SEA Currents: Protecting the Phoenix Islands
SSV Robert C. Seamans has arrived in Pago Pago, American Samoa, and all students have departed the ship bound for destinations as far apart as Europe and New Zealand and everywhere in between.
While this ship’s company will never be the same, we all walk away with a shared experience of visiting a remote marine sanctuary and voyaging under sail to get there and back safely. The PIPA voyage challenged each person in their own way, and I am proud of all students and staff for their accomplishments, whether academic, professional, or personal.
Although I know most of your friends and families are reading this, patiently waiting your return from this incredible 5-week voyage, this blog is not so much for them, but rather this final blog is for you, my student friends.
Last night I lay on the deck after swizzle (I will leave this for you all to explain to your friends and families) silently.
There is a certain bittersweet heartbreak that accompanies departures that are homeward bound after voyages such as ours. The hypnotic draw of the deep blue water is an intoxicating force, and I imagine my shipmates will largely agree that pulling ourselves away from it will be at least a somewhat onerous divorce. You might imagine that gazing into the distance only to be met with the familiar sight of waves and crests upon waves and crests would bore us, but I for one, do not tire of it.
“Kia ora” and “mauri” (or, “Hello!” in the Maori language of New Zealand and the language of Kiribati) aboard the SSV Robert C. Seamans. A game was once introduced to us by our watch officers where you would choose your high tide, low tide, and changing tide. These correspond to choosing your best moments, down moments, and things that we’re looking forward to.
Growing up in the small state of Rhode Island I fell in love with the ocean immediately. In the ‘Ocean State’ the closest beach is no more than 30 minutes away. Luckily for me the closest beach is right down the road. With having access to the ocean for the majority of my life I have learned to appreciate it and treat it with the upmost respect just like I would any human. The sad truth is however that our oceans are suffering from so many stressors that it is taking its toll on not only small islands countries such as Kiribati, but also pretty much every coastline throughout the world. I knew my involvement in this program would open my mind up to not only the South Pacific but the diverse biodiversity amongst it and the people who inhabit it.
The countdown has already begun: “Five days,” everyone says. Still, reality has not yet set in that we will go our separate ways. Even with this realization, everyone is still upbeat: I hear the laughter when I wake up, I see the smiles at the lunch table, I feel the love of my watch, and I see everyone hard set on getting work done.
Throughout all our previous blog posts, we have introduced you to many different aspects of this ship. One part of the community which deserves further exposition is the reading community that has developed on this ship. I suppose it was predictable, but it never occurred to me given the lack of reading during the shore component. Because of the lack of internet, books have become the predominant form of entertainment on the ship.
As I sat there yesterday on the bowsprit, looking out at Nikumaroro Island as we left, my mind began to wander to the events that have taken place in the last month. We arrived on the ship a month ago today in Pago Pago, American Samoa, knowing only the other students. We were thrown into this crazy community that we have all come to love. One of my favorite experiences happened sometime during the first week, just after we had entered PIPA waters.
This afternoon we, the crew of the Robert C. Seamans, departed our anchorage at Nikumaroro and set forth back into the deep blue expanse of water someone named “The Sea” or “The Ocean” quite a few years before I was born. We waved goodbye to Nikumaroro as our view became shrouded by an oncoming squall and our attention shifted to the path ahead, rather than the port stop behind.
When I applied for this program, I knew I’d signed up for doing research on a sailboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I never would have believed, however, that I would be moored to a shipwreck off a deserted island (rumored to be the island Amelia Earhart crash landed on, no less) talking to my friend, Nic, about how to do statistical regressions on my ocean productivity data while reef sharks and tropical fish splashed and prowled in the waters 5 feet below us…