During September four staff set out on the RV Braveheart from New Zealand for the Austral and Gambier Islands of southern French Polynesia.

Braveheart at the dock

Braveheart at the dock Photographer: Sally Reader © Australian Museum

Image: Sally Reader
© Australian Museum

We were on board at the invitation of the Auckland Museum, joining a research team to sample and record the fish and invertebrate marine life from this remote region of the South Pacific.

At 39 metres in length, constructed of steel with a 94,000 l fuel capacity, the Braveheart is well equipped for research expeditions. and has spent time in parts of the Pacific and Southern Oceans including the remote Pitcairn Island, it’s even carved its way through ice in the Antarctica.

After leaving Tauranga Harbour we took the opportunity to familiarize ourselves with our home for the next month. With the exception of the engine room and ‘monkey island’ (the top deck of the ship where the ship's radar was located) we were allowed to access all areas and were always welcome on the bridge to chat with the crew members on watch.

It took some days to establish our sea legs, during which time we managed to busy ourselves organising equipment, mending nets, bagging rotenone, setting up and testing photographic equipment, preparing tissue sample vials with preservative and finalising diving procedures.

Mark mending a net

Mark mending a net Photographer: Sally Reader © Australian Museum

Image: Sally Reader
© Australian Museum

One thing about shipboard life is that you cannot escape the constant noise. If not the ship’s engines, generators would be running to power a range of appliances including the desalinator which purified 45000 litres of seawater every day. Some of this water was used for showering, (a luxury after a dive!), which was quite a feat particularly when the ship was underway. The shower room was located through the workshop, the door of which was closed to indicate occupation. We quickly learnt to hold on with one hand and wash using the other. With every roll of the ship a cascade of cold ocean water washed in through the scuppers delivering a knee deep saltwater spa. After showering we stepped through the sea tight door back into the workshop to dress in the oily atmosphere.

At times the motion of the ocean worked as a pleasant way to lull oneself into a blissful slumber but at its roughest we had to hang on just to stay in bed.

At our destinations we quickly fell into a routine: up at 6 a.m. and ready to dive by 7a.m. The fish and invertebrate teams were each assigned a tender (small boat) to travel to our chosen dive sites where we would tumble into the water laden with all our scuba and collecting gear. A second dive was done most afternoons.

After each dive several hours were spent sorting and identifying, taking tissue samples, photographing and recording the catch often late into the evening. Sometimes we did a spot of nightlighting, afterward falling into bed to snatch a few restless hours sleep before the next day began.