Living a Dream - A Report from the Journey to the Phoenix Islands from Alan Dynner

Ten years ago my late wife, Akiko Shiraki, and I were on the NAI'A in Tonga to dive with humpback whales. There we met Dr. Greg Stone, then Vice President for Conservation of the New England Aquarium, and his wife Austen, who were on board to educate us on the whales and sea birds. On that trip the NAI'A's owner, Rob Barrel, and his wife Cat first talked to Greg and Austen about the possibility of going to the Phoenix Islands, a remote part of the country of Kiribati in the Pacific where the ocean and coral reefs were primeval and unimpacted by humans. A dream was born.

Greg Stone (left) with Alan Dynner during a past expedition to the Pacific.

The following year Greg led the science team on an expedition on the NAI'A to the Phoenix Islands and started a long process with the Government of Kiribati, the Aquarium and Conservation International that resulted in the creation of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), the largest ocean area in the world that is protected from exploitation.*

Taken in the Phoenix Islands during an earlier exploratory expedition by National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen (full story)

Most experts in marine conservation agree that the only way we can ultimately save our oceans for future generations is through Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), where sea life can thrive without interference from fishing, mining, oil exploration, and other human impacts. PIPA is thus a huge step in the goal of saving the world's oceans. The dream became reality. After that 1999 voyage I became very involved with the Aquarium, where I am now a Trustee and Chairman of the Board of Overseers, and worked with Greg on the PIPA project. After Akiko's untimely passing in 2004, I implemented her wish to establish a fund at the Aquarium in her name for ocean exploration and conservation. My dream was to someday see PIPA.

Now my dream is coming true with this expedition, which is partially funded through Akiko's fund. The purpose of the expedition is both scientific, to assess the health of PIPA's coral and fish life compared to previous expeditions, and educational, to educate the public about PIPA through a National Geographic magazine article and video, as well as Aquarium video and literature. The Aquarium is playing a key role in the expedition, which is headed by Greg Stone, now Senior Vice President and an Overseer, as well as Senior Vice President and Chief Scientist for Oceans of Conservation International.

Alan Dynner (left) with Brian Skerry during the Sea of Cortez Expedition in 2008.

Overseer and Explorer in Residence Brian Skerry is the National Geographic underwater photographer assigned to the expedition. Overseer Larry Madin, Executive Vice President and Director of Research of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, will lead research into open ocean sea jellies (pelagic invertebrates) in PIPA.

Research Scientist Randi Rotjan will concentrate on the interrelationship of corals and fish. I will serve as a utility diver, assisting the scientists and photographers and trying to help instead of getting in the way.

-Alan Dynner

*Since this post was published, larger marine protected areas have been created. PIPA remains one of the world's largest and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its ecological significance.

Facebook Comments


Post a Comment