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Expedition to the Phoenix Islands Protected Area

September 2009
Join an international team of scientists, divers, photographers and officials heading to the Phoenix Islands, a remote archipelago of coral islands in the equatorial Pacific, on a 3-week research mission to survey what may be the most pristine, intact coral reef ecosystems on Earth, in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA).

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Sep 26, 2009 10:16 AM
Amazing on Many Levels
Kate Madin, Woods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionWe are headed back to Fiji, a 5+ -day trip (photo of us underway by Larry Madin). After being anchored for three days at our last stop in the Phoenix Islands, we all felt surge of recognition when we left the island of Orona’s lee and the ship motion began: here we go again…During the trip back, the work has changed, but not stopped. Accommodating

Sep 23, 2009 9:21 AM
Three PIPA Stories
Kate Madin, Woods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionToday’s storyToday we made an unusual dive inside Orona’s lagoon. We took the skiffs in at near-high tide, and it was still so shallow that we had to get out and walk the skiff through the entry channel. But the dive was our reward: At about 40 feet down, giant clams (Tridacna) were everywhere, each about 8”, with their mantles (lips) exposed to the

Sep 22, 2009 9:18 AM
Three-part Day: Green Island, Blue Desert, Reef Oasis
Kate Madin, Woods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionToday we are at Orona Island, a large atoll lush with coconut palms and other greenery. It was a busy day, with blue water and reef dives, plus a shore visit to an abandoned village.People from Kiribati have occupied Orona three times, said Tukabu — most recently by islanders harvesting copra (coconut meat) and fishing, until about 2003. Several

Sep 21, 2009 9:36 AM
Eyes to the Skies: Phoenix Birds
Kate Madin, Woods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionSteaming overnight from Enderbury Island, we arrived at 6am at Rawaki Island— in English called Phoenix Island, the namesake of the chain. As as we arrived we could see, hear, and smell the thousands of seabirds that nest here, since a layer of guano covers the coral rubble that makes up the island. These islands are resting and nesting places for

Sep 20, 2009 6:56 PM
Enderbury Island
Kate Madin, Woods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionEvery reef has been different, but this was the prettiest so far.Arriving at Enderbury Island this morning, divers went in early in the morning. This is the kind of reef they hoped to find here. There are some sharks here also, though fewer than the ecologists expected. We saw overlapping plates of coral, beautiful fish, and lots of “giant clams” –

Sep 19, 2009 10:48 AM
Reef Diving
Kate Madin, Writer, Woods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionToday held no blue water plankton dive. Instead, it was a reef diving day. Both Nai’a’s skiffs and drivers were busy carrying the fish and coral scientists to their work sites, and picking divers up afterwards. Divers went in the early morning to find spawning fish. Then there was breakfast, and a couple of hours later a dive to a study site

Sep 18, 2009 10:30 AM
Visit to Kanton Atoll
Kate Madin, Writer, Woods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionImages from our visit to the Kanton SchoolToday began with a dive for the reef scientists, who are re-visiting survey sites that were marked on the last expedition here in 2005. There are usually four dives a day to cover the island’s reefs.For others of us, the day started with a hot, two-and-a-half mile walk (each way) along the atoll’s

Sep 17, 2009 9:45 AM
Looking for plankton in PIPA
Kate Madin, Writer, Woods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionToday was blue water dive day. Larry, Greg, Craig, Sam (one of Nai’a’s divemasters) and I dove off Kanton Island to find animal plankton. Naia’s skiff driver, Koroi, took us into the ocean where the bottom is thousands of feet down, and tied the skiff to the dive float.Greg acted as the safety diver and went in first, then Craig and Sam –

Sep 16, 2009 9:41 AM
Kanton Lagoon
Kate Madin, Writer, Woods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionWe are steaming from island to island in the Phoenix Islands chain so the expedition researchers will be able to do the broadest survey of PIPA reefs possible in the very limited time we have here.About 3 pm local time, we saw Kanton grow on the horizon and Tukabu and Greg stood in the bow, watching our approach. The sky is pale and towering

Sep 15, 2009 10:19 AM
An Island of Birds and Recovering Coral
Kate Madin, Writer, Woods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionOvernight we steamed the 60 miles from Nikumaroro Island, to McKean, our second stop in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) survey. We aren’t staying a full day, and there won’t be time for a blue-water dive here.“The last time we were here,” said expedition leader Greg Stone this morning, “there were lots of big, aggressive gray reef

Sep 14, 2009 10:47 AM
Phoenix Islands Return
Brian Skerry, National Geographic and New England Aquarium Explorer in ResidenceAfter nearly six days of sailing we reached Nikumaroro Island around 10:00 AM today. The tiny spec of land turned into a deserted tropical island clustered with palm trees the closer we approached. I had planned to use the days in transit to unpack and assemble all of my photo equipment, but the rough seas didn’t

Sep 14, 2009 9:46 AM
Counting Fish and Corals
Kate Madin, Writer, Woods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionToday on the Phoenix Islands expedition, scientists continued counting fish and coral. They work the reef by laying down lines of rope for a specific distance, then systematically count the fish or corals they see along the line, making notes on clip-boards they carry with them underwater.Scientists have returned to this place seven years

Sep 13, 2009 7:18 AM
It’s a long way to Nikumaroro
Kate Madin, Writer, Woods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionThe dive boat, Nai’a, made good time, and this morning (Sunday, Sept. 13) dawned with us almost at our goal, the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) - - where scientists will survey the reefs for the first time since the PIPA was established. We have much calmer water than during the transit from Fiji, and a rainbow graced the horizon

Sep 12, 2009 9:33 AM
Safe Diving in PIPA
Kate Madin, Writer, Woods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionThe Nai’a continues on a straight course from Fiji to the Phoenix Islands, carrying scientists and photographers, to study the coral reefs and open water of the world’s largest marine protected area -- the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA). The high waves and rolling motion we have been experiencing for days have decreased, making this a

Sep 11, 2009 11:13 AM
On our way
Kate Madin, Writer, Woods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionIt 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

Sep 2, 2009 9:35 AM
Cruise Overview
The Phoenix Islands Marine Protected Area is the largest protected marine area in the world. It was formed in 2008 thanks to the efforts of the Island nation of Kiribati, the New England Aquarium and Conservation International. This September an international team of scientists, divers, photographers and officials are heading to the Phoenix Islands, a remote archipelago of coral islands in the