Monday, May 18, 2015

Karoraina and Kudos

The view of Caroline Atoll from aloft
(Photo by Meghan Shea) 
It’s 20:18, the winds are force 3 from the East, and we’re motor sailing up from Caroline Atoll headed for Malden Island. Here in the library, I’m being lulled to sleep by a blissful combination of the delicious butternut squash soup I just consumed (thanks Vickie and Melanie!), the general exhaustion of just coming off of afternoon watch, and the gentle rocking of the Bobby C. Drowsiness aside, I’m still finding it almost impossible to process the surreal past several days we had anchored outside Caroline Atoll.

Caroline Atoll (also known as Millennium Atoll or Karoraina) is widely considered one of the most pristine reefs on the planet, inhabited for only a short fraction of its history and visited by few explorers, entrepreneurs, and scientists. And from our two days snorkeling on the fore reef, the characterization seems accurate—from almost 100% coral cover to dozens of shark sightings on every snorkel to over 100 feet of visibility, Karoraina was the most spectacular underwater ecosystem that I have ever had the opportunity to explore.

Caroline Atoll, above and below water
(Photo by Meghan Shea)
But what does it mean to be pristine? In a world where humans have dramatically altered the atmosphere and the oceans, it seems silly to suggest that there might be places on this planet truly free of human impact. And what of the implications of the term—that nature is in some way tarnished by the mere presence of humans. What does that mean for our own short stay in this place?

If anything, the past several days have made me think about how extraordinarily lucky we are. It seems almost inconceivable that a large sailing vessel crewed in part by neophyte Stanford students could have made it to a remote coral atoll in the middle of the Pacific. We have seen a place on this planet that few have laid eyes on. We have snorkeled on reefs that even the most avid underwater explorers may never have a chance to visit.

So, I use these few words I have to the outside world to give thanks. To Captain Pamela, who against all odds found us a safe anchor on the steep slope of Karoraina so that every single person onboard could get in the water. To the entire crew of the Bobby C, who has kept us safe and challenged and fed (we love you, Vickie!). To the nation of Kiribati, for granting us passage through her waters. To everyone at SEA and Stanford who has contributed to making this experience possible. And to Caroline Atoll, for calm seas and manta rays and spectacular reefs and learning opportunities.

But more than that, we are standing on the shoulders of so many people who can’t be here with us—teachers, parents, siblings, friends, and mentors without whom we wouldn’t be on this adventure in the first place. I wish more than anything that I could share every moment of this voyage with all those who made it possible.

Sitting aloft yesterday and watching dolphins and sharks circle the ship as Caroline Atoll began to fade into the sunset, I couldn’t help laughing at how ridiculously surreal this whole journey has been. I am so humbled to be a member of this crew, a visitor to these places, and a student of this program.

Sending love and thanks and positive Pacific vibes,
-Meghan Shea


Eleanor Marsh said...

What a wonderful, wise post, Meghan! I'm so glad all you hard-working students were able to experience and appreciate the beauty of Karoraina.

Dita Hutchinson said...

Beautiful post! We're with all of you in spirit for sure :)

Peter Shea said...

Your thoughtful post made it this time! Great to hear from you and the quick online surprise chat we had from Christmas Island! Hawaii bound!

kathleen brady shea said...

Needless to say, I had to post this blog entry on Facebook, where it's getting rave reviews! Continue to savor your magical journey...

Raquel Girvin said...

Very touching, Meghan! The rave reviews about Karoraina, Vickie's cooking, and Captain Pamela's piloting has got us sold!