What was your best experience during this assignment?
As a photographer, you can only hope to be in the right place at the right time. Being able to witness fire worms spawn was just such a privilege. These worms live under rock and coral and are seldom seen by day. But I'd been alerted that a few were surfacing in the waters around Coconut Island over the course of a couple days, an indication that a big spawning event was about to happen.
Adults emerge each year to spawn during a specific summer season, a few days following the full moon. They wriggle to the surface, meeting up with other worms, then shed eggs and sperm, clouding the water. After a couple hours of watching the worms' frantic activity, I saw the spent worms wash ashore and die, their bodies decaying rapidly. Seeing this life drama played out in the space of about three hours was mind-boggling.
What was your worst experience during this assignment?
It was a nightmare to have most of my equipment stolen as I was getting ready to leave Hawaii. Among other things, the thief took my computer with all the digital photos from the assignment. Luckily I'd been making copies of the images daily, storing them in different places and making the occasional shipment back to my editor in D.C.
Here's a bit of unsolicited advice: Don't leave your rental car unattended with valuables in your trunk—even for a few seconds—because experienced thieves will know how to jimmy the trunk open and make off with your stuff in the blink of an eye.
What was the oddest experience you encountered during this assignment?
Working with worms is quirky by nature, but consider that most live hidden from view. That means digging for them, turning over rocks, and opening up tubes of their own making in order to see what their bodies look like. Acorn worms live under a layer of sand offshore and can be scooped up after fanning the loose sand covering them. Since they are extremely fragile, like strands of gelatin, I'd broken a couple large worms while handling them, and was feeling rather bad about it—until, that is, I learned from a student at the Kewalo Marine Lab that a worm's headless body is capable of regenerating a new head.