SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans
March 17, 2015
Happy St. Paddy’s Day from Sea!
44°40.5’ S x 173°11.0’ E
south and east of the Banks Peninsula
7-9 knots under the stays’ls and storm trys’l
Force 7 from the SW with 10-foot seas
Clear and sunny but cold and windy
1898 miles by the taffrail log since the start of the voyage
We are making excellent time on our way to Lyttleton. Cyclone Pam passed us well to the east, but provided some good southerly winds on the back side of the storm to propel us along. We now have just a few days left in what has been a really terrific program—on our campus back in Woods Hole, aboard the ship, and in all of our New Zealand ports of call. Our shipboard company has been remarkably companionable. The students have never failed to be enthusiastic and curious, even in challenging conditions.
What did we learn? I think the biggest thing might be the tremendous implications that can follow from seemingly small actions. What does it mean to bring rats, possums and ferrets into islands that previously had no mammals? The sad answer is the loss of tens of thousands of birds annually, and the swift extinction of several species. The dramatic changes following in the wake of each introduced animal or plant (and the list is a long one here ) have made New Zealanders extraordinarily aware of “biosecurity.” It is just one of the things that makes this a particularly interesting and unique place to study human impacts on coastal and marine environments, the theme of this program.
Students have mostly turned in papers and given presentations on their work to their shipmates, and the list of topics covered in eight courses includes (in no particular order) the management of fisheries, the impact of colonialism on Maori people and their cultural practices, plastic pollution in the ocean, eddies, earthquakes, volcanoes, traditional Maori boats (“waka”), missionaries, marine sanctuaries, chlorophyll and pH levels, geostrophic flow, whaling (both modern and historical), cruise ships, zooplankton mass and biodiversity, mangroves, yachting, aquaculture, fish brains, wind energy, diatoms and dinoflagellates, street art, tattoos, pteropods, and a couple of things that could be studied nowhere else in the world: the use of the Maori “haka” at the start of rugby games in both NZ and the US, and the impact of the “Lord of the Rings” movie trilogy on tourism. (Lest you think these last two were not serious academic topics, the first deals with issues of cultural politics and the determination of who owns cultural and intellectual property; the second with millions of dollars in revenue.)
Today there were eleven presentations tied specifically to the metrics of the Ocean Health Index that used our data to look at issues of pollution, biodiversity, ocean acidification, and indicators of climate change. All this is in addition to having learned how to safely operate a large sailing vessel as crew with increasing levels of responsibility, to handle the helm, plot our course on a chart, deploy scientific equipment, and be both a team member and a leader. It is an impressive amount of work that has been done and still people are wonderfully cheerful as we head toward our final port stop tomorrow and the end of the program the day after that.
This is an important holiday for my family and I wish them all a lovely day.
We are scattered around the world this year, but I know that my four sisters all made soda bread with the family recipe, and so did I, here on the Seamans! A bit of the oulde sod on the raging main.
Like everyone on the ship, I will have a hard time saying goodbye. The bond formed by our shared adventure, and by living together in a small space, is a close one. In my almost-24 years at SEA one of the things I have most appreciated is that students become my friends, and I hope and expect to be in touch with members of class S-257 for many years to come.