We’ve settled into a sort of rolling routine – port, starboard; up, down; now bouncy, now barfing. Constant war with luggage slid against doors, and with showers and toilets regurgitating what we politely refer to as "gray" water. As the boat is tossed about, we eat in a row on the starboard cushions, chairs piled against the port mess wall, "like pigeons on a wire" says Jonathan, our Captain. But the conversation, it is lively, and the parts I can relate, relate to the future of the blue sea slipping, shining beneath our bow.
Heaps of clues to that future await us at our destination, for the Phoenix Islands may be remote from local human mischief, but they are ground zero for a climate engine that launches tongues of warm water lashing eastward across the Pacific, the El Nino. El Nino – a natural climate cycle – is now muddled by society's giant climate experiment.
"We look to the wreckage, those spots hardest hit by bleaching, to learn how a coral reef regenerates when it can give it everything it's got..."
Some of the hot spots arising in this same area may well be marching to a new and different drummer. Either way the marine denizens of PIPA are, of late, periodically bathed in dangerously warm water for dangerously long periods of time. The corals of PIPA can bleach and, if the hot spot lasts long enough, they die as some did in 2002. Of course we look forward to seeing the vibrant reefs pulsing with life that made PIPA famous when Greg Stone led the first marine biological expedition here in 2000 and 2002.
Our real gold, though this time – for benthic ecologists like me – lies hidden within base lead: we look to the wreckage, those spots hardest hit by bleaching, to learn how a coral reef regenerates when it can give it everything it's got – no local pollution or overfishing, deforestation or runaway coastal development.
For this we journey five days each way over open ocean, looking out day after day over bouncing tracts of blue water and white foam...blue sky and white clouds...blue bodies and silvery-white wings of the flyingfish that burst from the water and soar like squadrons of dragonflies out and away as Nai’a knifes the Pacific before her. This afternoon we saw two terns. At least we know for sure that we are still on a planet that bears somewhere, land.
– Les Kaufman, Conservation International Marine Management Area Science Program
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