Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Nicole's Arrival at Palmyra

This afternoon we sailed into Palmyra Atoll. At around 1500h, our standing bow-watch, Lucas, yelled ‘Land Ho!’ with excitement upon discerning the silhouette of the island. Standing on the tip of the bow, a group of us then gathered with binoculars to confirm that we did in fact see land ahead. We were subsequently guided into the magical atoll by flocks of gracious sea birds, and welcomed by energetic dolphins leaping in the water off the starboard side.

As we approached the pristine atoll, we began to see individual trees and several islets, surrounded by multi-tonal turquoise water, lush green vegetation, and wispy skies painting a picture with colors of brightness so high they cannot be captured through a camera lens. Students and staff swarmed to the forward deck to witness this moment, and for the quietest period of time I’ve ever experienced on the deck of the Robert C. Seamans, there was complete silence as we all gazed in awe at the surreal image forming in front of us. Palmyra had us all in a trance, a fixation that was only broken by the rush of students to the portside quarterdeck, where someone announced a sighting of manta rays as we were anchoring in front of the marine research station.

Approaching Palmyra was like entering a wild virgin land of a different era. We felt like true explorers encountering what seemed like a mirage in the middle of the Pacific after ten days of purely open seas.

This thirst for exploration is a unifying theme in our diverse group. In one way or another, we are all driven by a powerful curiosity to understand the world around us. Through scientific pursuits, and through individual reflection. This innate yearning for discovery is what brings people out to sea in the first place. We are participating in a fascinating marine research excursion and engaging in a riveting sailing adventure, but we are also on a transcendental journey of deep personal growth and life re-evaluation. Altering the baseline of reality has forced us to discover our truest self, unhindered by society, standards, work, or school – just the ship and the open ocean.

While the sea has helped us discover ourselves, we’ve also been discovering the complexities of the sea throughout our expedition. Students on the trip are all pursuing independent research projects to answer innovative questions about marine biology and oceanography, aiming to explain an aspect of the ocean they’re fervently passionate about. Guided by world-class scientists whose pursuits have also been driven by this same unquenchable desire for exploration, we’ve been exposed to different ways of viewing discovery. Discovery can involve evaluating a phenomenon through a different lens, finding out something completely new, encountering an unnamed species, or synthesizing data and attempting to make sense of the wonders of nature. We are mesmerized by the magnificence of our planet and use science to decipher its beautiful intricacies. Charles Darwin made his greatest discoveries regarding speciation on the voyage of the HMS Beagle when he was about 22-years-old.  There is something remarkable about this period in our lives, where vitality, open-mindedness, and the curiosity of youth perfectly merge with intellectual development, critical thought, and scientific exploration. Everyone on this ship exhibits this insatiable curiosity and I know great things are to come.

For me, arriving at Palmyra felt like I was on the brink of discovery, I was discovering a mystical new place and about to begin my exciting research project on coral reefs, where I’ll be delving into the largely unexplored field of coral disease ecology and trying to figure out how coral disease might be transmitted and propagated. Hopefully I’ll discover something new and shed some light on disease dynamics through my studies in this magnificent atoll just waiting to be explored. I am excited for all the discoveries we’ll make on our voyage, and am thrilled to continue this adventure with such a phenomenal group of young explorers!

-Nicole Rodriguez

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