SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans
August 01, 2018
A duty to protect
4°37.6’ S by 174°33.2’ W
Ship’s heading and speed
210° at 6.5 knots
29° C and bright stars
We are now somewhere between 10 and 30 days into this journey. There's no hope for me to pin down an actual number because time distorts itself in peculiar ways when 24 hour days rotate around 18 hour schedules. Each one of us has become familiar with the unusual rhythm of the vessel, and life at sea has become typical. We can all spot a copepod at a moment's glance, and when "hands to strike the Jib" is shouted from the quarterdeck, we all walk to the appropriate lines stumbling less than the day before. Although everyday life onboard has become common, there are some things that have not and will not become ordinary on this trip.
These extraordinary ecosystems are something I will not grow accustomed to. The reefs and islands we've visited are truly remarkable hubs of fish and coral each of them showing off their brilliant colors, and it is sometimes difficult to think about anything else. However, if you are willing to look a little closer, the open ocean is just as exciting. After all, PIPA is almost entirely deep sea. Twice a day our ship pulls a net at the surface
and two others much deeper. The creatures we've come across in these tows are far more exotic than any fish found among the coral reefs. Last night we pulled up multiple pyrosomes. Their name means "fire body" and for good reason; they glow dramatically at night and dwarf the small specks that bioluminesce around them. These transparent tubes are comprised of tiny tunicates that attach to each other to form colonies that can be larger than humans although typically pickle sized. As spectacular as these alien-looking spiky sea pickles are, the real aliens are found under the microscope. In fact, I came across the intimidating plankton responsible for inspiring the movie Alien. The Phronemid Amphipod looks exactly as terrifying as its silver screen counterpart albeit a bit less imposing in stature. Although not immediately obvious, the open ocean is home to life
more vibrant and unique than the reefs we have seen. The life we've encountered in PIPA has no parallels, and I am so grateful it is being protected.
I've been thinking a lot about the President of Kiribati's words when PIPA was gifted to the world. He said PIPA is, "a symbol for how the world's people must come together to sustain our common future; this is our gift to humanity, from a country that is humble by number of people and size of economy, but rich in ocean heritage. PIPA is what we can give to a shared future with others that says 'this is what we believe in', 'this is a belief
we would like to share with other peoples of the world.'" With this gift, comes a responsibility to understand and educate others on the one-of-a-kind life found inside the PIPA boundaries. I can't thank the staff of this boat enough for fulfilling this responsibility. At 10:00 our policy teacher helps us haul the yards sharp, and at 11:00 he is leading discussions on fisheries management. At 2:00 in the morning a bright scientist helps pull the Jib
downhaul to dodge incoming squalls, and at 3:30 she is helping us prepare the next day's class presentation. All this so that a crew of students could witness and learn from one of the last true wildernesses on this planet, and hopefully we can all contribute to the world's understanding of these waters.
Those of us here have a responsibility to PIPA: one that I am overjoyed to uphold. However, we also have an obligation that is more far-reaching than the wide boundaries of this protected area. We all have a duty, as the species that brings so much harm to ecosystems around the world, to understand and protect the wild spaces we share with the rest of life. I'm so grateful to the staff for the work they do and to the other students for
the work they have just begun to honor this duty.
- Charlie Schneider, Colorado College, A-watch