2015 Expedition: All signed up!

Aquarium researchers and staff are on expedition to the remote Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) to study the natural history of the islands, surrounding reefs and connecting open water ecosystems. Research on the 2015 expedition will directly inform the management and maintenance of this world-renowned MPA. Today's post comes from the expedition's co-leader on land Randi Rotjan.

One of the best things about working in and with the Phoenix Islands Protected Area is the close-knit relationship between science and management. Since the first New England Aquarium Expedition in 2000 (before the protection of the archipelago was even a twinkle in anyone's eye), Aquarium scientists and affiliates have been going to Tarawa to relay scientific findings directly to the Kiribati Government. This tradition continues today, and the relationship has grown; the scientists now have a formal outlet to communicate findings and provide scientific advice to PIPA Management via the Scientific Advisory Committee. Transit to PIPA is expensive and time-consuming, and thus infrequent. So, when an expedition is going, we will often try to accomplish both scientific and management objectives. This trip, the main management objective is to install signs on each island that state the MPA rules.

The first sign was installed on Kanton, with the help of Kanton residents. It's a big task, requiring a deep hole, wire mesh, poured concrete and a lot of sweat and patience.

Installing signs on Kanton Island (Photos by Aranteiti Tekiau)

After the ship left Kanton, sign installation had to be done by the Hanse crew and scientists. Many have pitched in, after carefully following all of the biosecurity protocols to ensure that no seeds, insects, or other pests were transferred to any of these special islands. 

Installing signs on Rawaki Island (Photo by Sangeeta Mangubhai)

Prior to landing, each person had to have their clothes and gear frozen for at least a day, and then all were sprayed with Permithrin and sealed to ensure no pest transfer. Even though no insects or pests have yet been observed aboard the Hanse, every possible precaution is taken. Clothes are also visually inspected daily for seeds and other potentially harmful materials. Landing to install these signs required a permit and a biosecurity plan that was carefully reviewed by the Kiribati government. Similar to Antarctica or the U.S. Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monuments, biosecurity is taken very seriously and is very carefully controlled. 

Proud and hot (Photo by Sangeeta Mangubhai)

Even when signs are successfully up, the job is not truly finished. Subsequent expeditions will install general "NO LANDING" signs on multiple places on each island. The signs featured here contain a lot of information, but they are meant to be read via binoculars at sea. Without a permit, no one is allowed to land in PIPA. In order to protect precious nesting seabird habitat and native plants, PIPA must remain pest-free, which is a growing challenge in a world constantly plagued by mobility, and thus invasive species. 

Note: No Landing Permitted! (Photo by Sangeeta Mangubhai)
But even with more signs left to install, it's a big first step to have these first signs in -- a long awaited milestone for the largest and deepest UNESCO World Heritage Site on the planet. 

What's taller, the tree or the sign? (Photo by Charles Young)

This sign will probably get the most viewings, as Nikumaroro is the potential landing site of Amelia Earhart, and there are regular expeditions by TIGHAR on Niku to look for signs of her! (Photo by Charles Young)

Anyway, it's time to sign off for now!


1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much Randi, Sangeeta and Aranteiti for being great leaders of this onerous and arduous task. Seeing what you do is different from seeing it while doing it but I can only imagine the hardship you have gone through and will continue to face in the remaining islands.

    Anyway this is the PIPA Family spirit that works in us all but thanks more for doing this but the fact is you are now making your permanent footprints on these most remote islands on the planet - as Neil Armstrong did on the moon.

    All the best and extend words of thanks to Captain and crews and all members of the team for their giving their hands to this work. You are all counted as the accomplishment is wholly yours all.