Video: The story of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA)

The creation of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) is one of the most fascinating and inspiring conservation stories out there. Dr. Greg Stone, of Conservation International and the New England Aquarium was invited to tell that story for the Mission Blue TED talks. Here's the full 18-minute video.

The talk features some amazing photography by Brian Skerry, who also gave a TED talk recently (you can see it here). During the talk you'll also see parts of the Phoenix Islands seamount fly through that was posted on this blog in March.

The ocean stories don't end with the talk, though. Read more from Greg with his posts from the 2009 PIPA expedition and the 2008 Sea of Cortez expedition. You'll also want to track down the inside story of the other adventures he mentions. The 2001 Antarctica Expedition is covered in the book Ice Island: Expedition to Antarctica's Largest Iceberg, and this documentary.

Still from the video of Greg Stone's TED Talk presenting the story of PIPA

Kiribati President Anote Tong (left) and Greg Stone, then New England Aquarium Vice President of Global Marine Programs

You can also find out more from the people mentioned in the talk. For example, the dive master that first interested Greg in the Phoenix Islands, Rob Barrel, wrote his recollections of the genesis of PIPA in this post, and Dr. David Obura has also posted his observations of coral bleaching and conservation here. See more of the visionary leader Greg describes, president Anote Tong, in these award ceremony photos from is visit to the New England Aquarium in 2008.


In his words: Pacific islander shares his experience in Boston

A guest post from Aranteiti Tekiau who visited from the Kiribati this summer to study with Aquarium researchers in Boston

I've always been bad in geography yet I had to pick Fiji as a marker to tell people where I come from – Kiribati. In fact, when I landed in Los Angeles the customs official assisting me asked me where I was from because he was "geographically challenged." The only explanation I had for him was, "I live on islands just north of Fiji."

Teiti scuba diving in Kiribati

The Big City
In Boston, Massachusetts, everything I did was for the first time! I was so nervous yet eager and excited to know and do things the Boston way. The weather was fine and Boston is a beautiful city. However, the air-conditioning was so cold in every building that I had to go outside often to get some heat.

Thrilling Science
It was a thrill for me to learn from so many scientists during my five week stay in Boston. And I had a lot to learn, I was glad that their explanations were so understandable. I had a great time learning from them and I will use what I have learned to the best of my abilities to improve the conservation of our waters.

Learning important monitoring techniques from them was crucial. Working with Randi Rotjan at the Aquarium, I learned how to use computer software to help organize and analyze data. But data analysis is only possible if you've collected the right data. To better understand data collection, I had to stand in front of the Giant Ocean Tank with a transect laid down and count the fish so I could estimate the size and number of fish running within the transect. It was not easy but it will be a very useful skill.

Surveying a transect in the GOT

I even did otholith extraction. I've heard a lot about otoliths (tiny ear bones in fish) and how you can use them to tell the age of a fish, so I was glad to learn this skill. Another technique I learned is counting zooxanthelae (a type of algae that lives in coral) by using a dental Water-Pik to extract polyps out of the coral. I learned to examine the density of "zoox" in relation to the surface area of the coral that I extracted by counting the number of "zoox" under the microscope. Randi taught me how to use the analysis computer software, JMP, to sort out and analyze these kinds of findings.

Examining zoox under the microscope.

Thanks All Around
I am very thankful for many things during my stay. Firstly I would like to thank Alan Dynner for covering my travel expenses. Without his help, I wouldn't have made it here, so far away from my home. I would also like to thank Regen Jamieson for planning the schedule and preparations, along with Lydia Bergen, Heather Tausig and members of the Conservation department for being so helpful and kind. I extend my thanks to Barbara and Bill Burgess, New England Aquarium chairman, for hosting such a wonderful barbecue. I had a great time at the BBQ, giving me the opportunity to meet people like Greg Stone (New England Aquarium and Conservation International), Bud Ris (Aquarium president and CEO), Alan Dynner (Aquarium trustee and avid supporter of PIPA), Chris Stone (Global Conservation Fund, Conservation International), Peter Shelley (Conservation Law Foundation), Steve Bailey (New England Aquarium curator of fishes) and many other great people.

Bud Ris, Lydia Bergen, Teiti and Chris Bauernfeind enjoying backyard barbecue at the Burgess's

Thank you to Randi Rotjan for her hard work teaching me. I never thought I could make it to the end, but I'm glad I survived. Also, I extend my thanks to Les Kaufman for his involvement as well the students in his lab at Boston University. I could not forget Rachel for the huge amount of work she did lecturing and guiding me while I worked at BU. Thanks also goes to Arjun and Zak for allowing me to shadow them there.

I want to thank my superiors back home in Fisheries, Tuake Teema and Tukabu Teroroko for nominating me to come on this training trip, and Raikaon Tumoa and Secretary Ribanataake Awira for allowing my travel!

Last but not least, I would like to thank Chris and Emily Bauernfeind for hosting me in their cozy apartment. I had a wonderful experience living with such wonderful people. I couldn’t thank you guys more!

