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Wes asks: Also, how many divers and technicians does your production demand? Any significant problems which were not planned for?
The OWJ Team: Our expedition team consists of seven people including photographers, writers, field technicians, and a videographer. We are also joined by a coral reef biologist from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the staff from The Nature Conservancy who live on Palmyra and manage the island.

We did have many challenges during the pre-expedition getting our digital gear ready for an underwater adventure. Those challenges have seemed to iron themselves out so far!

You can meet the team by going to this location within the site: Team Profiles.






Paradise of Privilege — Page 3

On our way back to Palmyra, we stop on Sand Islet to see coconut crabs, Birgus latro, or "Uga" as it is known in the South Pacific. Coconut crabs are the largest land invertebrates in the world. They grow slowly, living up to 50 years, measuring almost a meter from leg tip to leg tip, and can reach a weight of up to ten pounds. Their claws are as powerful and decisive as rose-cutting sheers, snapping significant branches off in a single clip, and husking coconuts effortlessly.

We enter the Pisonia grove guarded by colonies of red-footed boobies; our eyes adjust to the shade. The first signs of Uga are auburn piles of shredded coconuts looking like doll's hair. Slowly, we begin to pick out the crabs in their red-spotted armor. They are formidable and ancient, commanding their own authority over this tiny islet that one could throw a rock over. Matt picks one up, about the size of his fist. "This one is roughly 15 years old," he says. We all crowd together to get a closer look. Other crabs are climbing trees. And still others are hiding under damp logs, possibly in the process of molting.

The largest crab is found, the size of a football. It is a deep, mottled maroon. We inch forward. We are focusing on where the end of the body curls to create the pouch where it holds coconut oil.

"Oh, my God, Oh, my God." Daria lunges forward, then back. "My finger, ow, ow, ow - please help me!"

The coconut crab has Daria's index finger clamped shut in its claw. Daria is stunned, we are all stunned, what to do -- Daria, an Italian graduate student in biology, with a grace unimaginable, is pleading for help, pleading for us to do something, anything. No one has a knife. Color is draining from her face. Russell drops his camera bag, pulls out a piece of a tripod, and hands it to Matt. Matt frantically tries to pry the claw open -- no luck. The crab has a stronghold, the pain is increasing, and all of us know, but no one dares say that at any moment Daria's finger could be cut off. Daria, now panicking, tries to pull her own finger out, but it only makes matters worse; the crab now has his hold on her first knuckle, the pressure deepens, she is writhing, we watch, we feel helpless, what do we do - nothing we can do - the agony, the horror, Matt keeps prying, probing until finally, release - her finger is free. The crab defensively retreats in the forest.

Back at camp, Daria is fine. She still has her finger. Thank God. It was as though her finger was slammed in a door and no one had the key. We are all shaken. It was a painful reminder that even in paradise, wildness reigns.

Daria is reflective. "I never saw the claw, it was that fast..." she pauses. "The crab could have cut my finger off. It was only his kindness - " She stopped short of finishing her sentence.

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