Kate Madin, Writer, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
It takes more than five days steaming from Fiji aboard the live-aboard dive boat Nai’a to reach the Phoenix Islands, through rolling waves that have kept the boat moving unpredictably and constantly. Most of the scientists are waiting out the trip, waiting for the waves to quiet down, since the boat’s motion makes it very difficult to work at a computer or unpack equipment.
As we left Fiji, while the waters were still calm enough, Dr. Craig Cook, a specialist in diving medicine, and ship’s crew member Brigitte assembled and tested a piece of equipment we hope no one will use -- a portable recompression chamber. This would allow a diver who has decompression sickness (the bends) to be put back under pressure for the necessary time to recover. All divers will use extreme caution on this trip, but we are in such a remote area that this gives everyone an extra margin of safety we are happy to have along.
An all-hands science meeting on the first morning of the voyage addressed the history of PIPA and the science plan for this trip. The expedition is led by Gregory S. Stone of Conservation International and the New England Aquarium, who first saw the Phoenix Islands and their reefs in 2000, and who worked for years with members of the Kiribati government to establish PIPA. The chief scientist, in charge of the day-to-day work, is David Obura, coral biologist and coordinator of the Coastal Oceans Research and Development Indian Ocean-East Africa. They each outlined their objectives for the work to be done at the site. Stone then introduced the members of the Kiribati government who are accompanying us, Tubuku Teroroko, Director of PIPA, Kiribati Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Agricultural Development, and Tuake Teema from the Kiribati Ministry of Fisheries – both of whom expressed the hope that this expedition would bring attention to the efforts of Kiribati to preserve this remarkable marine area for the world.