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Setting Sail for the Phoenix Islands

Category: General Article

Back to Phoenix Islands Chain Deep Dive

GPS Coordinates to the Phoenix Islands Chain: -2.7972271, -175.490129

Submitted by: Thom Hoffman, Filmmaker and Journalist

Date posted: October 9, 2017

If I asked you to picture a coral reef, you might think of snorkelling around colorful ocean architecture surrounded by curious fish. But you can’t snorkel or SCUBA around deep ocean corals. Thousands of meters below the sea surface, these are high pressure, intense, cold, dark environments with low oxygen levels – not exactly a great holiday atmosphere for humans. Fortunately this is where ROV SuBastian comes in, a remotely operated vehicle that will be our eyes, ears, and arms in the deep ocean, as we observe and steer from the safety of the control room, thousands of meters above.

Excitement on board

There is a special type of anticipation reserved for rarely visited dive sites and places human eyes have never seen; and I can feel that buzz on board R/V Falkor right now. We are headed for the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, which is the largest and deepest UNESCO World Heritage Site on Earth. This spectacular region is so remote that it will take six days sailing just to get there from Honolulu. This distance from large land mass makes the nation of Kiribati (pronounced Kirabas) remote and special, but it’s the distances below the sea surface that make this particular project so unique. We are venturing to discover the deep-coral gardens of the Phoenix Islands.

Going deeper

No one on board can be sure exactly what we will find down there, but discovering new species seems certain. These unusual, deep, dark environments are host to some really interesting adaptations. We want to understand which creatures are thriving down there, and how they are navigating, communicating, and making a living. How are the reefs changing in an age of ocean warming and acidification, and what kind of impact is the creation of these marine protection areas having?

PHOTO: The science team and ROV crew prepare for their first dives. It is a real challenge to juggle the positioning of sample boxes, cameras and lighting to achieve the full range of science aims. (Schmidt Ocean Institute).

Answering questions

We will be doing visual surveys with ROV SuBastian’s high powered cameras, taking fluid samples, measuring pH levels, as well as sampling coral and other animals. We are using special cameras to get a ‘shark’s eye perspective’ looking at biofluorescence around coral reefs.

Where Are the Phoenix Islands? (Map PDF)

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A Cooperative Program

This virtual exploration is made possible through the kind cooperation of the Schmidt Ocean Institute. To learn more about the institute's work, visit them online at schmidtocean.org.

A Note About Dates and Times

Due to the nature of scientific field work, the dates for our virtual explorations may change at short notice to accommodate weather, ocean conditions or other intrinsic factors. Additionally, time zone difference and communication availability may mean some items are posted on dates different from when they were written. We appreciate your understanding.