been going to the gym, the pool, and I’ve been watching the World Series wrap up while eating Doritos and Tim Tams (an un American chocolate candy that tastes too good to pass up). I went to go by some hotdog stuff for game 5, but I could only find the wieners. Apparently the buns are hard to come by in this country, what a shame. Not sure exactly why they have cancelled the blasts, but I’ve heard that divers have been in the water trying to clear away some chargers that failed to detonate. Not I job I would want to have; I hope they get paid well.

Just to re-familiarize you with the Mackay job I’m working on, it’s a blasting operation aimed at breaking up the bedrock and allow for dredgers to come in and clear a new channel for charger ships to berth and stock up on coal, which is brought from the mines by train, and carried along the trestle to the ships by a series of long conveyor belts (about 3 km of conveyors in fact). In the photo, you can see the jack up rig which drills the holes that the 24 dynamite charges are packed into. The drill rig then pulls up its spuds (legs), and uses winches and anchors to move off the site where the charges are detonated. We, the MFO’s, are located at 5 different stations; 2 people on the South Tower (where the photos were taken), 1 on the North Tower (to the north obviously), 1 on a boat anchored 1500 meters from the blast site (in this case the Delphi, the limit for turtles, dugongs, and dolphins), and 1 person on a boat anchored at the 2000 meter mark (usually always The Gun, the limit for whales). If whales are spotted within 2000 meters, or if turtles, dugongs, dolphins, or any other wildlife within 1500 meters, the blast is postponed until we give the all clear.

If 30 minutes go by with no marine fauna sited in the zones, than the charges are triggered, and the ocean boils with mud and foam followed by a load BOOM! The loud boom is the cue for the crested terns perched on the morning lines of the charger ships to come in and pick up pieces of dead benthic organisms and any fish that may have been going about their business in the water column above the blast. We then observe for another 30 minutes for any dead animals that may surface. So far we’ve only spotted a large dead fish, possibly a Dorado.

Tomorrow will be my last day doing this job, than I’m off to a different job in Western Australia living off a cruise ship and working on a dredger. So that’s what been going on, a whole lot of nothing. Flying to the Gold Coast on Thursday for a few more days of surfing, then to Perth for more inductions.

Denise, send my photos of Reef please. Congratulations to the Giants, I think I will rout for you next year.