Teiti scuba diving in the Aquarium's Giant Ocean Tank

I thought staying for five weeks was long, but I guess not. I was struck by all the different scientists I met with their unique views and work programs who all share one common goal of conserving and preserving the oceans, something we all fear will disappear one day if they are not maintained and protected. All the people I met were wonderful and I hope to get to see them again and to work alongside them with the common goal of every conservationist!

- Teiti


Sailing and Science... at SEA!

SEA, the Sea Education Association, was kind enough to host me onboard the SSV Robert C. Seamans last week for a Colleague Cruise from LA to San Diego. Why? Glad you asked. :-) SEA and PIPA are thinking about a potential collaboration, so I spent a week onboard to basically see what SEA is all about, get the basics on the types of physical and chemical oceanography science they can do, and get a much-needed crash course in sailing.

For the lucky students who may be aboard to do some physical and chemical oceanography, here's a glimpse of life onboard a tallship! :-)

We deployed a compact oceanography carousel to collect water samples at different depths:

SEA and WHOI just recently collaborated on a great project regarding plastic in the Atlantic Ocean, published in the journal Science.

And used a secchi disk to estimate water clarity:

Along the way, we saw some marine mammals and beautiful islands:

We learned how to set and strike the sails of this beautiful vessel in all sorts of configurations:

And handled the lines, too!

It was hard work, exhausting, and a ton of fun (thank goodness for calm seas). SEA already sails to the remote Pacific, including areas near Tahiti and the Line Islands, so a visit to PIPA is not an impossibility. Back at the dock, it's sad to be home, but I'll be thinking of SEA at sea for a while to come. Stay tuned for future details! :-)



The Aquarium Welcomes a Very Special Guest

The Aquarium is hosting a very special guest this summer. Aranteiti Tekiau, or Teiti (pronounced Tace), has traveled half-way around the world, from the tropical Republic of Kiribati in the Pacific Ocean to the bustling city of Boston, to study with researchers at the New England Aquarium and Boston University. At the heart of this exchange is the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, or PIPA.

Teiti doing lab work

Kiribati consists of 33 atolls and islands, strewn across all four hemispheres, in a stretch of ocean equivalent in size to the continental U.S. The Phoenix Islands are one of the three island groups that make up Kiribati.

The Aquarium has sent researchers on lengthy expeditions to survey the biodiversity and collect data about changes in the marine ecosystems in Kiribati since 2000. In 2008, the Aquarium was instrumental in creating PIPA with the Republic of Kiribati and Conservation International. By sharing these scientific skills, the hope is that Teiti can use the techniques he learns from researchers in Boston to monitor any changes in the marine ecosystems inside PIPA.

Teiti in Woods Hole, MA

Teiti works for Kiribati's Ministry of Fisheries. He was chosen to come to the United States for five weeks this summer to learn fish and coral survey techniques and data analysis methodology. As this was his first trip to the United States, he's also been learning about American culture and experiencing life in a city. Here's a look at some of the things he's been doing during his stay!

Teiti saw a whale for the first time during a New England Aquarium Whale Watch.

Bill Burgess (center), chairman of the Board of Trustees, and his family hosted a wonderful barbecue in Teiti's honor. Randi Rotjan (right), a researcher with the Aquarium, has been working closely with Teiti in the laboratory and in the field.

Many people gathered to celebrate this historic exchange at the barbecue.
Left to right: Teiti, Chris Stone (Global Conservation Fund, Conservation International), Greg Stone (New England Aquarium and Conservation International), Alan Dynner (Aquarium trustee and avid supporter of PIPA), Larry Madin (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution), and Randi Rotjan (New England Aquarium).

And Teiti even took in a fantastic sunset and fireworks along the Charles River on the 4th of July!
Photo: Carla Waclawski

Teiti's time is growing short, he'll be heading home at the end of the week. But stay tuned, he will be sharing some of his thoughts before he leaves so check back again soon for more on this exciting exchange!


Video: Fly through video of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area

Want to fly through the underwater seamounts of the Phoenix Islands? Now you can, thanks to Dr. Peter Etnoyer's Google Earth fly through. Peter is a Marine Biologist at the NOAA Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research (CCEHBR) and proud owner of a plot of ocean in the Phoenix Islands on the Aquarium's Live Blue Initiative.

Watch the video below and consider how much is left to explore of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA). Although the 2009 expedition began blue diving and recording data with Remote Operated Vehicles, most of what we know about PIPA is located on the tips of those mountains, and not the vast expanses below.

"The Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) is the largest Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the world. It's the size of the state of California. Most of the attention to PIPA is drawn by the colorful coral reefs that surround each of the eight atolls in PIPA. But the coral reef environment is a tiny fraction of PIPA. By far, more than 99% of the ocean habitat in PIPA consists of the pelagic environment, the place where a vast array of invertebrates live and drift around; also the area where schools of tuna, pods of whales and dolphins, seamounts, deep sea creatures, many of which await discovery. "
-Gregory Stone, PhD from this original post

"Unlike beaches or even coral reefs, most people will never see a seamount, but this study shows that they are clearly one of the predominant ecosystems on the planet.
We can only hope that through this study, people begin to realize what a vast unknown the ocean represents, and what a vital role it plays on Earth."
-Peter Etnoyer, Ph.D., principal investigator of the study and marine biologist at NOAA’s Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research.