Yesterday we had our last day of diving. We began each dive collecting samples for a microbial source tracking permit which was completed rather quickly. With the remaining time, we swam around and enjoyed the deep blue crystalline waters of Gardner Pinnacles. Gardner Pinnacles is a large basaltic rock that protrudes out of the water and is surrounded by boulder reefs with very high live coral cover. This atoll was a great way to say goodbye to the NWHI because it was probably one of the most beautiful coral reefs I have ever visited.
Rare corals such as Acropora humilis (the large finger-like coral in the foreground of the above photo) and Sinularia densa, a soft coral, are quite abundant on this reef. I have never seen either of these corals in the Main Hawaiian Islands.
Tiny red and black goatfish, chubs, large ulua, and school of curious Galapagos Sharks frequently visited us during each of our dives.
Diving within the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monumnet is an amazing and humbling experience. The reefs within the monument are the only reefs left that are virtually untouched by humans. I am so grateful and privileged to be allowed to conduct part my dissertation research on these pristine reefs. After spending over 48 hours underwater, diving operations for this cruise have official come to an end. The next two and a half days are spent transiting back home to Pearl Harbor. Please stay tuned for more updates on my research in the Main Hawaiian Islands. See you next year, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands!