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SEA Currents Blog

SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans


July 26, 2016

Orona!

Haidee Chen, A watch, Columbia University

Protecting the Phoenix Islands

At anchor in Orona. Photo by Jan Witting

Noon Position
4° 30.8’ S x 172°13.6’W

Description of location
Orona!

Ship Heading/Speed
Anchored!

Taffrail Log
2048nm

Weather / Wind / Sail Plan (from 1300 Watch Change)
Sunny, calm seas, essentially no cloud coverage.

Souls on Board

Haidee, here again! I realize that y’all have probably already heard enough from me, but here it goes, two blog posts in a row! As Hamilton blares from my laptop, I can see miles and miles of Orona, pristine with its white sandy shore and strip of vegetation running down the middle: my version of happiness. Earlier today, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go snorkeling on a dive mission: the first of many that we would have at Orona.

Originally, I was terrified of seeing sharks. I had armed myself with Alex’s Gopro stick, ready to keep my distance if any sharks come too close. After being comforted and reassured by Scuba Nick and Adrienne that the sharks will not harm us, the strange human-fish swimming in the water, I was mentally prepared to snorkel.

The sea from above may seem glassy, calm, and slightly removed, but when submerged in its cerulean depths, it’s obvious how vibrant and full of life the sea is. Turning my head, I surveyed the area and surreptitiously looked for any sharks that I would have to fence away. After about five seconds of doing so, I am distracted by Jan jabbing his finger frantically in the direction of a large shape emerging from a towering wall of coral. Squinting
through my mask, I clutch the Gopro stick tightly in case any quick prodding or maneuvering is needed. As the figure swam closer, it was obvious that we were dealing with a ~5 ft sea turtle! Never in my life have I seen anything so peaceful as it chased some fish in the clear waters of PIPA.

Gracefully, it swam past us and further into the ocean. Enraptured by the turtle sighting, I almost fail to notice the 2 ft long snapper in all its pinkish-red glory, staring curiously at me through glassy golden eyes. The next 40 minutes were filled with black-tipped reef shark sightings and the sound of parrot fish smashing their heads into coral and munching loudly and contently in clouds of coral dust.

The diving mission, though only my 3rd time snorkeling, has been one of the highlights of my trip; we don’t truly understand the gift of PIPA until we have experienced the waters and all it’s mega fauna glory. Suspended in the
ocean, we begin to realize how rare and exquisite this environment is, not only from a scientific perspective, but from a life perspective. However, life is a fragile and ephemeral construct that requires constant vigilance and protection, and these dive and snorkel missions help me to further understand how important it is to speak up and protect the ocean.

Again, to my family- Love you guys so much. I’m having a blast over here, experiencing things for the first time that I might not get another chance to. Even just now, I’m seeing aquatic life that I wouldn’t be able to see in a more inhabited and less pristine environment. Thank you for encouraging me to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Best Wishes,
Bye-dee

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