SEA Currents: Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures & Ecosystems
Another day ashore on the beautiful atoll of Fakarava! Today we were up bright and early to make our way to shore for a busy day of learning, sightseeing and fun. Our first stop of the day was Lulu, a pearl farm. Here we got to see how oysters are harvested and their pearls extracted. It was amazing to see the famous French Polynesian black pearls coming straight out of live oysters.
Next up was a visit to Yvonne, a sustainable farm on the ocean side (outer rim) of the island.
Several weeks and seasons ago in Woods Hole, we had our Life at Sea talk during which we learned about the ins-and-outs of living on board the Seamans. Following this talk, I began to realize what a unique mix of comfort and discomfort living at sea would be. We were told stories of people wearing goofy outfits, embracing their personalities, and doing weekly cleanups to blaring music, yet I was terrified by the thought that I would soon be sailing in the middle of the Pacific ocean, having had no previous sailing experience. This dichotomy of comfort and discomfort has proved itself to be absolutely true, as we near the end of our first week in French Polynesia and have completed the first leg of our cruise track.
The journey into Fakarava was bumpy at times, but definitely well worth my occasional bouts of seasickness while on morning watch. At around 1300 we began our last push into the main port of Rotoava, which is the
actual village in Fakarava where we are now anchored. Yesterday, the professors gave a mini lecture during which I learned some interesting facts about this classic coral atoll: for example, rainwater is Fakarava’s only
freshwater source besides imported bottled water, turtles are a traditional source of protein, and the island is declared a UN Biosphere. I expect we’ll learn much more once on shore.
Today has been a day of firsts for many of us students. It is our first full day at sea! A and B watch have had their first 6 hour watch, which the weather has made incredibly easy. We all met on the quarterdeck for our first class at 1430 this afternoon and got to see the hydrocast deployed to collect water samples to 600 meters depth, as well as talk about our experiences in Papeete with Moohono. It is amazing how much you can learn in such a short time! During our morning watch we all learned so much about navigation and how the ship works.
Since Mary last wrote, we have been busy with a range of activities in preparation for departure. Last night, we were toured a beautiful sailing canoe called Faafaite and attended a lecture from their crew and captain which provided us with a view of the modern Tahitian relationship with the ocean. Modern Tahitians must struggle to balance new technology and resources and world connections with maintaining a deep relationship with the ocean environment and ocean travel. Faafaite represents reconciliation, reconnecting the people and the islands across the ocean expanse. Interestingly enough, Faafaite has sailed a similar course as the Robert C. Seamans, and represents a similar challenge to reconnect youth with the waning art of ocean exploration.
Ground Hog Day is very different in Tahiti, where the sun quickly moves high overhead and no shadows are visible. (Also, it is summer here, so both winter and the promise of spring have been left behind in North America.) The program “Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems” (SPICE) has begun! Nineteen students from seventeen different American colleges arrived in Papeete at the crack of dawn yesterday, having traveled all day and all night from our campus on Cape Cod. It is a very amiable group and was quickly incorporated into the crew of the Robert C. Seamans.
The students of S-251, Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures & Ecosystems, will join the SSV Robert C. Seamans by Saturday, February 1st. They will sail from Pape’ete, Tahiti and return to Pape’ete around Saturday, March 16th, to complete a second shore component.