Early morning here on the Robert C Seamans with a full morning of activities ahead of us. 'A-Watch' started early swabbing the deck (regardless of the fact it was pouring rain) and morning chores were in full swing. This morning we mustered on the quarter deck to gather snorkeling equipment and flippers. At 0845, the rain had cleared and the sun was shining bright as S-282 made their way to the wooden "ferries" that were taking us to a local island 15 minutes from Neiafu. We arrived and below us were coral reefs hosting dozens of small fish and more importantly, the Crown of Thorns (COT) starfish.
The COT starfish are an immediate threat to coral reefs due to their size, reproductive rates and desire for hard coral. Their enjoyment of hard coral is extremely harmful because it is the skeleton of all corals reefs. Without hard coral, the rest of the habitat would be decimated (imagine a bulldozer going through a rainforest). These beautiful ecosystems were clearly being affected by this natural predator. All together, VEPA volunteers and our class put our gear on and jumped in. Heads down and snorkels up, we all witnessed the beauty of coral reefs. This was my first experience snorkeling and visting a coral reef! Twenty minutes in, Lauren spotted an adult COT starfish. It was massive. The bravest VEPA volunteer, Vaka, carefully swam over and gently removed it. We all had to be extremely careful and not disrupt the starfish because it has a defense mechanism in which releases hundreds of eggs.
After about an hour and a half, we collected six starfish and started to head back to Neiafu to hand them over to VEPA's office. Thoroughly exhausted we were relieved to hear we had the rest of the afternoon off. It was our last full day in Tonga and everyone is out to complete their last minute to-do's (for some it was laundry). Myself and Glenn made a direct b-line to the local ice cream shop that piled amazing amounts of passion fruit and chocolate ice cream in a waffle cone. At 1800, we were accompanied by a Tongan woman and her grandchildren for dinner. The kids sang for us songs for good passage and sound seas. In return we gave them reign of the wheel for a bit and they loved it! It was such a treat for us and them, putting a happy end to our stay in Tonga.
Hello and hugs to everyone back home! (and Happy Birthday Ollie!) xo
- Therese Ohman, B Watch, Suffolk University