Current position of the SSV Robert C. Seamans. Click on the vessel to view position history. Use the tools, top right, to change the map style or view data layers. Dates and times use GMT (Greenwich Mean Time).
SEA Currents: SSV Robert C. Seamans
July 30, 2017
Birthday at Sea
2° 52.8’S x 174° 56.0’W
Ship’s Heading & Speed
South to Nikumaroro Island, 6 knots
Single reefed mains’l, forestays’l, mainstays’l, and jib
Cloudy, but maybe the best corona around a half moon I’ve ever seen, and some classic trade winds
Just now, I went around and asked the staff if they had one sentence to share with the outside world.
Here is what they had to say to you, the dearest outside world:
Chief Mate Cassie Sleeper: There is a lot of blue water out there!
Second Mate Mark Waddington: The world is a beautiful place, and you should go see it.
Third Mate Adrienne Wilbur: That's a hard question. I got nothing - that's why I'm here. (Also I love and miss everyone, go smell the pine trees blown in from Baranoff Island and catch lots of salmon).
First Assistant Scientist Abby Cazeault: Hotel Romeo is hotter than Hades.
Second Assistant Scientist Janet Bering: Stay tuned - I get more than one sentence, because this is my blog, neener neener.
Third Assistant Scientist Gabi Chavez: I'm out here to see what the outside world has to say to me.
Lab Assistant Cheryl Bube: Happy Belated Birthday to my dearest brother, Stephen!
Chief Engineer Dylan Whitney: I'm sailing, you're not!
Assistant Engineer Amber Kinter: I got nothin'.
Steward Nevin Schaeffer: Everyone, eat some cinnamon buns!
Policy/Whale Guru Rich King: Hello to Lisa and Alice, I love you!
We don't spend a lot of time thinking about the outside world here on the SSV Robert C. Seamans. Not only is every day endlessly jam-packed with activities, but we are largely cut off from updates from anything not on the ship. The environment is immersive, intensive, and all-consuming.
Today, however, I am thinking a lot about the outside world. First of all, today is my birthday, so I am thinking a lot about my mom, because I know she is thinking of me. Hi Mom! I signed up to write the blog today, so that
I could post a photo of myself just for you.
More broadly, I actually spend a lot of time thinking about the outside world. Despite being thousands of miles from anywhere, despite the fact that all we see most days is a seemingly infinite half dome of blue water and blue sky, despite the fact that it took us weeks to get here, it is hard to forget the connections this place has to the outside world. PIPA (the Phoenix Islands Protected Area), this big blue box studded with gorgeous atolls, is inextricably linked to the world at large. These connections come to mind in class discussions, while reviewing datasets and photos, and in quiet moments staring at the stars.
Here, close to the equator, hot moist air rises to the upper atmosphere. Then, it begins to flow north or south, beginning one of the Hadley cells, which are massive atmospheric convection cells that drive global weather patterns. Multi-year El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycles have a huge impact on local weather, oceanographic conditions, and ecology, but the impacts of ENSO are felt in weather patterns worldwide. The equatorial current structure upwells nutrients from the deep ocean, creating a hotspot of ecological productivity. We are geographically close to the center of the Pacific Ocean, meaning that we are just about as far away as you can be from anywhere but also as close as you can be to everywhere, all at once.
The geographic location and large scale oceanographic and meteorological systems that link PIPA to the rest of the world also open PIPA to a wide array of human impacts. These impacts are representative of how humans have and continue to alter our oceans on a global scale.
Many of the Phoenix Islands may seem untouched at first. Their current, uninhabited state disguises a long history of failed colonization attempts and the use of these islands as outposts for resource extraction, starting
in the 19th century. The island Kanton is named after a whaling ship that wrecked on the shores of the atoll back when the Phoenix Islands were at the epicenter of the hunt for sperm whales in the Pacific Ocean. Enderbury Island is marked by the remains of a guano mining operation, and Orona Island holds the remains of an island settlement as recent as 2004. Nikumaroro Island is covered by palm trees planted as a result of a copra, or coconut, plantation. As humans have come and gone, their impacts have been left behind. Each island has at least one shipwreck on its outer reef, leaching iron and disrupting the growth of coral. Each island has an ecosystem altered by invasive pests such as rats, cats and rabbits.
The remote nature of this region also hides the fact that it is currently being impacted by human activity, even though most of that activity is occurring thousands of miles away. On the beaches of these islands, plastic water bottles and other trash washes up along the beaches. It is hard to know the provenance of these items; based on current patterns in the region, they most likely came from vessels in the Equatorial Pacific. The presence of these items is a reminder of the insidious nature of plastic pollution throughout the global oceans. Before 2015 when PIPA was designated a no-take zone, most of the area was open to fishing for tuna and sharks. The ecological productivity of the region that brought the whalers 150 years ago brings fishermen today. The long liners and purse seiners are gone from PIPA now, but the long-term impact of that fishing pressure on the marine ecology of the area is unknown. The last big human impact in PIPA is global climate change. Global climate change will alter the temperature of the oceans, the carbonate chemistry, and the frequency and severity of ENSO cycles. Beyond the open ocean environment, these changes will damage the coral reef ecosystems at the atolls, as they are slowly inundated by sea level rise.
Our trip through this region has allowed us to see how humanity is altering even the remotest of places. We are so fortunate to visit these far-flung, fascinating waters and islands. It illuminates, for me, the true connectivity of our global environment. The challenge for those of us on the SSV Robert C. Seamans is to take these experiences and these insights home with us. How do we communicate to our friends, family, and community the impacts that their everyday actions have on the remotest corner of the globe? How do we then turn to seeing the impacts we are having on our local ecosystems, our own places? Most importantly, how do we give this information in a way that reinvigorates our deep love for the world and a fierce need to protect it?
I got nothin' right now, but this blog post is a first pass.