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Packing for a Submarine: John Sparks and Explore21 Team Head to the Solomon Islands

From the Field posts

This month, Museum Curator John Sparks is leading The Explore21 Solomon Islands Expedition. A part of the Museum's Explore21 initiative, this three-week research journey is headquartered aboard the Research Vessel Alucia. Researchers will report periodically from the field.  

The last two weeks have been a mad rush getting ready to depart New York for the Solomon Islands. Fiber optic cables critical to running our submersible cameras are going to arrive late, and a myriad of other essential equipment is scheduled to arrive at the Museum on the day of our departure….

Explore21 Team Leaves AMNH

In September 2013, the Explore21 expedition team waved good-bye to the Museum, bound for the Solomon Islands. The team is led by Museum Curator John Sparks; and includes Dawn Roje, a Ph.D. student at the Museum's Richard Gilder Graduate School; David Gruber, a marine biologist at the Museum; Eunsoo Kim, assistant curator in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology; and Robert Schelley, from the Museum's Department of Ichthyology.

© AMNH/R. Mickens


Although we have been shipping equipment in advance to the Alucia, the vessel we will be based on, for several weeks, our group of five researchers departed the Museum with 29 large cases of luggage containing underwater camera equipment, lab supplies, and our diving gear.

Explore 21 Team with Luggage in Parking Garage 2013

Not traveling light: The Explore 21 team prepares to leave for a three-week research trip to the Solomon Islands, in the south Pacific. 

© AMNH/R. Mickens


After a couple of hours of heated discussion at the American Airlines counter at John F. Kennedy Airport, we are told our bags can only be checked to Nandi (Nadi), Fiji, not to Honiara, our final destination. We are flying from NYC to Los Angeles, then to Fiji, and finally to Honiara on the island of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.

Honiara by Michael Esbach

The Explore21 team flew to the city Honiara, on the Solomon Island of Guadalcanal; here it is seen in a photograph taken in 2012 by a Museum researcher from the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation.

© AMNH/M. Esbach


We meet our expedition underwater cinematographer at LAX and add another 10 large cases of camera equipment, including an underwater RED Epic 3D rig, capable of generating IMAX-quality footage. The flights are long and uneventful, and I try to get some sleep in anticipation of all that will need to be done in Honiara to mobilize our expedition. We fly over Guadalcanal, a rugged, mountainous island, from the south and circle around Henderson Field, a site critical to the allied cause in the war in the Pacific during World War II. The shores of Honiara, as well as underwater in Iron Bottom Sound, are strewn with wreckage attesting to the epic battles that took place here just over 70 years ago.

Honiara arrival Explore 21 September 2013

They made it! John Sparks and Bob Schelley of the Explore21 team arrive in the Solomon Islands. 

© AMNH/CUNY David Gruber


As the remainder of our research team works on transferring equipment to our hotel, I go off in search of supplies I have stored in Honiara since our last visit just over a year ago. It is hot and oppressively humid.

Click here to read more from the explorers.

Tags: Explore21

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