SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans
July 07, 2018
Aboard the SSV Robert C. Seamans
July 7th on board the Robert C. Seamans, Southwest of the Hawaiian Islands. For a few hours now, we've been sailing at steady 8-9 knots with a fine trade wind on our backs. Squeezed between the tall Hawaiian Islands, the winds funnel into the jets that are now speeding us along toward the Phoenix Islands. With 25 knots of wind come commensurate seas, and the Seamans is lunging down some waves as the bigger ones catch our stern and we accelerate away. It has been only a few hours out of the bustling port of Honolulu, and we're already in the middle of the ocean, alone, a ship going about its mission.
Our mission is to sail to the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), a huge marine reserve set aside by the Republic of Kiribati to protect a tropical archipelago of coral atoll islands and the ocean around them. The area, about the size of California, is also the deepest UNESCO World Heritage Site, and as such a place well worth visiting. The trouble is it is very difficult to get to, and because of this difficulty it has remained very poorly studied and consequently poorly understood until late. And yet with these protections, surely, we want to know what is being protected?
Our expedition, launched by the Sea Education Association in partnership with Boston University and PIPA managers in Kiribati, is the fifth of its kind on board the Robert C. Seamans. Our expeditions have been the only oceanographic surveys within PIPA, and these 19 undergraduates and 15 scientists and crew on board now will add the next chapter in the knowledge of the ocean inside PIPA. We will be using the ship's sophisticated
oceanographic tools to explore the area, and the results of our voyage will add to our five-year data set exploring how the ocean in PIPA might be changing in this time of warming global climates and rising sea levels.
Though we just left, our mission began in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, on SEA's campus on June 11th. For three intensive weeks, the students received a torrent of information about oceanography, marine policy and seamanship. The last topic looms large now, as the students are challenged to be an integral part of our sailing ship's crew. They'll participate in all of the work of the ship carried on in three watches, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
These are our first hours at sea, ahead more than 3000 nautical miles of sailing and another 37 days of hard work. Also, ahead many sublime sights; starry skies, bioluminescent wakes at night, remote coral reefs with countless fish. In the coming blogs, you'll hear the voices of our crew telling you about the voyage, our ship, each other, PIPA, and the important work we'll carry out there.
There is a lot of excitement about finally getting underway all that lies ahead, and I know everyone is equally excited about the opportunity to tell you about our voyage through the entries of this blog yet to come. I hope you'll join us and read on!
- Jan Witting, Chief Scientist