CELS student sails to remote Pacific islands to study effect of climate change on coral reefs

SSV Robert C. Seamans. Photo courtesy of Sea Education Association.
SSV Robert C. Seamans. Photo courtesy of Sea Education Association.

Two University of Rhode Island students are sailing to remote islands in the Pacific Ocean to study any damage to coral reefs from climate change.

Hailey Simpson, of Rochester, N.Y., who is getting her master’s degree in ocean engineering, and Kyle Alvanas, of Portsmouth, who will graduate next year with a degree in marine affairs, are among 24 students from American colleges conducting research in this largely under-studied region.

Simpson and Alvanas are making the voyage with Sea Education Association, or SEA Semester, an internationally recognized program that combines classroom learning on shore at Woods Hole, Mass., with study aboard a research vessel.

The Phoenix Islands Protected Area, or PIPA, is one of the last remaining coral wildernesses on Earth. Little is known about the region. About the size of California, it is the largest—and deepest—United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations site, with eight fauna-rich coral atolls.

Simpson, Alvanas and the other students started the program June 12 at Woods Hole, where they completed preparatory coursework and developed their own research projects in ocean science or conservation policy.

This week, the students began a five-week sailing voyage as crewmembers and scientists aboard the SSV Robert C. Seamans, owned and operated by the Sea Education Association. The 134-foot brigantine is one of the most sophisticated oceanographic research sailing school vessels built in the United States.

The group started in Pago Pago, American Samoa, and will sail 800 nautical miles across open ocean in a round-trip voyage to the Phoenix Islands, where they will spend three weeks conducting their research. The expedition will end Aug. 11 in American Samoa…[Read more]