Bookends, Burritos, and Blogs - Wrapping up the Phoenix Islands

It's official--we are sailing back to Fiji--another long 5.5 day voyage. It's interesting to have our time on/in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area bookended by long sea voyages. Though our trip out was extremely rough (20 ft seas at times!), this time I'm happy to report that the seas are relatively calm, the mood is cheerful, and seasickness is but a distant, 3-week old memory. With all of this good luck, what are we doing with our time?

Believe it or not, we're still working. In between a few moments of sunset-watching and toasting, we've all been busy entering and analyzing our data, writing first drafts of a report (to be submitted to the Kiribati government, among others), and talking about the details of our experience--just trying to absorb it all and figure out what our main findings were, and what we'd like to pursue next time. In other words, we're trying to wrap this trip up (hence the burrito).

So, where are we so far? My colleagues and I have been discussing the remarkable fish density and biomass, the encouraging signs of new coral recruits and juveniles, and the importance of local versus global effects as we've been blogging about all along (David just posted his wrap-up). But here's an additional thought: the Phoenix Islands are a living laboratory, a place where we can study ecological, behavioral, and physiological processes on reefs and among reef organisms in their natural context. In other words, this is a place to study nature where nature still (mostly) calls the shots, instead of a place where humans (mostly) call the shots.

Here's some filling for that burrito: how many places are there left in the world where nature (mostly) calls the shots, and is it too late to save them? I remain optimistic that the fate of the world's coral reefs is not yet sealed. We've seen remarkable re-growth, both swift and systematic, that fuels my optimism.

A quick diversion: HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Brian Skerry and Kate Madin!

As we approach Fiji (we'll be arriving in port tomorrow morning), this blog will take on a new dimension. Thus far, we've been posting in real-time, giving you our thoughts as we have them. However, thoughts improve with time. As our ideas simmer, sizzle, and grow, we'll be sure to give you our refined view of the trip. The trip has been bookended, but we are left with a lot of possible burrito fillings and toppings ... and we'll continue to think about how to wrap it all up... here on this blog.


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