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SEA Currents Blog

SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans

July 29, 2016

The Policy Component

Henry Bell, Vice-Chief of Policy

Protecting the Phoenix Islands

A lively policy discussion with B Watch takes place on the foredeck. Photo Credit: Nick "Scuba" Pioppi

Noon Position
3° 33.7’ S, 173° 34.3’ W

Description of location
140 nm southeast of Winslow Reef

Ship Heading
330° per steering compass

Ship Speed
5.2 knots

Taffrail Log
2129.5 nm

Weather / Wind / Sail Plan
Winds NExN, Force 4. Seas 3 feet. Spotty coverage of cirrus and altocumulus clouds. Sailing under the four lowers (mainsail, mainstays’l, forestays’l, jib) and fisherman stays’l.

Souls on Board

Hi, folks! It's time for something a little different today. This blog entry is brought to you not by a student, but by the grooviest marine policy teaching assistant this side of the equator. What's marine policy, you say? And what is a policy TA doing aboard the Robert C. Seamans, a student sailing vessel better known for its salty watch officers, wizardly marine scientists, and a can-do crew of exceptional students? I'm glad you asked! 

As you should already know - assuming, of course, that you've been following along with this splendid blog - the Seamans has been in the Phoenix Island Protected Area (quite cleverly shortened to PIPA), for some time now. 13 days to be exact. In fact, the main overarching goal of this particular SEA Semester program was to sail to PIPA, visit its remote coral atolls and reef ecosystems, and conduct oceanographic and marine research here. PIPA is a shining example of a large marine protected area, or MPA, that contains substantial deep-water and seamount habitat in addition to those spectacular low-lying islands and reef areas mentioned above. When PIPA was created in 2008, it was the world's largest MPA and first to incorporate such a wide ecological range of habitat types in one contiguous protected area. And its establishment was spearheaded (with the help of several NGOs, including the New England Aquarium) by one of the world's poorest and least developed countries, the Republic of Kiribati.

So what does all of that exciting stuff mean? Well, not only do PIPA's high levels of biodiversity and relatively remote and unspoiled environments make it a great spot to do science-y things like study zooplankton biomass and coral reef productivity, but they also make it a fantastic case study and success story for international marine policy. In addition to their nautical and marine science studies, students are learning about the policy process that created this special protected area and the challenges that face PIPA and the establishment of similarly large and holistically developed MPAs in the future.

Along the way, they have wrapped their brains around such terms as ecosystem-based management and multi-stakeholder approach, and wrestled with possible solutions to major current issues such as the unsustainable exploitation of commercial tuna fisheries and the growing water and food security problems that face South Pacific Island Nations. Currently, the students are hard at work on their final group research endeavors and advanced ocean policy briefs. These projects delve into specific issues relating to coastal and ocean policy, and identify marine policy approaches and alternatives that could be utilized by policy stakeholders and legislators in the region. The briefs created by advanced ocean policy students detail comprehensive recommendations for an issue or phase of relevant policy, and will eventually be presented to stakeholders of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area.

Ok, so PIPA is a pretty darn cool MPA that people who create policy can use as a model for future marine conservation efforts. Students are becoming part of the process by visiting the area and coming up with their own carefully researched and well-crafted suggestions. But why am I, the policy TA, here on the ship? Ostensibly to continue the education begun by their Policy Chief back in Woods Hole, Jeff Wescott - I facilitate group discussions and provide structure and feedback as students work on their papers. But in reality, the students barely need me. They eagerly debate various policy approaches and capably lay out ambitious but well-supported potential solutions and perspectives to consider. I'm lucky to be along for the ride, and immensely proud to be a small part of the work and initiatives that are being undertaken on this superb vessel.

Always remember: policy never sleeps!
- Henry

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