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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

May 16, 2019

Isle Maria Blog

J.P. Spaventa, Stanford

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The familiar hum of the motor suddenly dropped in pitch quite audibly. As my brain started to turn on, I noticed the familiar "chirp" from below my bunk pinging off more rapidly than usual. Upon opening my eyes, the light shining through the porthole confirmed my suspicions. We'd arrived at Isle Maria.I'd finished my evening watch at 1 am that very morning and spent the next hour or so triple checking that all my batteries were charged, and I hadn't forgotten any important gear. My project, using drones to map coral reefs in 3D to monitor vital health parameters, requires that I collect data at the right time, at the right place, with the right weather, and the right waves.

Isle Maria, the first stop on our 5-week voyage, is the only uninhabited island on the itinerary, making it a critical opportunity to map reefs that have the luxury of being relatively untouched by humans. It took us 5 days to sail here from Tahiti, but I'd been dreaming of the place for a few years at least. As I write this, I'm overlooking the four small islands that make up the isolated atoll. Fenced away from the South Pacific Ocean by a protective barrier reef, Maria is slowly sinking into the ocean while the corals struggle to keep up by growing towards to. In between the islands, a shallow lagoon harbors gentle, shallow inner reefs of the most turquoise water you can imagine. Looking over the port side, I can see the bottom over 100 feet below.

It was 0700 and my boat was scheduled to leave at 0900 hours. Even though I'd slept only 5 hours, there was no chance I could go back to sleep. I was too excited. I spent the next hour nervously sipping my coffee while we sailed around the island looking for a channel to get into the lagoon.

Captain Chris was at the helm, something that only happens when something special is going on.

At 0900, we started hauling our gear over the side of the Seamans into our two inflatable rescue boats to start shuttling everyone with island projects into the lagoon. Looking at the size of the waves splashing over the side of the boat reassured me about my purchase of a waterproof backpack.

We started motoring out to a possible channel through the barrier reef.

Large frigate birds, probably having never seen humans before, glided feet above our heads, peering down at the strange visitors to their island.

Chris, who had left the helm to lead us through the break, slowed down the rescue boat and we started to do laps around a seemingly calm spot. Barb, our professor said what we were all thinking.

"Right here looks perfect! A zig and a zag and we're inside."

But Chris said nothing. I could see the calculations in his head. We're only anchored at Maria for 2 days, but the winds were blowing in the opposite direction than normal, and so the waves were breaking over the entrance suggested on our charts.

"Robert C. Seamans, Robert C. Seamans, this is Defender 1"

"Defender 1, this is Robert C. Seamans, go ahead."

"We're gonna come back and try the other side."

All the scientists in the boat, me included, sighed with disappointment. But I was grateful that our captain prioritized our safety over our data. It's always our first reaction to put the science first, so I'm glad there's someone else to prioritize my safety.

We spent the next 4 hours drooling over the starboard side, less than a hundred meters from the most beautiful island I've ever seen. We managed to spend the afternoon snorkeling on the forereef, just outside the lagoon.

However, snorkeling on a forereef is like smelling a barbecue you can't have.

I was able to collect some great data for my project as well as some fun images of the team snorkeling. Nearly 100% coral cover provided excellent food for the schools of parrotfish that would circle you with curiosity if you dove to the bottom.

We ended the day by projecting a movie about sailing onto a sail, after which we found spots to sleep on the deck of the Seamans so we could share the cool night air with Maria.

J.P. Spaventa

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