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SEA Currents Blog

SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans

July 19, 2017

Arrival at Kanton Atoll

Candela Guo, C Watch, Barnard College

Protecting the Phoenix Islands

Docked at Kanton Atoll

Current Position
2°48.3‘S x 171°42.7’W

Ship’s Heading & Speed
Anchored (we have travelled 1006 nautical miles so far!)

Sail Plan
Anchored and all sails are harbor-furled

Sunny, clear

Souls on Board

Today was a special day for the SSV Robert C. Seamans and everyone on board, as we finally made it through our nine-day sail from Pago Pago, American Samoa to Kanton Island, Republic of Kiribati. Each day the temperature gets higher and higher as we approach the equator, but our spirits remain high, especially after we passed by Enderbury Island yesterday. I had never seen a coral atoll island before, and it reminded me of many fiction stories I’ve read about surviving on a deserted island, which was a little weird since Enderbury Island looked so calm and pretty. I climbed the foremast and went aloft to get a better view of the island, as we could not get too close to Enderbury due to high winds. Standing 55 feet above the sea, I watched B Watch set and strike a few sails, as well as the waves, clouds, seabirds, and the blue sky. Then, I came back down to deck and spent another twenty minutes on the safety net near the bowsprit. I was sitting next to the jib (one of our most frequently used sails), and I was about 18 feet above the water. I watched everyone on deck and the ship that was breaking through the waves, constantly pitching up and down (sometimes sideways, too).

It is my second time sailing with SEA Semester. Last summer, I sailed on the SSV Corwith Cramer (the other SEA vessel that is currently going through routine maintenance) on the Atlantic Ocean with the rest of the C-268 class (shout out to our crew!). We visited the ports in Ireland, France, Portugal, and Spain. However, this year’s trip to the Phoenix Islands is nothing like the one in Europe. So far, we’ve experienced much hotter and more humid weather, strong winds, frequent rains, and amazing views of the night sky and the Milky Way. I had evening watch last night from 7pm to 1am, and I saw sparks of bioluminescence in the ocean right next to the ship. At first, I almost thought that they were reflections of the numerous bright stars above. I tried to steer the ship by looking at the stars instead of the compass, as I was taught by our mate, Mark “Snark” Waddington. However, as stunning as the stars were, it was very difficult to stay on course while steering this way.

After a long night, we anchored near Kanton Island in the morning. It was definitely a change of scenery to see land, because we had been surrounded by nothing but the sea for many days. In the afternoon, we had a swim call and some free time. During the daily class, we gathered together to work on our group research projects. Will, Hailey, and I are doing research on water management and sustainability in Kiribati. Due to the lack of natural resources and the remoteness of its islands, Kiribati has been experiencing significant freshwater shortage and related issues such as contamination and water-borne diseases. Even though we are not experts in those fields, we hope to learn as much as we can from previous literature and our visit to Kanton, in order to contribute to spreading awareness about Kiribati’s freshwater shortage issues.

I’m also working on my individual research project on seasonal labor migration of I-Kiribati (people of Kiribati) seafarers and its social impacts on their families and communities. When we were still docked in Pago Pago, I spoke with two fishermen on a fishing vessel docked right next to us. They told me about their extremely stressful working conditions and long separation from their families (one fisherman said that he sleeps only three hours per day, and the other said that he often spends eight months fishing at sea without seeing land). Our conversations further motivated me to look into topics such as fisheries management, the role of fisheries in local and global economies, the lack of alternative employment opportunities for fishermen from Pacific Island countries, and very importantly, the mental health and social issues caused by family separations and poverty.

I also learned during my research that in recent decades, governments and communities have made huge efforts to preserve many fish stocks that have been declining globally. However, in many places, the regulations on
fisheries have also placed pressure on fishermen and their families. As I continue my research, I hope to be able to gather more information and think critically about such challenges (especially the difficult trade-offs between environmental protection and employment) that exist not only in Kiribati but also worldwide.

We will stay in Kanton for four more days, and I’m excited about our visit to the island and look forward to meeting the people living there. It is my first visit to the Central Pacific, and everything I’ve experienced to this point has been very inspiring.

Also, thanks to Captain Chris for providing the picture for this blog! I did not bring my camera to the ship.

- Candela

P.S. Barbara Ann says happy anniversary to Anthony Porter. She loves and misses you very much.




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