SEA Currents: Jan 2016
SEA Semester® in the News:
“Setting sail to study one of Earth’s last coral wildernesses”
By Erikah Haavie | Jan. 11, 2016
Sam Hill ’16 didn’t see as many neighbors as he’d hoped during his 1,600-mile summer sailing trip.
“From Hawaii to the equator, there was nothing but a turtle and a pod of whales,” said Hill, a computer science major from Richmond, Va.
As part of an eight-week Sea Education Association program, “Protecting the Phoenix Islands,” Hill spent six weeks sailing aboard the 134-foot-long Sailing School Vessel (SSV) Robert C. Seamans, from Honolulu to the Phoenix Islands in Kiribati and on to American Samoa.
We sailed into San Juan harbor yesterday afternoon after a swim call on the southern edge of the Puerto Rico Trench, the deepest place in the Atlantic! After passing El Morro, the 400 year old fort lit by the low angle setting sun, we dropped anchor for our final evening aboard. We shared an all-hands supper of ribs and veggie burgers, then gathered on the quarterdeck for a “swizzle” to toast Neptune and give thanks for our safe passage.
An exhilarating last full day aboard the Corwith Cramer! A-Watch went up on deck at 03:00, and watched the sliver of the moonrise, then dawn. Just before dawn, some folks practiced celestial navigation shooting stars with sextants, and then we headed down to the salon for more of Morgan and Kate’s amazing cooking: poppyseed-lemon pancakes, maple-honey bacon, and quartered oranges. In the late morning, some of us learned how to climb safely aloft, meeting and overcoming fears and spiking adrenaline!
What a day for science. As a study abroad professional, I am always looking for where the “study” is put into the abroad experience. The SEA Semester’s SSV Corwith Cramer certainly does do the study and experiential component well. Under the guidance of our Chief Scientist Erik, each watch is tasked with deployments, counts, and processing of data collected, and sometimes there is general amazement at what is caught in open water. During my watch (C watch) we prepped and readied some experiments for the day.
Dr. Kara Lavender Law, a SEA Semester research professor of oceanography, co-authored a new study entitled, “A Global Inventory of Small Floating Plastic Debris,” published with international colleagues on December 8, 2015 in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Research Letters. This study finds larger quantities of tiny plastic bits floating in the world’s oceans than previously estimated. But even this amount accounts for only 1% of plastic that likely enters the ocean annually, and scientists are still working to understand where the rest of it ends up.
The majority of data for this study came from plastic samples collected and analyzed during decades of SEA Semester voyages. Here, Kara discusses what these findings mean for future scientific research directions and anyone trying to make sense of the massive amounts of plastic entering the world’s oceans every year.
About 6 am. Dawn is gentle over Christiansted, St. Croix. The coquies have fallen back asleep and their sweet ‘creek’ calls replaced more and more by the calls of an amorous/aggressive rooster and barking dogs. The light ‘pinks up’ over the hills, illuminating the clouds and backlighting the ridge of palm trees across the lower ridges of the island. A crescent moon floats above a brilliant star – no that’s Venus. Saturn below but no longer visible; Mars far overhead but behind the pink clouds and the glare of the rising sun.
At 0900 a group of 20 colleagues from colleges, universities, and organizations around the country boarded the brigantine Corwith Cramer at Gallows Bay in Christiansted, on the island of St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands. After stowing their gear in assigned bunks below, participants mingled and explored their 134’ long home and world for the next 5 days. All hands mustered on the quarterdeck for an outline of the voyage plan and introductions - both the professional staff and the colleague participants themselves, who on this Sailing School Vessel are all working members of the crew.