After a couple of days of sorting out logistics, we’re finally ready to get in the water!  Because the research dives we will be doing on this expedition are somewhat extreme, we don’t want to just jump right into the great depths.  Instead, we need to conduct a series of shake-down dives, to make sure all of our equipment (and ourselves) are ready for the more extreme dives to come.

Dr. Sonia Rowley and our young assistant Ricky ride our dive boat as we head out for our first shakedown dive.

Our normal place for such shakedown dives at Pohnpei is Palikir Pass.  Famous for being a surfing spot at other times of the year, “P-Pass” is also a convenient 10-minute boat ride through the placid lagoon from NIHCO, where we can tie the boat to a mooring line (no anchor to break coral, or hoist back into the boat) in shallow water, and then drop down as deep as 165 feet / 50 meters in the pass itself to test our gear.

A pair of Orangefin Anemonefish (Amphiprion chrysopterus) nestles in their host Anemone, in Palikir Pass.

Of course, testing gear is not the only benefit of doing these dives.  Palikir Pass is also a spectacular dive site in its own right.  As long as we avoid the peak tidal shifts (when water flows swiftly into or out of the lagoon through the pass), there is often very little current.  The walls of the pass are full of gorgonian and scleractinian (sotny) corals, and a wide variety of colorful reef fishes. Out near the seaward end, we consistently find small sharks and schools of barracuda, jacks, and other fishes (particularly in the late afternoon).

Brian Greene films a small school of Big-eye Jacks (Caranx sexfasciatus) near the outer end of Palikir Pass.

It is also a very peaceful dive site.  At one point on the third shakedown dive, as the late afternoon light faded towards twilight, the water at the bottom of the pass was so still and relaxing, that I was compelled to kick back in the sand and blow “air-rings”!

Richard Pyle relaxing and blowing air rings during one of the shakedown dives at the bottom of Palikir Pass.

After the dive, we’re always in high spirits during the boat ride home. With the sun setting behind us, and rainbows against the darkening skies ahead, it’s about as magical a moment once can have!

Sonia Rowley (right), Brian Greene (center) and K.M. Kaing (driving boat) relax at the end of the day, after a successful shakedown dive at Palikir Pass.

Now that we are confident in our equipment, we’re ready to start doing some more serious dives!