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SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans

July 18, 2015

Entering the Phoenix Islands Protected Area

Maddie Beattie, Albion College

Protecting the Phoenix Islands

Science report on Tuna with Chief Scientist Jan talking about their swimming. (Maddie Beattie)

1°49.116 S x 170°21.007 W

Force 1-2 E-SE. Motor sailing with staysails

Souls on Board

Late last night, at approximately 2300, we entered PIPA, and after sailing through PIPA for over twelve hours the ocean still looks pretty much the same as it has for the past week.  It looks so similar because PIPA is actually significantly larger that it appears on maps, and a majority of this area is open ocean.  Due to the Mercator effect, which is the warping of a sphere when applied to a flat surface – such as a map –, the areas near the pole appear larger in relation with the areas near the equator. 

So while PIPA may appear relatively small on a map, in reality its area is equivalent to the state of California.  This means we will still have several days of open ocean sailing ahead of us before we reach land (in case you’re curious we are expecting to see land for the first time since leaving Honolulu Harbor when we reach the island of Enderbury on  the 20th).  To commemorate entering PIPA we had an early morning station with deployments including a hydrocast collecting water samples at varying depths, a Neuston tow which skims a net across the surface, and a tucker trawl pulling a net through the water at a 45° angle. 

At only our first day in PIPA, these stations are showing some pretty significant data.  We compared the data collected by last night’s hydrocast with a data sample collected at a similar location during last year’s S-254 trip into PIPA.   The comparison revealed some compelling evidence of El Nino’s effect on the area.   The surface temperature is 2° Celsius warmer than that of last year and the mixed layer (the top layer of water which mixes with the surface) was about 25% deeper.  These together demonstrate that El Nino is causing the surrounding ocean to warm; a process which we are concerned will lead to a coral bleaching event within PIPA. 

The Neuston net and tucker trawl yielded equally impressive results. The biomass collected was composed of over 30% fish larvae, a number our chief scientist Jan claims he has never seen before.  The fish larvae were primarily myctophids but our tuna larvae research group is hoping that this will lead to future samples with equally high levels of tuna larvae.   As a result of PIPA designation as a no-take zone we are hypothesizing that we will see a rebound in the area’s tuna population.  To prepare for the hopeful influx of tuna larvae, our class topic today was identifying the different species of tuna in both their larval and adult forms. 

We finished class with an exercise led by Captain Pamela.   To prepare for maneuvering around the islands we practiced gybing, the process of turning the ship by moving the stern through the wind. Gybing efficiently is still a work in progress, but since we gybe to prepare for every science station and there will be plenty of science in PIPA odds are we will figure it out soon.  It’s been a busy first day in PIPA and we are only expecting things to pick up from here. 

- Maddie 

P.S. Maggie would like to give her family and any other readers fair warning that all of her hair was a casualty of the equator crossing.

Previous entry: Siren Song    Next entry: Closer to Land


#1. Posted by Charmaine on July 20, 2015

Hi Charge,

I am very proud that you chopped ur hair.  Make sure to take a picture to post to the blog plz!

Your supportive brother,


#2. Posted by The Beatties on July 20, 2015

Hi Madeline!  We’re glad to see you hard at work at PIPA.  Bear thinks your ship is great but doesn’t know where everyone’s paddles are (Honestly, if no one paddles, how do you get anywhere?  You’d never even make it to Bailey’s Harbor in that thing!) Remember, he’s a dog.  What does he know?  We’re enjoying reading everyone’s postings so please keep sharing your adventure with us.  Such beautiful stories and pictures!  Be safe.  Have fun.  Learn lots but don’t cut your hair off.  Come home with lots of photos! 


The entire city of Chicago.  Everyone in the loop says “Hi.”

#3. Posted by The Beatties on July 20, 2015

We can only imagine the vastness, beauty, and camaraderie of your journey through PIPA. We are so proud of how you follow your dreams with passion and determination. We miss you sweetie!
Love, Mom, Dad, Meagan Claire
Wags and Purrs, Bear, Buddy, Marley and Schmoo



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