So what does one need to pack for a 5-week scientific trip, 4 of which are on a sail boat? Clearly I couldn’t bring everything I would have liked. Also much of the dive gear I would need is provided (regulator and BC) as are the materials for sampling and storing the coral samples were to collect. But still, in packing for Tara, I was highly concerned about space, so I devised a plan under the assumption that I would have no access to civilization for 4 weeks… oh wait that’s true. So here is a list of my gear and comments on many of them. Noticeably lacking is a rain jacket (face palm), but thus far I think I this was a good standard list and would have been even appropriate for a longer trip.
Can’t really travel these days without a ridiculous assortment of things that can get fried in seawater and are really expensive. I tried to limit mine to just a few but it kept adding up so in the end it’s just 10 things. Had this been my husband’s blog it would be considerably more, so I am feeling smug.
- Laptop with charger. Ahh my lemon Mac lap. Clearly I had to bring it but this POS has windows office crash relatively commonly and its key board loves to stop working for no reason…see spare mouse. Had to buy this POS last year when we were in Curacao and mine was stolen by some a****** who broke into our house and took all the electronics and my wallet from the main room.
- Hard drive for backing up all my stuff from Tara and that includes all my stuff from my desktop back home sans my Next Gen Sequencing libraries. So I can work and complete all those papers and revisions that are outstanding….yeah time to work on papers!
- iPad for reading in bed mostly, with many recently-acquired YA books about various kinds of magicians and mythical creatures! Downside…doesn’t help with finishing those manuscripts.
- iPhone which apparently now is just an expensive paper weight in my gear cause I have no service. Will be important again when I return to the US I guess.
- Two USA-to-Euro converters ’cause why pack one when two are better?
- Noise cancelling headphones with extra batteries and cords for engine noise and French lessons. C’est bon!
- Dive watch with the necessary instructional manual because last time I dove in Hawaii all it said was “wet” the whole time and didn’t record a single dive. To the company who made that computer…really?…really really?.. why is that even a setting?
- Headlamp for walking around at night. Shit’s dark in the middle of nowhere.
- Spare mouse for crappy laptop (see number 1).
- Digital camera. An oldie but a goodie. Ended up donating my flash card to the Tara underwater cameras so currently is useless. Hello iPhone.
Luggage and Gear
Like any good expedition, this trip was a great excuse to buy even more kit and gear to take up space and collect dust in my garage and lab for 11 months of the year. For example, item #one was an item I have wanted for many years, but had no reason to plop down the $140 (actually $98 thank you end-of-the-summer sale) in cash for. But hey…I’m on a boat so any gear needs to be water proof and relatively small right?, so cha-ching!
- One super hot and stylish 45 liter ‘Bottomless Pit’ duffle bag from Patagonia (cue hand wringing). Fully water proof! Shoulder backpack straps for easy carrying through airports! Sea blue and oh so shiny! Got a crap ton of stuff in it, including my full size fins, people. Its name ran true as it did seem bottomless.
- Timbuktu personally designed laptop case. Had one of these given to me in 2005 by my father in law. It never died and was still is in amazing shape after spending some time at the bottom of the sea (whoops) and in a cooler filled with fish (double whoops). So this last year I got a new one that I designed myself. Note to future buyers, go with the Velcro covers…my clothes and my couch are destroyed.
- Mask, fins, booties, and gardening gloves for diving. While most the gear is provided, I’m just not comfortable diving without these very personal items. I like to know that I won’t have a leaky and foggy mask or weak-ass fins that are gonna give me leg cramps or worse fall off in any current.
- 3mm Scuba Pro wetsuit. Had to get a new one after 7 years of wearing the other one and constantly complaining that I needed a new one cause mine was jacked from hundreds of hours underwater. Now I can’t complain about it, right Ryan and Deron?
- Two pairs sunnies (sunglasses, mate), croakies (to keep said glasses on neck or afloat), and a case to store them in the event I throw something on them or have my bag unceremoniously thrown on the boat.
- 1 pair eye glasses that if they break I’m screwed.
- Mechanical pencils and sharpies (required science gear).
- Blue nitrile gloves (see above parenthetical statement).
- Hair brush and many hair ties to lose in the ocean (ladies and dudes with man buns you know what I am talking about).
- As Zapphoid recommends, 1 towel to dry oneself and double as a blanket and other things (see Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy).
- Sunscreen for keeping the cancer at bay.
- Hippie biodegradable toothpaste for keeping the bad breath and cavities at bay…tastes horrible.
- Face lotion, which I probably won’t use till Moorea.
- Lip balm.
- A thousand kinds of decongestant and anti-diarrhea meds cause well…the tropics…see section on viral diseases below.
- Body lotion, which in retrospect is likely unnecessary given the humidity.
- 5 pairs Patagonia travel chonies (underpants, gringos) which are washable and easily dried. Don’t travel without these ladies.
