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September 21, 2016

Stony Brook University students recount Phoenix Islands adventure

SEA Semester

SEA Semester students from Stony Brook University Alexandra Bonecutter and Ruthann Monsees with some of their shipmates approaching Enderbury Island, the first atoll they visited and their first time sighting land after leaving port in Honolulu.

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SoMAS Students Participate in SEA Semester Journey
Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences News

Alexandra Bonecutter, a student in the Environmental Studies program with a Marine Science minor, and Ruthann Monsees, a student in the Coastal Environmental Studies program Sustainability Studies program, were part of a SEA Semester voyage that was recently featured in The New York Times.  According to an email distributed by SEA Semester, the voyage “discovered good news regarding coral health in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) in July, 2016”

The message continues:

PIPA is one of the last remaining coral wildernesses on Earth, about which little is known. An expanse of ocean about the size of California, it is the largest – and deepest – UNESCO World Heritage site.

Accompanied by 21 other undergraduates, SEA Semester faculty, and researchers from the New England Aquarium and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Alexandra and Ruthann gathered data on the health of the islands’ coral reef ecosystem in order to recommend policy implementations to the PIPA management office in Kiribati – all while sailing as active crewmembers aboard our tall ship research vessel!

Ruthann and Alexandra were on voyage class S-268 Protecting the Phoenix Islands.  According to Ruthann, “We sailed for six weeks from Honolulu to the American Samoa, focusing on the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA); a Marine Protected Area belonging to Kiribati.”  This area, she says, “is recognized as an area with the most “pristine” coral reef system” that “has shown remarkable resilience in the face of climate change, El Nino bleaching events, and anthropogenic effects.”

In 2015, PIPA became a “no-take zone” that prohibits fishing and other consumptive economic uses.  Ruthann mentioned that this year was also a large El Nino year.  “Our research focused on the policy issues of this area as well as the oceanographic issues: ‘Is 2016 still in an El Nino?’ ‘What are the effects/ recovery of the coral reef?'”

The students had specific projects related to the trip, but in addition to their academics, they appreciated the authentic living and learning experiences at SEA.  Ruthann found “the clutter of terrestrial life stripped away” and that she “woke up for her watches with a purpose.” 

Alexandra saw “the ocean in ways most people have not: exactly how it should be.”  It was a “thriving, pulsing with diverse life that is almost as curious about you as you are about them.”  Both developed a strong sense of community with their shipmates and highly recommend SEA for the “beauty of sailing, the sense of adventure” and the strong “sense of purpose, growth and opportunity.”

Applicants to SEA Semester must submit undergraduate academic references in order to be accepted into the program, and SoMAS Professor David Taylor reflected on the letter he wrote for Alexandra.  He met Alexandra in his Fall 2015 SBC 203 Interpretation and Critical Analysis class, where he discovered Alexandra’s “ability to move easily between the sciences and the arts.”  Taylor noted that her “work and writing were exemplary–showing a creativity far beyond her years and an insightful understanding of the need for the sciences and humanities in engaging questions concerning the environment.”

The School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University has a strong relationship with SEA.  There are SEA alumni at SoMAS as graduate students and faculty.  Students in the Semester by the Sea program at Southampton are eligible for alumni awards that provide financial support for students to participate in the SEA program.

For undergraduates interested in a year-long intensive and immersive experience in coastal AND blue water marine science, a fall semester in the Stony Brook University Semester by the Sea program at Southampton and a spring or summer semester at SEA will provide that experience.

Read the full story.

Categories: News,Protecting the Phoenix Islands, • Topics: pipa  s268  featured • (0) Comments

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