Celestial wonders & swimming with cookie cutter sharks

Saturday April 27, 2013

The latest blog from wildlife filmmaker Nick Hayward as he joins a team from BirdLife and Te Ipukarea Society (BirdLife in the Cook Islands) eradicating rats from Suwarrow – a seabird mecca in the South Pacific. Today we find the crew enjoying the starry, starry nights and avoiding sharks that like to nip.

We are three days at sea with 300 nautical miles to go before we reach Suwarrow. After our departure from Rarotonga we have become becalmed and are now slowly motoring onwards. It’s becoming hotter as we head north and the crew are sheltering in any available shade.

Towing Mike’s boat to Atuitaki didn’t pass without incident. The tow rope parted twice on route, once after dark. Ian and Mike bravely swam out to re-attach the rope. Fortunately, they weren’t bitten by cookie-cutter sharks - these nocturnal predators like to rip a small bite-sized piece of flesh from their prey.

Our inverter gave up the ghost yesterday; the prime culprit for its demise was a simple hot water jug. The caretakers have six month’s worth of food in their freezer on deck. So now we have the joy of running their generator on deck to add to the fumes and noise of the diesel motor.

We are true blue water sailors as we float on a deep blue sea. The rich blue colour indicates a lack of nutrients in the water so we are sailing through an ocean desert. Seabird sightings have been few and far between mostly Red-footed Boobies, an occasional Sooty Tern and a Tahiti Petrel. We expect to see more as we get closer to Suwarrow.

Our celestial navigator Ian Karika has given us lessons on how to identify the constellations. This is an inspiring insight into ancient navigation and a welcome alternative to our temperamental autopilot which regularly resets our course to random parts of the Pacific.

There’s a daily relief from the heat as we stop briefly for a mid-ocean swim. The water here is over 5,000 meters deep. It’s a humbling experience diving into the deep blue ‘bottomless’ sea.

So far no sightings of the expected Sperm Whales - Captain Graham says they must be in hiding. Everybody is looking forward to our arrival in Suwarrow. The hardest time in a sailor’s day is said to be as the sun dips below the horizon. For us tropical mariners, we are treated to a golden-hued display of intense colour. The moon, appearing on the horizon together with the dazzling array of stars illuminating the night sky, provides our celestial map.




About BirdLife

BirdLife International is a global Partnership of conservation organisations that strives to conserve birds, their habitats and global biodiversity, working with people towards sustainability in the use of natural resources. They're the World's largest partnership of conservation organisations.

The BirdLife Pacific Partnership comprises a network of six national conservation organisations as follows: BirdLife Australia – Australia; Te Ipukerea Society – Cook Islands; Société d’Ornithologie de Polynésie Manu – French Polynesia; Société Calédonienne d'Ornithologie – New Caledonia; Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society Inc – New Zealand, and; Palau Conservation Society – Palau. Together they are tackling the biggest threats to the region's threatened wildlife such as invasive species, habitat loss and climate change.

Acknowledgements: The expedition to remove rats from Suwarrow National Park is a joint project between BirdLife International, Te Ipukarea Society (BirdLife Partner in the Cook Islands) and the Cook Island National Environment Service. The project is being kindly supported by the European Community, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, SPREP, GEF and Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, and forms part of the BirdLife Invasive Alien Species Programme which is tackling this greatest of threats to wildlife around the world. BirdLife wishes to thank the efforts of many who are supporting the programme including Pacific Invasive Initiative, Pacific Invasive Learning Network, New Zealand Department of Conservation the University of the South Pacific, Landcare Research New Zealand, Island Conservation, Wildiaries and Nick Hayward. The BirdLife Invasive Alien Species Programme urgently needs your support to tackle more sites and save more species. To support our work and make a donation today, please go to www.justgiving.com/BirdLife-invasive-species. Thank you.