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Back to Marshall Islands
 

Alfredo collecting Neritas
The first time we went to Majuro (capital of Marshall Islands.) was in 1996. Jose, Alfredo and I went to the COA convention and from there to Honolulu and Majuro for a few days of shelling. We found several nice shells, but the nicest was Cypraea cribraria gaspardi. The shell was rather easy to find in shallow water, but only in one spot in the entire island. So, this time, Alfredo and I headed for another "short" trip from São Paulo to Dallas, Dallas to Honolulu, and from there to Majuro.

One of the weirdest things about crossing the date line is that we lose one entire day on our way to the other side -- which we recover on our way back. So we left Wednesday morning from Honolulu and arrived on Thursday afternoon on Majuro after a 4-hour flight.

The weather was not too good, but since we would stay in the water the entire day, it wouldn't matter. Collecting proved to be better than last time - perhaps also because our skills had improved... Majuro is an atoll about 50 km from one end to other, not a single elevation except for a bridge (let's say it is not a good place to be if a tsunami arrives...).

There are no sandy beaches, but the fauna is very variable in each spot. On the first day we snorkeled inside the atoll, and collected some Lambis, various Trochidae, Cypraea, and lots of small shells. At night, we collected Nerita exposed on the rocks, and Alfredo did a night snorkel at the place where we had found the Cypraea gaspardi the first time. The place had been wrecked with lots of garbage, including whole cars, refrigerators, and boat parts. The worst was that they had filled the water with concrete to make space to build more houses. We tried several times to find the Cypraea but there were not even any dead ones. Once more, man found a way to eradicate some animals not considered important according to their narrow minds (who cares about shells?). That place had been very rich not only in shells but also other marine life. Now you can see only hundreds of poisonous sea urchins.

We did not give up and went to other places, which fortunately were still intact, or close to it. People there don't really care about were they put their trash, so some beautiful places have huge piles of trash and twisted metal rusted to the point where it is difficult to tell what they used to be. We are not talking about beer cans, but truck engines!

The inhabitants are quite poor and it seems that there is no public health department to teach them to not treat the island the way they are doing. Many houses use the beach as toilet and wait for the high tide to wash away their sewage. We had to swim in those places -- I am glad we had no health problems until now (hey, my hands are turning blue!)

We collected more shells than we imagined, but we had to anticipate our return. Alfredo and I rented tanks for a night dive in shallow water. We found several species not found during the day, but also forgot that sea urchins were much more active at night. After an hour and a half of diving our tanks became lighter and Alfredo tried to swim down to reach a shell and didn't notice how close he was to a black urchin. He hit his knee on it and almost walked on the surface in pain. The damned black spiny thing is so poisonous that a simple touch was painful. Alfredo went to bed that night after taking pain killer medicine. The next morning, his leg was still hurting, but not so bad as to prevent him from walking or snorkeling.

Then we went to Laura, the western point of the atoll. After 4 hours of snorkeling, Alfredo came close to me and made a sign about his leg. He was having more pain and his leg was becoming stiff. Since I know that any infection on cartilage can destroy it and it is irreversible we had to be careful. I gave him some anti-inflammatory pills and returned to the hotel. He took those pills and the next morning he felt better. We had made plans to go to Arno, a smaller atoll close to Majuro. We started packing when he told me his leg was bad again, so I decided to abort the trip. However, I knew it wouldn't be easy to change planes since flights to and from Majuro are always fully booked; also our flight to Brazil had to be planned ahead for the same reason. Luckily there were two seats to Honolulu and from there to Brazil. Our trip took 48 hours straight back to São Paulo, the longest trip I ever took! I just wonder how we would have managed to pack all the shells if we stayed longer, since we collected so much in a few days that we had almost no more space left in our luggage! I am sure this will not be the last trip to Majuro, even if we only go there on our way to other islands.

PS. Alfredo went to the doctor and had to take strong antibiotics -- the spots where the spines entered his skin turned black and he will have to remove small pieces of dead tissue.

Facts
The Republic of Marshall Islands is located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and consists of 29 atolls, each made up of many islets and 5 islands in the central Pacific between 4 to 14 degrees north, and 160 to 173 degrees east. The atolls and islands are situated in two nearly parallel chain-like formations known as the Ratak (Sunrise) group and Ralik (Sunset) group. The total number of islands and islets in the whole Republic is approximately 1,225 spreading across a sea area of over 750,000 square miles. The total land area is about 70 square miles (181 square kilometers). The mean height of the land is about 7 feet above sea level (2 meters). It was discovered in 1529 by Alvaro Saavedra, a Spanish navigator. And it was named after British Naval Captain William Marshall, who sailed through the area on the Scarborough while transporting convicts to New South Wales between Botany Bay and Cathay. From 1878 to 1914, the islands were annexed by Germany who lost them to Japan who retained possession until the end of the WWII. After the war USA took control and ran nuclear tests until the end of the 50s. In 1979, an official government was established although it still has several commercial and protective agreements with the USA. Language is English and the currency is US dollars. The total number of inhabitants is around 60,000.

English checking by John Wolff

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