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September 13, 2008
A drive around the island
Cook's Bay and Opunohu Bay dominate the north side of the island. Gump station is in Cook's Bay this morning a tall ship was anchored right off the station and I couldn't help but imagine what it was like for Captain Cook and his crew to happen upon this tropical paradise back in 1769. Accounts say that they were greeted warmly by Polynesian women and welcomed onto the island. Today, Cook's Bay is ringed by shops and pineapple plantations. Opunohu Bay is a bit less developed and the surrounding forests are still intact.
As we cruised by the western and southern parts of Moorea, I was struck by the proximity of the houses to the ocean. Most people seem to live right on the water and many houses have small docks where the owners' motorboats are moored. Flowers frame all of the houses and outdoor kitchens are common. The quality of life is clearly high cars and houses are well-maintained and the people seem generally happy.
The east side of the island, facing Tahiti, is my favorite by far. The lagoon stretches at least 300 meters off the island. Near the shore, there is fringing reef, followed by a long expanse of sand flat. At the far edge of the lagoon, waves smash against the barrier reef and life abounds. The small airport and ferry station are both on this side of the island in the town of Vaiare, as is Champion, the best grocery store on the island, where you can buy anything you could buy in an American supermarket, albeit at twice the price.
Preparing for the students
September 14, 2008
A visit to the Gump House
Tomorrow, I will be starting my field adventures on the IB 158C circa-island field trip. Until then, au revoir!
September 15, 2008
The circa-island tour
We all crowded into the Land Rovers there was just enough room for all 25 of us in the three giant vehicles and headed about a mile down the road to Paopao, the closest town. We pulled up next to the local grocery store, Ares, and hopped out of the vehicles to take a look at the estuary feeding Cook's Bay. The murky water was not very inviting, so we did not stay long.
We then drove up the dirt road through Paopao Valley, where Dr. Brent Mishler pointed out several cultivated crops, mainly pineapples and noni. We watched from a hill as farmers clearcut and burned parts of the valley to make way for new crops. The agricultural clearing of mid-elevations in Moorea is nothing new. The Polynesians have grown crops at these sites for thousands of years and many of the plants living in these areas are not native. Still, it was a bit shocking to see the lush green forest giving way to barren ground.
Along the same dirt road, we stopped at a stream surrounded by native forest. Dr. Mishler pointed out the Tahitian chestnuts and hibiscus plants dominating the forest. In the stream pools we saw guppies with blue-black eyespots and orange markings, shrimp, and water striders. Nearby, in Opunohu Valley, we stopped at several marae. Marae are Polynesian sacred sites, usually rock or coral platforms bordered by ti plants, that were used for religious, social, and familial occasions by the ancient Polynesians. The marae at this site had been reconstructed by an archaeologist in the early 20th century and had probably been used for religious ceremonies. After checking out these fascinating stone structures, we continued along the road through the Opunohu Valley until we reached the Belvedere Lookout, the highest point on the island accessible by car. As we lunched at the Belvedere, we could see the entire north side of the Island, Cook's Bay on the right and Opunohu Bay on the left, with Mount Rotui rearing up in the middle.
We returned to the main road ringing the island and continued to our next stop, the estuary of the Opunohu River, where we examined the wildlife on the black sand beach. Most beaches on volcanic islands have black sand, formed from erosion of basalt rocks. The beach was surrounded by mangrove ferns, which can tolerate the salty estuarine waters. Land crabs, omnipresent on the island, were abundant among the mangroves. They territorially guard burrows, fighting over one of their favorite foods, hibiscus leaves. A few miles down the road we checked out the octagonal Ebenezer Church at Papetoai, a local landmark built on the site of Marae Taputaputuatea, an important Polynesian ceremonial site that was destroyed by missionaries. The King Stone, a seven-foot-tall monolith, stands next to the church we all checked out how we measured up to the mythical king that the stone honors. He definitely has a few inches on me!
When we finally made it round to the eastern side of the island, I felt like I was in paradise. At Temae Beach, white sands frame a lagoon that stretches out for at least 200 meters before hitting the barrier reef. Patches of Acropora corals dot the lagoon, containing a myriad of beautiful reef fishes and invertebrates. Since the substrate at Temae is very sandy, I'm excited to come back here in the future to look for my study species, Pullosquilla litoralis!
Night view from Gump House by Jennifer Imamura; land clearing by fire by Vanessa Van Zerrall; Moorea image courtesy of Earth Sciences and Image Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center, photo number ISS007-E-14617, http://eol.jsc.nasa.gov/; all other photos courtesy of Molly Wright.
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