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SEA Currents: News

August 16, 2016

SEA Semester students find signs of hope in remote Phoenix Islands

Doug Karlson,

SEA Semester

ABOVE: SSV Robert C. Seamans at anchor in the Phoenix Islands. BELOW: SEA Semester students lower a MOCNESS research net under the supervision of Professor Jan Witting during a 2014 expedition. BOTTOM: Coral reef of the island of Kanton.

We like to say SEA Semester students adventure with a purpose.  Nowhere is that more true than on our recent expedition aboard the SSV Robert C. Seamans to the rarely visited Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), in the island nation of Kiribati. 

SEA Semester students, crew and scientists, led by SEA Professor of Oceanography Dr. Jan Witting, together with researchers from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the New England Aquarium, sailed 1,600 miles across the Equatorial Pacific from Honolulu to reach the remote archipelago, one of the last coral wildernesses in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

That was the adventure (or at least part of it!).  The purpose was to conduct research on PIPA’s marine ecosystem, sea life, and vast coral reefs. In particular, they were interested to assess the impact of coral bleaching, which is caused by warming temperatures and pollution, and which is devastating reefs throughout the world’s oceans.  All that research will inform the development of a conservation plan for the region by the PIPA management office in Kiribati.

As they explored the archipelago, SEA Semester students and researchers were surprised and delighted to discover that even despite a very warm El Niño, the coral ecosystem had continued to recover since SEA’s last visit in 2015.

 The reefs were, in fact, thriving!

That’s wonderful and encouraging news.  It’s also a great example of how SEA combines scientific research, conservation policy, and open ocean voyages to deliver an unparalleled and meaningful academic experience.  It’s what we call an adventure with a purpose.

Learn more about SEA’s expedition to the Phoenix Islands in this feature article, which appeared Aug. 16th in the New York Times.

SEA will next be voyaging to PIPA in Summer 2017, with our SEA Semester: Protecting the Phoenix Islands summer program.


#1. Posted by Smithk919 on August 18, 2016

Awesome article post.Thanks Again. Much obliged.



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