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SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans

July 29, 2018

“Did you see anything cool?”

Sadie Cwikiel, Stanford University


Above: Humbug dascyllus swim near a head of acropora coral inside Kanton Lagoon. Below: a pair of orangefin anemonefish protects their anemone at a reef off the shore of Orona.

4°00’ S x 172°44’ W

Heading and Speed
310° at 3 knots

Sail Plan
Motor sailing under the mainstays’l and forestays’l

Sunny and 32.5°C, with light winds and calm seas out of the East Southeast

Souls on board

Last night we sailed away from our second port stop, the island of Orona. Of the past 10 days, 6 have been spent snorkeling, swimming, or exploring Orona and Kanton. After a group of snorkelers returns to the ship, one of the first questions always asked by those already on board is "Did you see anything cool?" The answer is usually focused on the big guys, the charismatic megafauna that reside in these waters and on our snorkeling bucket lists: the sharks, sea turtles, manta rays, etc. While it's thrilling to follow around giant, majestic rays and to feel your heart beat a little faster when a grey reef shark appears suddenly beside you, I've found that as much joy can be found if I just look a bit closer at the little guys swimming below.

Wrasses, damselfish, butterfly fish, chromis...the list of tiny, gorgeous fish is endless. They dart in and out of hidey-holes in the reef or surround you in glimmering schools. A few days ago inside the Kanton Lagoon, I spent the afternoon snorkeling along the beach during some time off. The majority of my shipmates left the water after the manta rays disappeared, but I was enamored with a small damselfish species that I had never seen before: the humbug dascyllus. They are only a couple centimeters long with a white tail, solid black and white stripes, and a small patch of white between their eyes. The humbugs stayed close to the acropora coral heads in the shallow parts of the reef. Dozens of them flitted around each coral. When I dove down to get a closer look, however, every single one would turn to look at me. They were still and stared at me right in the eye, as if challenging me to come closer. As soon as I or my camera was back at the surface, they would continue swimming around their coral, nibbling on algae or chasing away other fish. I floated and watched the humbugs dart in and out of the coral, their adorable zebra-striped selves quickly winning me over and becoming one of my new favorites.

Another magical miniature fish moment came at a deeper reef off the shore of Orona. My snorkel buddy and I were cruising along the edge of the drop off hoping when I noticed an undulating patch of tannish yellow amidst the mostly pink and purple crustose coralline algae.
The anemone swayed gently back and forth with the swells. Swimming above it and burying themselves in its tendrils were two orangefin anemonefish (the same genus as the famous clown anemonefish). The orange, black, and white striped fish happily rolled around in the anemone, but when we swam closer, they also swam toward us, baring their tiny teeth in protection of their home. Like a lot of the small reef fishes, these two would be easily missed when just swimming quickly near the surface and scanning for megafauna. But if you dive a little closer and swim a little slower, there is always an infinitely exciting world to explore.

Sending love and happy thoughts to family and friends at home!

Over and out,
Sadie Cwikiel, Stanford University

Categories: Robert C. Seamans,Protecting the Phoenix Islands, • Topics: s281  pipa  phoenix islands  study abroad • (5) Comments
Previous entry: The Giant Clams of Orona    Next entry: Swim call


#1. Posted by Wilfred Cwikiel on August 01, 2018

Hi Sadie,

Thanks for sharing the magic of small things on the reef! Hope you are enjoying the adventure and learning lots.

Fair winds and following seas!


#2. Posted by Lynn and Norm on August 02, 2018

Hey Sadie,

Those tiny fish sound amazing! How cool that you discovered them in their hidden places in the reef, and that they came out to greet you and stand their “ground.”

We love your descriptions as always, and we love and miss you!

Enjoy the rest of your adventure!

Lynn and Norm

#3. Posted by Paula&JoeBob; on August 07, 2018

Yahoo! Amazing descriptions of amazing things that will provide a lifelong memory. So happy that you are having an incredible time. Keep having fun, enjoying new adventures and learning about new and remarkable sea life. We love you! xoxo

#4. Posted by Kate Cwikiel on August 09, 2018

Amazing, Sades! I’m excited to hear all of the stories and see all of the photos. I hope you enjoy the last few days of sailing and have an incredible adventure with mom. See you in Australia, mate!

#5. Posted by Wilfred Cwikiel on August 12, 2018

Hi Sadie,

Not sure if you will see my post on the general Robert C. Seamans blog, so thought that I’d try to send you a note on this response to your blog entry.

Mom’s flight from Sydney to Samoa got cancelled…so she now has to go through Hawaii. She will be getting to you 12 hours late. She wanted me to ask you to turn on your cell phone when you get into port so that she and you can communicate directly to set up a time and place to meet.





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