Expedition 2010 Accomplishments and Findings (08-Jan-2011)
2010 has been an exciting year for RisingTides (RT). The 2010 Expedition was launched as planned on February 28, 2010. Brian Basura and I (Claudia Richardson) had the momentous goal of crossing the Pacific from Baja California to French Polynesia to perform environmental surveys. The first leg of the journey was a 1,200 nautical mile shakedown sail from Long Beach, California , to La Paz, Mexico , before heading out on a 3,200 nautical mile journey across the Pacific. Our journey then continued to French Polynesia with stops in the Marquesas, the Tuamotus, and the Society Isles. This was the extent of our originally planned survey area. Instead of stopping our journey there, however, Brian and I continued to Suwarrow ( Cook Islands ), and then American Samoa for provisioning and repairs. Then we traveled to Tonga and finally stopped in Fiji for the cyclone season. All told we covered over 8,200 nautical miles during the 2010 season and anchored in 41 different locations.
2010 was a year of great personal growth for each of us on this expedition. With big organizational goals, we learned that there is only so much two people can achieve on such a journey. First and foremost, we ensured our safety and health. Secondly, the integrity of the sailing vessel had to be maintained. And thirdly, we performed surveys only where prudent.
In Mexico , we unexpectedly found coral growth off of Puerto Ballandra and took that opportunity to performed preliminary coral surveys as a learning experience and to report to the CoralWatch Foundation. We were able to continue our coral surveys in the Tuamotus Archipelagos, where we selected Tahanea Atoll as our main area of survey due to its pristine condition. Any future changes to the coral there will be easily observed and the lack of human interference will strongly suggest the changes are due to climate and sea conditions.
Unfortunately, we observed many detrimental human impacts to the coral in areas we visited in Nuku Hiva (Marquesas), the north end of Fakarava (Tuamotus), and Moorea, and Huahine of the Society Isles. We observed the coral, but we didn't perform any surveys because there was little or no healthy coral to survey. We observed silting and dead coral in many of the areas we visited, as well as possible damage from storms and anchors.
In American Samoa , the water of Pago Pago Harbor was sadly polluted. Large quantities of plastic objects float on top and/or are sunk to the bottom of the harbor. Many of the locals blame it on the 2009 tsunami but discussions with sailors here in previous years, and our observations of blatant and continuous littering, lead us to believe this is an ongoing social problem.
In contrast, Tahanea, the south end of Fakarava, Toau (Tuamotus), Suwarrow (Cook Islands), and Tonga (Vava'U Group) had healthy and growing corals. The Crown of Thorns starfish (which thrives on coral) was observed in many of these areas, but so was the presence of the Napoleon Wrasse, a very large fish and predator of the Crown of Thorns.
Due to a lack of funding for water sampling equipment, we were unable to obtain additional environmental information we originally sought such as water quality information. However, we did what we could with the funding we had available and feel that we were able to provide a baseline coral survey for remote areas of the Tuamotus which had not previously been surveyed. In this way we met our organizational goals.
The good news is that we examined many marine protected areas in Mexico , and the cleanliness of the land and sea areas was unexpected and inspiring. We also met with the "Vigilantes de Bahia Magdalena " or "Magdalena Baykeepers" and discussed their programs to protect and rehabilitate Sea Turtles, our efforts to collect baseline data on coral health, and general techniques to increase environmental awareness.
In the Tuamotus we found a strong environmental awareness with many local champions, and some atolls such as Tahanea have been turned into "Reserve Naturelles" which will hopefully allow them to remain in their current pristine condition.
There are many individual conservation efforts underway such as on Toau where Valentine, one of the approximately half dozen local residents, has provided moorings for the yachts that visit in order to protect the fragile coral. Valentine also collects and raises frigate bird hatchlings to repopulate other islands within the Tuamotus, and is a spokesperson on environmental awareness to islanders finding they are more receptive to suggestions from one of their own.
We visited Suwarrow, a Cook Island Reserve, which from April through October is managed by a Game Warden and his assistant. These two individuals provide environmental education and awareness as well as a presence to ensure the health of the motus "islands". They also protect the indigenous wildlife, and ensure non-indigenous plants and wildlife are not introduced to the motus.
As a representative of RisingTides we maintained a positive presence wherever we travel on s/v Skylight. We also encourage environmental awareness, provide humanitarian services, and encourage cultural interchange during our travels. Following are some of our activities in 2010:
We helped organize and actively participated in cleanup activities on the windward side of Turtle Island . In just one afternoon we removed from the shoreline an entire boatload of trash which has washed up from distant lands and passing ships.
We initiated a rebuild of the historic Suwarrow "Tom Neale Pier" for islanders and future visitors to see and use. We also performed GPS mapping of the anchorage area to limit impact to fragile areas and we fixed the generator that provides power for refrigeration.
We picked up trash in American Samoa which not only allowed us to do our part for the environment; it also set a good example for passersby who were curious about what we were doing allowing us to spread the "Think Globally and Act Locally" message.
We visited school children at GPS Nuapapu in Tonga , giving them an opportunity to practice their English and to learn about the bigger world outside their small fishing village.
We encouraged RT supporters to participate in a postcard project for the GPS Matamaka school. This project helps broaden the children's' understanding of the world around them by plotting the sender's location on world maps then discussing the culture and geography of that location.
We shared coral survey techniques and CoralWatch materials with a teacher and Peace Corp volunteer (Farfum Ladroma) in a small Vava'u village. This village supports the ecological education of their students and is actively trying to re-grow coral that once surrounded their small bay.
We discovered that the City of Lautoka Public Library was is in desperate need of books. With that in mind we collected books from people in the marina and delivered them to a very grateful staff at the library.
We worked with Habitat for Humanity, over a 4-week period, building a two bedroom house for a Fijian family near the town of Lautoka .
In closing, as we come to the end of the first year of our expedition, we are thankful for what we were able to achieve and hope that we can continue to contribute to the well-being of indigenous peoples during our stay in the South Pacific. We realize that although there are limitations, we can and will continue to make a contribution environmentally and socially everywhere we go.