Skip to navigationSkip to contentSkip to footer



TREX Day 6: Relocating, Sea Turtles, and Fieldwork

Written by:
TREX Day 6: Relocating, Sea Turtles, and Fieldwork

By Josh Wilson ‘19

Day 6 was off to a busy start. Due to the shutdown of the federal government, we were no long able to stay at Kilaeua Military Camp within the national park. From 7-9:30AM we meticulously packed up all our things – including the entire kitchen area dedicated to soil and water sample analysis, drone enhancements, and sensor analysis. If you walked in the front door, you would think you entered a some-what organized research lab, not a large hotel room.

Since on Day 3 Meghan, Chang, and I went to check on the sensors, today it was our turn to head out to the field. First, we needed to check into our new home, a local air-bnb, and unload all our gear before heading back to Mr. Ha’s farm.

Fortuitously, we were unable to check-in to the air-bnb until 11am, giving us an hour and a half of free-time to explore the area. Our group and Professor Kocar talked it over and decided to head to Punalu’u Black Sand Beach. If you didn’t put it together right away, the beach has black sand! How is this possible? The sand is composed almost entirely of very fine pieces of basalt (lava rock) that have gradually broken down over time. The beach itself was striking: the combination of Hawaii’s beauty and the black sand, even on a cloudy, misting day made it seem like I was on another planet.

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

While this alone was more than enough to satisfy the adventurous spirit this trip has helped foster within me, we were met with a wonderful surprise in the form of Hawaiian green sea turtles! I assume these little guys were on the beach hoping to dry off a little bit and escape the rough tides. There were about four in one section of the beach and all of them were not moving in the slightest. They must have been exhausted. Either way, I thought they were totally adorable and took over fifty photos of them. A little further down the beach, one of the larger waves brought another turtle with it, and over the next fifteen minutes I watched my new friend move a total of five feet up the beach in hopes of finding some dry sanctuary. Naturally, I named him Crush like the turtle from Finding Nemo and assumed that his son, Squirt, must still be out in the nearby waves having a blast.


Overall, it was an incredible experience and I cannot recall a time where I have ever been so close to such a peaceful creature. This trip is not halfway complete and has already opened my eyes to hundreds of new experiences. There is so much out there that I am yet to see and I am so grateful that I was able to go on this trip. I write this as Professor Kocar drives our group back to Mr. Ha’s farm to do more drone mapping and sampling. More updates to come!

Post fieldwork, we’re back in the car headed to our new house! Everyone is soaked to the bone. We took our soil samples and ventured around the massive corn fields in torrential downpour. Luckily, there were two breaks in the rain and Professor Kocar was able to fly the drone to get some more mapping data. Of course, as soon as we leave the weather turns for the better and the sun begins to emerge from behind the clouds.

Despite all odds, Chang, Meghan, David, and I were successfully able to get all the soil and corn samples we hoped to and it sure beats a Massachusetts winter in my mind. Looking forward to a nice warm shower and some yummy Thai food for dinner.


Every year, a group of MIT students and professors travel to the Big Island of Hawaii to gain fieldwork experience through TREX (Traveling Research Environmental EXperiences). The first TREX trip was held in 2000, and since launching has taken students on research activities in domestic and international settings. For more undergraduate opportunities, click here.