SEA 2014: Anchored off The Island of the Sun (July 22)

A six-week expedition with Sea Education Association (SEA) to the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) is underway. This will mark the first-ever oceanographic cruise to PIPA, and is a historic collaboration between SEA, the New England Aquarium, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Republic of Kiribati. The objectives of this mission include the high-quality education of 13 students in both science and policy aspects of PIPA as well as scientific goals, which will be detailed in the coming weeks and months here on this blog.

July 22, 2014

Today marks our third and last day amongst the I-Kiribati of the Phoenix Islands. The morning marked a last and intensive run of shore, snorkeling and science missions upon the island as well as in its beautiful lagoon. After a morning of snorkeling amongst the reef sharks that patrol and police the fish throughout the wreck of the President Taylor steam ship and manta rays that silently guard the lagoon entrance between the dredged channel of Spam Island and quiet remains of a long forgotten hotel on the opposing shore; the crew of the Seamans was given a most fond farewell not likely to be forgotten.

The village of Aba-Riringa all dancing and singing together

An older I-Kiribati man told me of their culture's tale about the young woman who became the first coconut and how whenever someone now drinks from a coconut they are giving her a kiss.

We all sat together in the remains of an old metal building of the bygone era of Kanton's imperial occupation, one of the many that nature slowly wages her war against. Rust spirals up the walls, corroding the structures integrity while a stoic tree replaces what was once steel and stone, curving
around the structure into its roof and wounds, watching over those inside.

Singing and dancing soon followed, traditional notes woven inextricably into movement, stories told in the flutter of a wingtip. Davis, the village's policeman (and in many ways liaison between us and the
village) spoke to us about how all I-Kiribati people are taught to be able to survive for months while stranded at sea; and with what coconut trees and supplies they had that they would be able to survive for at least another three months or more but with what meager provisions we had given to them (A
fraction of what the ship had stocked for the 6 week journey) they would be able to survive at least another year waiting for the arrival of the elusive supply ship. Nonetheless they still went out of their way to slaughter one of their few pigs, and throw us a spectacular feast of fresh lobster, slow roasted pork, fish, clams, rice, and coconut. . . It seems that those in this world with the least are the ones most willing to share of what little they do have. The joining of cultures and peoples from all over of the world in food, dance, and merry-making is a truly beautiful thing.

In small ways these peoples resilience comes out: traditional lays strung with VHS tape, a young girl's palm skirt made out of strips of plastic, pieces of rubber and cable striping where seeds once were threaded. . .  The legacy of the western world exposed in the rusted abandonment of things left behind. What we would see as junk or trash repurposed and reused into something beautiful. It saddens me that those were the gifts our people left the I-Kiribati in years past, and I hope that in the future, perhaps, something more beautiful can come from those who share these beautiful islands for a time.

Upon the morrow we shall sail on, deeper into the heart of the Phoenix Islands, to see and discover what lays over the horizon, our sails full soon again.

-Camrin Braun

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