Aside from diving, snorkeling, and photographing the reefs, we are also interested in the history of Samoa… where the local inhabitants’ cultural history is so intertwined with the geography and terrain we are exploring. One of the best ways to gather such knowledge is by meeting with people like Park Ranger Jason Bordelon, who, as “Chief of Interpretation” at the National Park Service in Pago Pago, had his staff provide a wonderful introduction before he took us out on a tour of the parklands.

We headed north from the park office to Vitia Bay:

After that stop we headed towards Craggy Point where we walked through a tropical forest to find an opening out to a rocky coast.


There, we were joined by a local man named Dave, who shared a delicious coconut with us:


Serendipity plays a major role in my life. Meeting Alison in Reykjavik lead to HIMB in Oahu which then led me to Post Doc Ingrid Knapp who connected me with a former HIMB colleague: Marieke Sudek who happened to be the lead scientist at NOAAS’s Marine Sanctuary and Ocean Center.

We met with Marieke and her staff our first day.


On our last day, we returned and I was so pleased to meet her Education coordinator, Isabel Gaoteote Halatuituia. We spoke about the effort they are making to educate the young population about the crucial ecosystems around their island, and how she is trying to introduce marine science into the curriculum. 

January 1- 11, 2018: AMERICAN SAMOA

We met the rest of our team (minus Louis who had to get back to Providence for work) at the Honolulu airport. They were returning from almost two weeks in Kona on Big Island where they dove, surveyed and had their first Pacific research adventure.


We left around 5PM and arrived around midnight in American Samoa, an American territory established 117 years ago. 

I never imagined I would find myself on an island in the middle of the south Pacific Ocean… Here, sparkling waters of aqua oceans reveal coral and sea creatures at low tide even without snorkeling. Tropical, lush rain forests are everywhere, providing food and sustenance for their inhabitants.  Every day provides new learning experiences about marine biology, island culture and a whole different pace of life.

After one very hot, sleepless night at “Le Falepule,” Sam, Richard and I bailed and resettled at Sadie’s By The Sea. The location of this run-down villa was exquisite, overlooking Faga’alu Bay - and luckily for Christine and Evan so were their quarters. Our new rooms were right on Utilei Bay - it was literally outside our door:

And right down the road was more to dazzle:


January 1, 2018: 100 FEET BELOW

We made a last minute decision to board The Atlantis Submarine at 9AM on the day we are flying to American Samoa. 


An incredible ride down 100 feet underwater to explore the ocean surface: coral, fish, Japanese seaweed structures converted here for coral and fish habitat.   Also, sunken ships from WW2 and many more magical wonders. Much easier than snorkeling......


Another person joining us on that tour at HIMB was a marine biologist/educator/illustrator named Kirsten Carlson, who had an artist residency in the “Maker Lab” there - but had never seen the confocal microscope. We immediately connected. I learned she had just returned from 7 weeks at McMurdo on a residency where she was diving under the ice to draw the creatures she found. We had lots in common. 

We made plans to have dinner with her and her husband on Saturday night. Then, on Sunday, they took us for a snorkel adventure in popular Hanauma Bay.


I am indebted to both Dave and Kirsten for their encouragement in introducing us to our FIRST snorkeling experience. They showed us how to put our fins on AFTER you’re in the water – how to back in and so much more! Dave took me around pointing out fish, coral and sea urchins. 

December 26, 2017: STARTING IN HONOLULU

In order to get to American Samoa, one must begin in Honolulu, where we stayed until January 1.

Oahu is a busy, touristy kind of island, but we were there to begin our project. Thanks to a serendipitous meeting with Allison Fong at the Arctic Circle Assembly Confernce in Reykavik in October, I connected with her former roomate at Hawaii University, Shimi Rii, who is a marine biologist now with the HIMB: Hawaiian Insitute of Marine Biology. We were welcomed with a very special tour on Thursday, December 28th.



After which we went directly to meet Amy Eggers at the Gates Dry Lab where we were treated to a demonstration and explanation of their Confocal Microscope. She explained to us the value of this ground-breaking instrument. They could view LIVE coral in their own watery habitat and then control for temperature, nutrients etc., thus allowing them to study actual hypothetical conditions in real time -rather than just creating models. One scientist said this technology is such a breakthrough that one can now, in a matter of days, do the work he has done over an 8 year period!

Introducing Kai'Apapa, my new project officially launching on January 1st, 2018

Here is the website: http://www.kaiapapa.com

Here is some more information:

Kai ‘Apapa, Hawaiian for coral reef, is a multimedia examination of coral reef systems in the United States. Environmental artist Diane Burko, Physical Geographer and Coral Reef Scientist Samiah Moustafa, composer/video artist Christine Southworth, and composer/clarinetist Evan Ziporyn, along with associates Landscape Architect and photographer Richard Ryan, and Full-Stack Web Developer/Data Coordinator, Louis Huang will be filming the reefs, recording sounds of each site above and under water, collecting data to study the health of each reef location, and creating music, video, photographs and paintings of and about their experience and the significance of the reef eco-systems to the health of our planet. The results of this ongoing project will be multi-faceted: a live performance piece for theaters and planetariums with immersive 360° video, elaborate soundscapes and live clarinet, bagpipe, and vocals; a gallery installation to show artwork, photographs, and data; and a website featuring our research and an online installation to reach and educate a broader audience.

Our destinations are focused on the following National Parks:  The War in the Pacific National Historical Park in GuamNational Park of American SamoaKalaupapa National Historical Park (Molokai) and Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park (Kona) in Hawaii, Biscayne National Park and Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida, and Virgin Islands National Park and Buck Island Reef National Monument in the US Virgin Islands, as well as other reef sites in the United States. 

The goal of this project is not only to produce a visually and musically stunning performance and exhibition, but also to raise awareness of the effects of climate change on our national underwater treasures, to show how fragile they are but also how beautiful and important they are still, to show why we need to try to save them. All three artists have a long-standing interest - reflected in their work - in biodiversity, multiculturalism, and interdisciplinary collaboration. This can be seen in Diane Burko’s visual art concerning extreme climates; in Christine Southworth’s multimedia work bringing together the sounds and images of nature, technology and traditional cultures; and Evan Ziporyn’s ongoing work with Balinese gamelan, the Silkroad Ensemble and in his work as Director of MIT’s Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST). By working in situ, we hope to produce a work that is impactful in multidimensional and resonant ways. We see Coral Reef Scientist, Samiah Moustafa’s contribution bringing a deeper level of scientific understanding and meaning to our project, as well as our public engagement efforts.

Kai 'Apapa is a project of Ensemble Robot, Inc., a 501(c)(3) arts organization based in Lexington, Massachusetts. We would like to thank MIT Music & Theater Arts and MAP Fund for their generous support!