Villanova University student Sherie Yang, a sophomore Biology major in the University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is currently sailing with the Sea Education Association’s (SEA) SEA Semester on a scientific research voyage to the remote Phoenix Islands in the Pacific Ocean. Yang is one of a select group of undergraduates from diverse U.S. and international colleges and universities who will conduct research that will assist in the ongoing development of an effective conservation plan for the region.
The Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) is one of the last remaining coral wildernesses on Earth, about which little is known. An expanse of ocean about the size of California, it is the largest – and deepest – UNESCO World Heritage site, with eight spectacular and fauna-rich coral atolls.
Through an eight-week SEA Semester summer program called Protecting the Phoenix Islands, students will collect samples from the marine environment to assess the effects of climate change, including coral bleaching. By providing real-time data, student projects will compose a picture of the state of the ocean for the benefit of the PIPA management office in Kiribati.
“This is experiential learning at its best – learning about the marine environment as you live in it!” said John Olson, PhD, an associate professor and Chair of Villanova’s Department of Biology.
The program began June 11 at SEA Semester’s campus in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, where the students completed preparatory coursework and developed their own research projects in ocean science and conservation policy.
Last week, the class began a five-week sailing voyage as active crewmembers and scientists aboard the SSV Robert C. Seamans, owned and operated by Sea Education Association. This 134-foot brigantine, according to the SEA, is the most sophisticated oceanographic research/sailing school vessel ever built in the United States.
From Honolulu, Hawaii, they are sailing approximately 2,000 nautical miles across the open ocean to the Phoenix Islands Protected Area where they will spend three weeks conducting their research. The expedition ends in American Samoa on August 13.