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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

June 04, 2018

Coral Reefs on the Rebound

Kelly Speare, PhD Candidate, University of California, Santa Barbara


Above: Rowan placing the quadrat for our coral surveys; below: three parrotfish (Chlorurus microrhinos) visiting a "cleaning station" where they are cleaned of parasites and dead tissue cells by cleaner wrasses; bottom: a gray reef shark (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos) cruising by us on our fun snorkel.

Ship's Log

Current Position
9° 4.8’S, 150° 37.0’W

Ship’s Heading & Speed
325 PSC, 8.5 kts

Sail Plan
Sailing on a starboard tack, beam reach under the four lowers and the tops’l.

Wind Force 4 from ESE, Seas 5 feet from ESE

Ship’s company

Hello family, friends, and avid blog readers following our journey through the Pacific on this Pacific Reef Expedition! I'm Kelly; I'm a PhD candidate at the University of California, Santa Barbara and former SEA crewmember. I'm thrilled that my path has crossed with SEA once again to join this expedition as a Coral Reef Specialist onboard the Seamans! Today I have the pleasure of writing to you from Caroline Island, a remote atoll in the Southern Line Islands of Kiribati.

As we approached Caroline early yesterday morning, our first glimpse of the island was a rugged string of uninhabited motus (coral islands that surround a lagoon) lined with lush green trees and swarming with seabirds. After assessing the conditions and scouting sites, we donned our snorkel gear and jumped in the water to check out the coral reef surrounding the atoll. What a spectacular place! Far from the reach of human fishing
pressure and tourism, this reef hosts a diverse community of top predators (rays, sharks, and predatory fishes), large herbivores, and more species of corals than you can count. This place is truly wild! After our exploratory "fun" snorkel yesterday, today we geared up for our reef surveys to collect data on the benthic community of corals, algae, fish, and invertebrates.

From a scientific perspective, this ecosystem is absolutely fascinating.   This reef is so far out of reach of human activity it feels like stepping into an underwater time machine, as if to give us a glimpse into the past to understand what reefs may have looked like before human perturbation.  The reef inhabitants are curious about our presence and likely have never seen humans before; rather than fleeing from us as fish
often do on heavily trafficked reefs, these fish seem unfazed. We know from previous SEA trips to Caroline that this reef experienced a major bleaching event (the breakdown of the coral-algal symbiosis which is critical for coral survival) in 2016, which appears to have resulted in significant coral mortality. But there are strong signs of recovery. Some corals appear to have undergone partial mortality, where only patches of the coral died; with
a closer look we can see that the dead patches are being recolonized by the remaining healthy coral tissue, and will hopefully result in coral recovery. We also saw lots of small coral recruits, suggesting that a wave of new baby corals recolonized the reef after the bleaching event.  These signs of coral resilience or "bounce back" from loss making me optimistic that some reefs, such as the reefs around Caroline, still have the qualities that make them able to recover from disturbances.

From a personal perspective, I am in awe. Places like this are rare and so special. I am a coral reef ecologist and I have the pleasure of spending many of my days underwater studying coral reefs, but of all of the reefs I have seen this one is unique. I felt like a sponge soaking up observations and mental snapshots. The reef structure is striking; the coral creates spurs and grooves that protrude up from the seafloor like underwater mountains of coral and fish. Swimming across this landscape feels like immersing yourself in a beautifully designed aquarium. I think we all feel humbled to get to see this place, and it has been such a personal joy for me to get to experience it with your students, children, friends, and loved ones onboard the Seamans.

After our last survey we set sails to depart Caroline. It felt bittersweet to watch the island disappear astern of us.  We are learning and accomplishing so much on each of our reef surveys, but I just want one more peek under the water! Once we got out of the lee of the island we found a nice breeze and are now zipping along at a quick 8.5 knots under a sky full of stars. This is the dream!

- Kelly

Categories: Robert C. Seamans,Pacific Reef Expedition, • Topics: study abroad  polynesia. • (0) Comments


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