Expedition 2010




Trip Reports for each leg of our journey are available by clicking here or via the link on the left side of your screen.

These reports include scientific, cultural, and humanitarian work the crew performed along the way. Also included in these reports are some of the challenges facing a small team during open ocean crossings and the challenges of blue water sailing in general.

A summary of  the expedition can be found in our Newsletter for 2010 and Newsletter for 2011.



Establishing an environmental baseline of conditions at a specific point in time, is the anchor point for most scientific research. This baseline sets the stage to determine whether or not change is occurring, and if it is, what exactly is changing. From this data, hypothesis, experiments, observation, and intervention can be planned and executed.

The goal of the RisingTides 2010 expedition is to capture baseline data to be utilized in multidisciplinary research conducted by graduate students, universities, and government programs. However, this information will be available simultaneously to the public at large.

The data will be gathered in the field at a selected group of small island states in the Oceania region of the South Pacific.  Data, samples, photos, and videography will then be gathered both above the water and below utilizing a small skiff for surface excursions and scuba gear for underwater data gathering. Sampling, analysis, and data validation will be utilized following established and accepted guidelines and protocols.

Reevaluation will occur at the end of this two-year expedition at which time a determination will be made to either resample the previous areas or to continue gathering baseline data from islands not yet sampled.

RisingTides believes in utilizing only non-invasive methods of data collection that will not harm marine animals or damage cultural resources in the process.

The three primary areas of study have been defined and the methodology verified as scientifically sound.

Reef Health - Perform underwater surveys of indicator species that include identification of fish, invertebrates, and coral reef heath assessment along with recording pertinent site specific data.


RisingTides will gather coral reef health assessments in collaboration with Project Aware and CoralWatch (a nonprofit research organization from the University of Queensland, Australia). RisingTides will utilize CoralWatch charts, which uses a series of colors representing different stages of bleaching and recovery. Matching the color of the coral with a corresponding color on the chart and recording the color code along with coral type on the data sheet. Data collected from monitoring activities is then entered online and analyzed by scientists to answer questions on coral bleaching and recovery patterns as well as the severity and duration of bleaching events.

Water Chemistry - Collect and catalog geo-referenced data. The instrumentation used is expected to be the Troll® 9500 (or like instrumentation) which utilizes Standard and/or EPA methods. Data will include, but not limited to: DO (dissolved oxygen, ASTM #D888-05 Method C); pH (EPA 150.2); conductivity (EPA 120.1); temperature (EPA 150.2); Turbidity (ISO 7027) ; Nitrate (Std. Methods 25104500-N03 D); Ammonium  (Std. Methods 25104500-N03 D, EPA 350.3,) and water depth. Sampling will be two fold with semi-automated systems aboard the research vessel and handheld instruments for field sampling.

Culturally Significant Sites - Utilizing geo-referenced photography to document sites important to the people of the remote islands and in possible danger of being lost to the rising sea levels.


Update: November 2011

Skylight safely made landfall at Bundenburg Australlia in October 2011. After completing the necessary paperwork she was sailed down the coast to a slip in Mooloolaba where she has been placed on the market. This sale was an eventual necessitity as RisingTides ran out of cash early on in the expedition and has been incuring debt which needs to be repaid.


Update: September 2011

Skylight and her crew have successfully completed the first year of "Expedition 2010" and are well into year two. The boat and crew safely sat out the 2010 South Pacific Cyclone Season in Fiji. In May 2011 the crew safely made a passage to Vanuatu and have since completed surveys, vocational training, and humanitarian assistance for local villagers in the central island group. The boat and crew is now in New Caledonia undergoing maintenance and awaiting a volunteer crew members arrival to assist in the passage to Australia.


Update: February 2011

Currently, RisingTides s/v Skylight is waiting out the cyclone season in Lautoka, Fiji . With unpredictable weather during this season, s/v Skylight is safely tucked away in the "cyclone-safe" Vuda Point Marina.

The new sailing season begins in April 2011 and many repairs to s/v Skylight are already underway. As we learned through many of our adventures in 2010, maintaining and sailing a large vessel is quite challenging and demands much of our time. It has been a learning experience and we found that in order to maintain safety, more time must be given to verifying daily weather and sailing conditions, finding safe anchorages, communicating with other boats, obtaining proper provisioning, and completing official paperwork and procedures. As a necessity, we are now sailors first and researchers second.


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.

 Trash in Pago Pago Harbor


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.

 Coral Survey


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.

 Doing Survey Paperwork


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.

Magdalena Baykeepers Office


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.

Frigate Bird Hatchlings


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.

 Anchorage Island Beach


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.

 Turtle Island Cleanup


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.

 Tom Neale Pier Rebuild


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.

 Trash Cleanup in Pago Pago


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.

 GPS Nuapapu School


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.

 Postcards to GPS Matamaka School


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.

 Farfum Ladroma


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.

 Lautoka Public 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 .

Habitat 4 Humanity House


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.






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