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Student Atlas of Polynesia Released

March 13, 2012

spice class

SEA announces the launch of a web-based atlas created by students enrolled in class S-233, our Spring 2011 SEA Semester: Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems (SPICE) program which focuses on issues of environmental change and cultural continuity among South Pacific islands.

Information in the atlas is the result of a month of intensive research at our Woods Hole campus, followed by a seven-week sailing cruise from Tahiti to Hawaii via the islands of Moorea, Rangiroa, Nuku Hiva and Christmas Island. A final program week in Hawaii allowed us to complete, review, and revise atlas entries.  Students synthesized an impressive body of scholarly and scientific literature, as well as voyage narratives and other historical accounts, and works of literature, including Herman Melville’s account of Nuku Hiva in the novel Typee.  We also examined tourist publications and pop-culture accounts on numerous websites.  Onboard the ship we were very fortunate to have Paul Moohono Niva, a Tahitian archaeologist, who has worked on excavations at several of our ports-of-call, and was a guide to Polynesian sources and perspectives on history and culture. 

Our destinations were chosen to allow for a comparison of different environments (high volcanic islands, low-lying atolls), political systems (French colony, independent nation, US state), and the dispersion of different peoples across the Pacific (Polynesians, Europeans, Asians).  At each place we met with representatives of the local government to talk about water resources, fisheries, economic systems, tourism, and the threat of sea level rise with climate change.  We also visited several schools, and invited local students and community members aboard the ship for meals and impromptu musical performances. 

While there is substantial information available about Tahiti and Hawaii, many of our port stops were made at place that are little known by outsiders and little represented in easily available sources beyond their potential for surfing or sport-fishing vacations.  Our atlas is designed to provide good information and thoughtful commentary on all the islands we visited.  SEA students were respectful, friendly and curious, and received a warm and open reception everywhere we traveled.  Their observations were incorporated into the atlas entries and the result is a unique product that can introduce both scholarly and casual visitors to remote islands that are dealing with global environmental issues. 

It is our plan to add to the atlas in the years to come, beginning with newest entries written by the 2012 SPICE class (January 3 - March 25, 2012).

>> View the Atlas