- 3 swim suits, two of which are Patagonia-made and they should sponsor me ’cause I buy all their stuff and even though the stuff’s expensive it’s really worth it. I buy the same damn swim suit every field season and it rocks for serious underwater work. No messy or uncomfortable straps and can take my hard wear and tear.
- 5 t-shirts (probably too many).
- 3 tank tops (ditto).
- 3 pairs of shorts: 1 nice, 1 water use, 1 for daily wear.
- 2 pants: 1 nice for meeting with important people, 1 for cool nights and morning.
- 1 pair of tights. I found that traveling in these is very comfortable, warm, and easy.
- 1 skirt for fancy night and attempting to look respectful…probably failing.
- 2 long-sleeved technical fabric shirts for cool nights and bug repellent.
- 1 Patagonia R-1 technical fleece jacket. Have worn everyday since I got here.
- 1 old manky Stanford sweatshirt. Can’t go anywhere without this baby, even though its older than most of you reading this blog. My dad bought it for me in 1998 when I got into Stanford for graduate school. It’s like my safety blanket and has been to every continent sans Antarctica with me. Many photos of me in the field show me in this POS. It’s ripped to shreds at the cuffs and is not warm at all anymore, but it does serve as a shield from the tropical cold after a dive and keeps the mossies (mosquitos, people), sand flies, and other nasties that want a piece of me from getting a bite.
Scientific tangent: Zika virus
Since I am a scientist that studies viruses, perhaps this blog should have something useful in it. So here’s an educational tangent, about Zika. Zika virus is one of the diseases that I aim to prevent by wearing long shirts and pants while working in the tropics. I’ve already got a few tropical diseases (amoebic dysentery being the most recent and wow did that suck) but for the most part have been lucky. Yet many researchers who travel to and of course the people who live in the areas we work are exposed to many serious tropical viral diseases, the most currently notorious of which is Zika virus. Zika is an arbovirus in the viral family Flaviviridae that includes Dengue and West Nile.
Zika virus was originally discovered in African monkeys in the 1940’s by people looking for Yellow Fever. Although all the most recent discussions of Zika have focused on Brazil, and although the origin of the disease is Africa in where there were small outbreaks since the 1950’s, the first major Zika outbreak was on the island of Yap in the South Pacific in the late 1990’s where it infected a large majority of the inhabitants. Since I don’t have access to the internet I can’t give you any numbers; clearly I’ve become too dependent on Wikipedia. But this major outbreak outside of Africa was probably due to transmission of the virus from its native African mosquito (Aedes egypti) to other more urban-style and broadly prevalent mosquitos like Aedes albopictus.
But the second outbreak was in Moorea, the French Polynesian island that Tara will land at in October and where my lab’s recent research on coral reef viruses and bacteria is focused. When the outbreak occurred in Moorea, it was first thought to be a nasty strain of dengue fever or West Nile, two other mosquito borne viral diseases with the similar symptoms of high fever, rash, and severe nerve and joint pain. Again, like on Yap, a large portion of the population got the disease in Moorea, and it was severe enough that people sought treatment at the local hospital, which was overwhelmed. It wasn’t until the 2015 Brazilian outbreak that people realized in retrospect that the outbreak in Moorea was not dengue.
Effects and Treatment of Zika
Two major complications of this nasty disease are birth defects and neurological issues that are long-lasting. One of the researchers I met in Moorea had been afflicted with the virus in 2009 (I think) and she still suffers from partial paralysis in her left leg. My cousin in Dominican Republic got a similar symptom from West Nile. This is symptom is called Guillain-Barré (French pronunciation) disease and includes a variety of neurological signs and symptoms. For those who are curious, a sign of a disease is something that is visual like a rash, but a symptom is something that is recorded like fatigue or malaise. Anyways, remember, at the time of the Moorea outbreak, Zika was not rediscovered yet and so data were not taken on the number of children and adults or their signs and symptoms that were associated with this outbreak. But just last year, however, the World Health Organization started using the local doctors on French Polynesia to determine if the outbreak then also caused an outbreak of microcephaly in Moorea and Yap as it has been shown in Brazil. Since the population of these small Polynesian islands is very low, the doctors generally know almost all the local residents, so this kind of work can be done. To my knowledge it is unclear what the results of these outbreaks were in those two islands, but based on the 4 different and very large signs I saw at the Easter Island airport, it’s very clear people are concerned here. And they should be, as this new disease can be very serious to adults and pregnant mothers. Scientist have also found that it can be transmitted in bodily fluids such as blood and also sexually transmitted. Research on Zika has been very fast paced, and just recently a receptor that is unique to the virus was discovered, so hopefully we’ll have a vaccine soon. At the same time, methods to prevent spread of the virus have been using symbiotic bacteria that infect the mosquitos has not only been developed but actually used in urban areas in USA. However, taking personal protections to prevent breeding of and bites from mossies are the most essential way to keep Zika at bay.