A night with the community of Kanton

This is blog entry posted from the field during the 2012 Phoenix Islands Marine Protected Area (PIPA) Expedition. The Phoenix Islands are an isolated island chain more than 1,000 miles southwest of Hawaii. They are part of the island nation of Kiribati, which partnered with the New England Aquarium and Conservation International to create PIPA in 2008. Today it is one of the world's largest marine protected areas and a UNESCO world heritage site. This voyage is part of a regular series of scientific expeditions to investigate coral health and study ecosystems and biodiversity.

This post is from expedition leader Sangeeta Mangubhai.

Today was special because the entire community of Kanton, which only totals 23 people, came over to the Nai’a to share a meal with us. These families are often placed on the islands for 2 to 5 years as caretakers for the Phoenix Islands – they are extremely isolated and rely on a government ships from the capital Tarawa for their supplies. All the science team got dressed in their ‘sulus’ (which is the Fijian word for a sarong).

Rob giving a tour of the Nai'a and showing a young girl how to drive the boat

 Nai'a crew with kava

The Fijians did a traditional welcome ceremony, and then the I-Kiribati did the same. This was perhaps one of the most heartfelt moments of the trip so far. The I-Kiribati people thanked us for visiting their islands, for our friendliness, our invitation to share a meal with each other. They gave us beautiful necklaces that they had hand produced. The children also gave us letters they had written to the New England Aquarium and others who had donated books and pens, etc. to the local school there.

Group photo all Nai'a crew. PIPA team, and residents of Kanton Island

The local scientists, who are visiting Kiribati for the first time got to both experience a little of the Fijian and I-Kiribati culture. Though PIPA is known for its remoteness and relative lack of human habitation, the photo above shows the entire population of Kanton plus the expedition members packed into the Salon of the Nai'a. Sparse, or a crowd?! You decide... :-)

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