SEA Currents: News
July 14, 2016
SEA, New England Aquarium collaborate to study Phoenix Islands
Scientists from the New England Aquarium are currently on board the SSV Robert C. Seamans as she approaches the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) with SEA Semester class S-268. Our students and scientists, together with New England Aquarium scientists, will help gather data to help protect this amazing UNESCO World Heritage Site – one of the world’s last remaining coral wildernesses. Dr. Randi Rotjan, Associate Research Scientist at the New England Aquarium, Chief Scientist of the PIPA Conservation Trust and Co-Chair of the PIPA Scientific Advisory Committee, recently sent SEA President Peg Brandon the following letter, which summarizes our unique collaboration and explains why it’s so important….
May 23, 2016
Dear President Brandon,
I am writing to commend and thank you, and your staff at SEA, for your important contributions to the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA). Since SEA first got involved in 2010 at the first PIPA Science meeting, you have been excellent collaborators. Now, with two cruises completed and another soon to set sail, I wanted to reflect on how SEA’s contributions have impacted our project and knowledge to-date.
Prior to 2014, we had only infrequent visits (every 2-3 years) and little empirical oceanographic data from PIPA waters. Thanks to your involvement, we have more “eyes on sight” (both in volume and frequency), and at a very important time in history. As you are probably aware, the 2015-16 El Nino marks the 3rd ever-declared Coral Bleaching event (NOAA), and has dramatically impacted ocean currents and temperatures. We have data from 2012, 2014, 2015 (x2), and this upcoming summer will add the next series of data points. The combination of SEA and NEAq/WHOI cruises, working in compliment, have been very important to determine the impacts of climate change in this natural laboratory.
SEA has also been a part of generating new and exciting science and conservation. Your cruises have contributed some critical insight into the basic physical, chemical, and biological oceanography of the region. Among these insights comes the finding that larval tuna are, indeed, found within PIPA water (long-assumed, but never demonstrated prior to now). SEA has also contributed important sightings of marine mammals, including the largest pod of sperm whales ever reported from PIPA waters since we’ve hosted expeditions (since 2000). SEA has also been part of PIPA exploration, being the first to snorkel Winslow Reef. Data from this exploration is currently being used to help inform management decisions about the PIPA boundaries (and likely continued inclusion of Winslow).
Most important is the human element – SEA efforts to bring students to PIPA has helped to educate the next generation of ocean stewards, and has also fostered connections with Kiribati Observers and Kanton Island caretakers. These relationships and cross-cultural exchanges are critically important. I have just returned from the capital of Kiribati (Tarawa) and from meetings of the PIPA Scientific Advisory Committee, the PIPA Trust. At these meetings, I had the honor of sharing the scientific work of SEA and other collaborators with President and First Lady Maamau, Ambassador Baaro, and many new government Ministers, Secretaries, and other officials. All were very grateful for the scientific contributions and new knowledge contributed by our collaborative efforts.
In summary, the collaborative spirit between our institutions and staff has been excellent. Thank you so much for collaborating with us towards such important and exciting goals. I look forward to our continued efforts together. In Gilbertese: Ko rabwa.
Dr. Randi Rotjan
Associate Research Scientist, New England Aquarium
Co-Chair, PIPA Scientific Advisory Committee
Chief Scientist , PIPA Conservation Trust