SEA 2014: Kanton is gorgeous (July 20)

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.

This is a crosspost from the SEA PIPA Expedition blogs.

20 July 2014 — Kanton Island, Kiribati

Kanton is gorgeous. Today was characterized by the buzzing flurry of small boats continually buzzing to and from our ship, taxiing people to shore and taking scientists out on sea missions.  Everyone was roused good and early so that we could all make the most the day. A and B watch left in the morning to explore the island.

Old metallic structures groan in the sea winds like the magnificent, curmudgeonly behemoths they are. They stand out against the natural beauty in the island, but are lovely in their own right. And they have important histories.

Kanton itself is an astounding convergence of beautiful plants, birds, waters and invertebrates all cast against a shroud of haunting, gorgeous ruins.  The recent history of Kanton is plagued by foreign powers, primarily the English and America, exerting stress on the atoll.  Their presence reverberates strongly across the entire halo of land.  Rusted trucks, tractors, generators, cement structures, and radio towers pepper the rather flat, thin island.  They quietly growl and creak as the salty sea air continues to slowly rust and degrade them.  They persist long past their due dates—the military presence is long gone, the guano rush a distant memory, and the hotel never really took off, to say the least.

The only American structure in relatively good shape is the air strip. The air strip is quite a walk from the lagoon where our shore parties make landfall, and is quite long itself. Many of the morning exploration crew went to go check out the air strip, but others went to the village to hang out with the I-Kiribati who live there.  The village is not large, since the population of Kanton roughly the same as our ship's complement-just over thirty. We got to hang out with the people who work in the village.

Some of our crew tried toddy (though I am not sure of the spelling, it is a sweet nectar drawn from coconut trees), chatted with the medical officer, the meteorologist, the policeman, or went to school and hung out with the kids on the island. In the afternoon, there were several snorkel missions, and students got to spy on sea slugs, sea turtles, fish and reef sharks.  Everyone was well ready for dinner when the time rolled around, and it was good that everyone was hungry because we had ourselves a bloody great feast, I tell you.  We had the whole island population come aboard and tour our ship.  They brought coconuts and brought pulled pork and other bbq staples. We all bonded, laughed, told jokes and they sang for us.  It was an amazing evening. The people who live on Kanton are just tops.  They're really fun, and super nice.

We have a few more days anchored here in this incredible lagoon on this unbelievable island.  Which is simply grand.  The I-Kiribati tell us they'll host us for dinner soon on their island in return.  I am very excited, because they catch lots of amazing fish and have put out some eel traps.


David H. Livingstone.  B Watch.  University of Chicago-Environmental
Science/Environmental Studies.

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