Thursday, April 30, 2015

From Land to Sea

Stanford@SEA 2015 on the steps of the Agassiz Building
For the past five weeks, we have been hard at work at the Hopkins Marine Station preparing for our impending ocean voyage. It’s hard to believe that we are leaving the country in just a few days, considering that our first day together really does feel like yesterday. Five weeks ago, we arrived at Hopkins with our hearts pounding, full of excitement and occasional moments of trepidation, knowing that we were meant to be here but not knowing exactly what to expect. And one week from now, we will do what we have come here to do: board our ship, the Robert C. Seamans, and set off on an adventure that will stretch us so far past our limits that we will likely see the world, and ourselves, a bit differently by the end of it.

During our time at Hopkins, we have been taking three different classes to prepare for our voyage:
  • Maritime Studies – We discussed the relationship between humans and the ocean, starting with European exploration and going through modern regulation and decision-making. It was especially interesting to learn about the history of European and American involvement in the Pacific, and the impact that this trade and exploration had on the environment and the native population.
  • Oceanography – We learned about the biology, geology, chemistry, and physics of the ocean, from tuna physiology to ocean circulation. We also developed research projects that we will conduct on the ship.
  • Nautical Science – We gained the practical skills we will need to be crew members of the ship, including navigation, safety, sail theory, and weather observations. We got to use all sorts of neat things like sextants and plotting tools that were invented centuries ago, and still remain extremely accurate and useful today.

Something truly remarkable about this trip is how truly diverse our group is. We have historians, economists, biologists, earth scientists, communicators, engineers, environmental scientists, computer programmers, geologists, and everything in between. It’s certainly reminded me how important the ocean is, and how much anyone of any background can learn from it. As ocean explorer and advocate Sylvia Earle once said, “No water, no life. No blue, no green.” We all need the ocean as our planet’s life support system, and what a treat to be spending the next five weeks of our lives living on the ocean and learning more about it.

It takes a special type of person to go on a voyage like this. None of us will sleep for more than four or five hours at a time, and we will all be responsible for keeping the ship – and each other – safe. We’ll be relying on each other to steer the ship in the right direction, to get enough food on the table to feed all 40 crewmembers, and to tell us (discretely) when we’ve worn the same shirt too many days in a row. And as a reward, we will see and experience things that most people never will. What an opportunity – and what a journey – we are about to undertake.

Our next blog post will appear in about a week, as it will take a few days to transport ourselves, our carefully selected belongings, and our scientific equipment to Tahiti to meet the Robert C. Seamans. I can’t wait to start this incredible adventure, and hope you enjoy following our journey in the next few weeks!

- Emma Hutchinson