2015 Expedition: Science team meets with Kanton community

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 Yashika Nand.

On our second last evening on Kanton, the science team took time out to meet with a small caretaker community of 20 people residing on this remote atoll. As a Fijian it is always special to meet other Pacific Islanders and learn more about their culture and traditions, and life on an atoll.

An I-Kiribati woman dances on Orona Island / Photo: S. Mangubhai (2002)

As a newcomer to the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, my first impressions have been one of amazement to see healthy coral communities and thriving fish populations. I have been documenting coral disease and was happy to see very little disease was present on reefs at the permanent monitoring sites. I wanted to share my findings and observations with the local I-Kiribati community on Kanton.

Now it's a party! / Photo: S. Mangubhai

A twilight dinner party brought smiling children, women and men from Kanton to the Hanse Explorer where we were eagerly waiting for them. After a brief introduction, there was exchange of gifts. We provided gifts of food, fuel and school materials, and the Kanton community gave everyone on board a stunning hand-made necklace of shells and beads. They also gave us a pig and caught us some fish for our dinner together.

Liz talking to children from Kanton / Photo: C. Cook

In a speech to the communities, chief scientist Dr. Sangeeta Mangubhai expressed the science team’s heartfelt thanks for the Phoenix Islands Protected Area. She spoke about how the story of the Phoenix Islands, a “gift to humanity”, is being shared all over the world, and is inspiring other countries. Tiim, the spokesman for the community who had met the 2012 science team, thanked the scientists and especially the New England Aquarium for their kind and generous support to the protected area. To show their deep gratitude, they have named their small school the New England Aquarium School.

Peter Gawne helping to install a sign on McKean Island / Photo: S. Mangubhai

Peter Gawne later said to me, “I did not realise how much the work we have been doing has touched people’s lives in such a remote part of the world. I felt incredibly proud tonight to be working for the New England Aquarium.”

— Yashika

Yashika Nand joined WCS Fiji in 2010 as a Marine Scientist. She graduated with her Post-graduate Diploma in Marine Science specializing in coral reef ecology and biology with emphasis in climate change from the University of the South Pacific in 2008. She has previously worked for the Department of Fisheries in Fiji as the lead coral researcher. Yashika manages all data from WCS’ biological monitoring program, and helps integrate this into conservation planning in Fiji. Her expertise includes coral identification, coral health assessments and the aqua

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