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Entry for October 10, 2007

Today, we had a water spout nearby and the horizon is full of towering, billowing thunderheads. Another hot day at the equator.

With the exception of our brief stay in Manila and our Filipino colleagues on board, there has been little exposure to local culture. We have been floating around on the sea and diving deep into it, but in a sense we could be in almost any country. The ocean, like the air, is an international flowing medium of the globe that does not recognize the boundaries we draw on the map. But during our visit to Bangao, it became clear to all of us from North America that this was not Kansas anymore.

We were not allowed to go ashore because of security issues in the region, so the local Philippine municipality came to us. At 2:00 p.m. about 50 locals came aboard to welcome us to the region. After a very crowded ship tour, we all gathered in the mess hall for a few speeches. First there was Chancellor Eddie Alih of the Southern Mindanao University, followed by other Filipino dignitaries, all of whom were instrumental in granting us permits to conduct this research. Then members of our team reciprocated with speeches about our research and purpose for coming. It is important for us to share a little about what we are discovering with the people whose lives so directly depend on the Celebes Sea that surrounds them. By far, the major source of protein as well as their livelihoods comes from the sea for most people in this region.


Local dancers on board the vessel, blending in with the research gear
The grand finale of the visit was the 15 fully costumed local dancers and musicians; the entire retinue was somehow magically transported in small skiffs to our ship. Equally amazing was their ability to set up a full instrument section and dance floor on the deck of the ship amongst all our gear. The dancers moved through a maze of cranes, small boats, buckets, nets and winches. Only rarely did the dancers, with colorful dress and five-inch-long false finger nails, bump into something as they ducked, tucked and weaved their way through the obstacles. The dance music consisted entirely of percussion instruments: wood and metal gongs that made a powerful, mesmerizing, exotic, far-away sound. Men and women danced with a slow, deliberate grace, often moving sideways by pivoting toes over a few inches followed by the heel. The women's hands were bent gracefully, reaching high into the air with the striking curl of their nails making an extraordinary scene. The dance performance crescendo occurred when a pair of men held two long poles high in the air with a barefoot female dancer sliding along it.

At the conclusion of this final movement, she hopped down, and then, as if it really were the apparition that it seemed, the whole group of dancers, musicians and dignitaries packed themselves again onto small boats, headed back to shore and were gone without a trace. Before I knew it, the vessel returned to deep water and the ROV was back over the side diving to 3000 meters.

That night, I spoke to Mon Romero about the people who visited us. The original name for the people of this region is the Bangas Moro and it is one of the seven predominantly Muslim provinces of the Philippines. There are splinter groups that want to make the area a separate Islamic republic, which is why security in the region at this time is an issue. These provinces include Tawi Tawi, Lanao Del Sur, Maguindanao, Basil Au, Sulu, Sultan Kudarai and consists of about 300,000 people.


Group photo of the team
The science and discoveries of the expedition continue 24 hours a day. The RopeCam operations have resumed with our back-up system and we are getting great footage once again. We are also posting updates on the NOAA website of some science projects, which I will not duplicate here. We also took the obligatory expedition team photo in front of the ROV today and it is included here.