SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans
August 01, 2018
1°38.1’ S x 174°57.6’ W Anchored at Winslow Reef in 40 feet of water with two shots of chain
Sunny and hot: 35°C.
ExN Force 3. Seas 1 foot.
What's this? We're anchored? Is it another island stop? Not quite. A calm, empty, blue ocean still stretches from horizon to horizon, but nevertheless the Robert C. Seamans is rolling happily at anchor. Forty feet below the surface of the water, white sand and patches of coral are clearly visible. Almost the entire crew lines the edges of the deck, peering over the rails in hopes of catching a glimpse of a blacktip shark, or at the very
least a reef fish. A small team of staff members is out in the little boat - they have deployed a miniature underwater ROV in order to examine and film this unusual spot. We are at Winslow Reef, the very tip of a giant seamount that reaches up from the ocean floor to a point just below the surface of the water. This remarkable place is a biodiversity hotspot, home to many marine species and a potentially important breeding ground for even more. Onboard the Seamans, lifelong sailors and earnest students alike marvel at this strange and unique situation that we find ourselves in: we are anchored seemingly in the middle of the Pacific Ocean!
While Winslow Reef may sound quite fascinating, our arrival here was actually not the most exciting part of the afternoon. We held a series of policy stakeholder meetings during class time today, each led by one of our three keen and fearless Advanced Ocean Policy Research (AOPR) students. Am I biased? Well, perhaps. After all, I am the policy instructor on board and am happily charged with continuing the students' marine policy education that began back in Woods Hole with Jeff Wescott. But by all accounts, today's policy discussions were lively back-and-forth debates, filled with differing viewpoints, pointed and incisive questions, and well-researched rebuttals and counterpoints.
Cody Hoff held court on the quarterdeck and advanced the idea of establishing a small-scale protected zone in the waters of Tonga, attempting to balance cultural traditions such as turtle hunting with calls for conservation in this small monarchical island nation. Down below in the main salon, Lee Fenstermacher argued for a reevaluation of the way that marine resources, such as tuna, are valued. As things currently stand, the tuna industry is subsidized heavily by the governments of nations like the US and China, and the true cost of extracting tuna from the ocean at our current unsustainable rate is not accounted for in current markets. Meanwhile, Rosie Wigglesworth took charge of the foredeck and laid out a comprehensive plan to set up a new marine protected area in the Line Islands of Kiribati, taking lessons from PIPA and dealing with additional issues such as the presence and interests of local residents.
The rest of the students took on the roles of different stakeholders for these discussions. In other words, all organizations, groups, and parties with significant interests (or stakes) in each of the aforementioned policy arguments were given a seat at the table for these meetings. Commercial fishing interests were represented by a (fictitious) group called "International Fishing Industry Shareholders," or IFISH. They were countered by the "League of Ocean Voters on Earth" (referred to as LOVE, naturally), a conservation-minded non-governmental organization. Students also represented the Government of Kiribati, an ecotourism company we called "Reef Adventure Destinations" (RAD), and the citizens of the Line Islands and Tonga, among others. The students' prior planning was evident and they jumped into their roles, calling upon details from policy readings and sometimes channeling a bit of theatrical pizzazz to bring up new points of consideration for AOPR students to respond to. Throughout the sessions, students touched upon topics ranging from rather humorous ecotourism schemes to quite technical examinations of how to utilize fishing licenses fees to provoke a measured shift toward market equilibrium. Cody, Lee, and Rosie came away with excited and not-too-overwhelmed smiles, as well as new ideas for beefing up the counter-arguments and organizational structures of their research papers.
A resounding success, I'd say! I'm lucky to be along for the ride. Policy and PIPA forever!
P.S. Happy three years, Jenna! Love you.