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A medium-sized manta ray glides along the ship channel.
©Franklin Viola

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Palmyra Puzzle — Page 3

It is mid-afternoon. Daria has decided not to go diving today to allow her finger to heal. Chrissy Mitchell, a staffer, has been changing her bandage each day. No infection. The wound, though ragged, looks good. Elizabeth Lange, co-caretaker, contacted a doctor in Hawaii, and his advice was for her to bathe her finger in a beta-iodine wash three times a day, to watch for any indications of infection, and to discontinue diving altogether due to bacteria in the water.

Daria and Jim are discussing the matter. She feels she is doing fine and that one dive a day outside the lagoon shouldn't be a problem. She will soak her finger in the antiseptic solution afterward.

"I'm here to work," she said. Her large brown eyes, reflecting steel resolve, silence any other opinions.

We take the boats across the lagoon to visit the Pisonia grandis rainforest, one of the last remaining stands in the Indo-Pacific region. Old growth. These magnificent trees rise out of the coraline substrate to reach upward of 100 feet, creating a broad, dense canopy that allows for little understory. Fallen trunks and branches take root. Coconut crabs abound.

At their base, the buttresses of Pisonia take on the countenance of bones and it is not hard to imagine them as the feet of brontosaurus.

Black noddies, tern-like, enter a symbiotic relationship with Pisonia. They nest in the branches and shower the forest floor with guano, ripe with nutrients. This enhances the quality of the soil, critical to the growth and health of the trees. Noddies along with other seabirds are the primary seed dispersers helping to plant another generation of Pisonia.

Groves of Pisonia grandis produce a rich peat-like acidic humus overlaying phosphate rock. Consequently, these forests have been cut and cleared for agriculture, development, and phosphate mining on various South Pacific islands, contributing to the demise of the Pisonia equatorial rainforest ecosystem.

Inside the forest, we whisper, if we speak at all. The diffused light cradles our eyes, offering a cool sanctuary from the intense sun. No one wants to leave. Brown, masked, and red-footed boobies, serene and close enough to touch, perch on the forest periphery.

I look across the lagoon and see great frigatebirds nesting, their red inflated gular pouches like hearts hanging from the trees.

What is paradise if not an interval of light and love?

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