National Geographic Society Newsroom

Pitcairn Islands Expedition: Account of a Typical Morning

A Typical Morning  in the Life of the Pitcairn Islands Expedition Team on Board the Claymore II Owned and Manned by a Crew of Colorful New Zealanders 6:30 – Get up, it’s time for breakfast. Climb down from the top bunk in the stuffy air and deep darkness of the passengers’ cabins and go upstairs...

A Typical Morning

 in the Life of the Pitcairn Islands Expedition Team

on Board the Claymore II

Owned and Manned by a Crew of Colorful New Zealanders

6:30 – Get up, it’s time for breakfast. Climb down from the top bunk in the stuffy air and deep darkness of the passengers’ cabins and go upstairs to the dining area—I mean, “mess.”

6:35 – Delicious freshly baked muffins are out courtesy of the cook Jane Mills, but today I’ll just take some plain cornflakes with a grrrrrrrrreat! helping of sugar on top. Others enjoy some passion fruit or bananas. Alan Friedlander, one of our “fish counter” scientists busts out his camping French-press and brews himself a cup of coffee. Jen Caselle, the other “fish counter” gladly receives the overflow.

7:00 – A flurry of tooth-brushing, sun-block applying, and wetsuit-donning occurs below decks in the passengers’ cabins and out on the main deck of the ship.

7:30 – The science team hops in a small Zodiac boat and heads for their first dive location for the day. They’re steered by a rotating roster of crewmembers. Today it’s Andrew Christian, a 7th-generation descendent of Bounty mutineer Fletcher Christian, and son of Brenda, who led Mike Fay around the backwoods of Pitcairn Island.

The fish team will drop to 20 meters depth and identify and count every large fish that swims within two meters to either side of three 25-meter lines they’ve stretched out along the bottom (and every small fish within one meter to either side).

The ocean floor or “benthic” guys, Kike Ballesteros and Eric Brown, will go to the same depth, noting what makes up the ocean bottom (rocks, sand, algae, coral, etc.) every 20 centimeters for three sets of 50 meters. They’ll also record sea urchin density, since it is a good indicator of reef health.

“Benthic” guy Eric Brown from Kalaupapa National Historical Park in Hawaii counts sea urchins present within the “quad” he has set down along a 50-meter transect line. Photo by Kike Ballesteros.

7:50 – The film team climbs down the ship’s rope and wooden ladder to another small boat and heads to their morning dive site. This team, consisting of expedition leader Enric Sala, cinematographer Manu San Felix, his assistant Nathan Lefevre, and dive safety officer Dave McAloney will descend somewhere between 15 and 40 meters, to record visually the graceful movements and extraordinary appearance of the marine life that the others are busily recording scientifically.

Their boat is steered by crewmember Duncan Pearce. A former adventure tour guide, Duncan recently spent 10 weeks on a dirt bike traveling around the back roads of New Zealand, hiking, talking to older folks, hearing their stories, and eating abalone he fished up from the coast.

Enric hovers ten meters below the surface, and ten meters above the ocean floor, where grey reef sharks swim around and check out the dive team. Photo by Manu San Felix.


8:00 – Still aboard the ship, I get out the satellite phone and call NG headquarters in Washington, D.C. to coordinate a live conversation between classrooms and Facebook fans with Enric that we’ll have in a few hours.

9:00 – The science divers surface from their first dive and prepare to travel about 2.5 km to their next sampling site. This time they’ll dive to just 10 meters depth. Since the film team is using “re-breathers” they are able to remain underwater twice as long as the others, and continue their initial dive.

9:10 – Clearing my head from the sat phone and laptop work, I pick up my sketch pad and work on Tintin-style drawings of some of our recent adventures. If I come up with anything good, I’ll post it here.

9:45 – I set up my laptop and portable satellite antenna to get online to prepare for Enric’s live conversation via Facebook, and keep an eye on his dive boat in the distance, hoping he makes it back in time for the 10:30 start.

10:00 – NG Remote Imaging engineer Alan Turchik preps his drop-cams, two large acrylic spheres that house hi-definition video cameras that he’ll use to film whatever is to be found hundreds of meters below the surface of these waters.

10:31 – Alan hops on a boat to drop the drop cams, Enric hops off a boat and joins me on the aft deck, still in his wetsuit, dripping wet, with a beaming smile, just in time for the live conversation with NG fans around the world.

Enric snaps a photo of the two of us, my laptop, and Henderson Island just after the live conversation with NG fans on Facebook. Photo by Enric Sala.

11:15 – The interview ends and Enric and I high-five, agreeing it was one of the most fun and exciting interviews either of us have done.

11:30 – Enric and Manu begin reviewing their images from the morning dives. Last night Manu showed us a bunch of his footage with Van Morrison music playing in the background. It was a surprisingly perfect combination.

High Noon – A lunch of hamburgers with sautéed onions, cole slaw, and a fried egg, accompanied by great conversation about the morning dive.

12:45 – Enric and Manu review more films, the science team returns from their second dive, and I, as I have done about this long after lunch just about everywhere I’ve ever been, sit down and promptly fall asleep.

Just after returning from a dive, Enric’s mentor and longtime collaborator Kike Ballesteros sorts algae samples on the deck of the ship. Photo by Andrew Howley.

About National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world. Since 1888, National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of exploration, investing in bold people and transformative ideas, providing more than 14,000 grants for work across all seven continents, reaching 3 million students each year through education offerings, and engaging audiences around the globe through signature experiences, stories and content. To learn more, visit or follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Meet the Author

Author Photo Andrew Howley
Andrew Howley is a longtime contributor to the National Geographic blog, with a particular focus on archaeology and paleoanthropology generally, and ancient rock art in particular. Over 11 years at the National Geographic Society, Andrew worked in various ways to share the stories of NG explorers and grantees online. He also produced the Home Page of for several years, and helped manage the Society's Facebook page during its breakout year of 2010. He studied Anthropology with a focus on Archaeology from the College of William & Mary in Virginia. He has covered expeditions with NG Explorers-in-Residence Mike Fay, Enric Sala, and Lee Berger. His personal interests include painting, running, and reading about history. You can follow him on Twitter @anderhowl and on Instagram @andrewjhowley. Learn more at