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SEA Semester Program Takes UNC Student to Remote Phoenix Islands

July 10, 2017
College of Arts & Sciences

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student Cassidy Manzonelli ’18 is sailing with SEA Semester on a rare scientific research voyage to the remote Phoenix Islands in the Pacific Ocean. Cassidy is one of 24 undergraduates from diverse U.S. colleges and universities who will conduct research to contribute to a growing data set of this largely under-studied region.

The Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) is one of the last remaining coral wildernesses on Earth, about which little is known. An expanse of ocean about the size of California, PIPA is the largest – and deepest – UNESCO World Heritage site, with eight spectacular and fauna-rich coral atolls.

Through an eight-week SEA Semester summer program called “Protecting the Phoenix Islands,” students will collect samples from the marine environment to study the impact of El Niño as well as to assess the effects of climate change, including coral bleaching. Data collected by students during the voyage will be reported to the Government of Kiribati and contribute to the understanding of the marine ecosystem and environmental management goals.

The program began June 12 at SEA Semester’s campus in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, where the students completed preparatory coursework and developed their own research projects in ocean science or conservation policy. They were joined by a fellow undergraduate, from Kiribati, who is acting as the official scientific observer on behalf of the Kiribati government.

The class recently began a five-week sailing voyage as active crew members and scientists aboard the SSV Robert C. Seamans, owned and operated by Sea Education Association. This 134-foot brigantine is the most sophisticated oceanographic research/sailing school vessel ever built in the United States.

Starting in Pago Pago, American Samoa, they will sail approximately 800-nautical miles across open ocean in a round-trip voyage to the Phoenix Islands Protected Area where they will spend three weeks conducting their research. The expedition ends in American Samoa on August 11.

According to Paul Joyce, SEA dean, “PIPA is one [of the] very few regions on Earth where scientists can study an intact ecosystem and its response to climate change. At SEA, we’re therefore extremely grateful to have the opportunity once again to work with the government of Kiribati and with our scientific partners to study this extremely isolated and important island nation, which can serve as a climate change benchmark on a global scale.”

Sea Education Association (SEA) is an internationally recognized leader in undergraduate ocean education. For 45 years and more than one million nautical miles sailed, SEA has educated students about the world’s oceans through its Boston University accredited study abroad program, SEA Semester. SEA/SEA Semester is based on Cape Cod in the oceanographic research community of Woods Hole, Massachusetts and has two research vessels: the SSV Corwith Cramer, operating in the Atlantic Ocean, and the SSV Robert C. Seamans, operating in the Pacific.

Track the voyage through daily posts on the SEA Semester blog.

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