This post is from Semester at Sea student Brooke Morgan.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016
Noon Position: (Lat and Lon): 4° 27.7’ S, 172° 17.3’ W
Ship Speed (knots): 0
Taffrail Log (nm): 2050.9
At Anchor in Orona Lagoon

Have we arrived in paradise? I think we may have. We are anchored for the second day offshore of Orona – an island included in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, a place visited by very few. Due to calm conditions we were able to be some of the few to go ashore. C-watch (my watch) experienced the island first yesterday morning. Climbing into one of the rescue boats, we motored through the crystal blue water to an approachable area of the island. Onshore, sandy beach acted as an usher to the thick forest of palm trees. We investigated remains of past settlement, which included a structure that today is now home to hundreds, if not thousands of crabs. We observed and listened to the crunching of leaves as they crawled around. Impressively, some were climbing (actually climbing!) trees.


sunset on ocean horizon
The vast ocean on the horizon

Re-approaching the beach, we shared our excitement regarding our findings as we met the remainder of our watch. We began our journey to the lagoon hidden beyond the tree line. To reach this desired destination we walked along the beach covered with shells, crushed corals, slabs of rock, and unfortunately plastics, for about 35-40+ minutes until we reached the cut that would lead us to the opening of the lagoon. In shallow waters (~1ft) we easily observed vibrant giant clams, young reef sharks, and an abundant amount of fish varying in shape, color, and size. For nearly an hour and a half I experienced some of the most amazing snorkeling. Giant clams of all colors and patterns laid in beds covering the rocky substrate of the reefs. Fish and invertebrates continuously came in and out of crevices in fluid movements, allowing what little current was there, to move them around ever so slightly. Looking past the quick shuffling of reef fish, larger predator fish such as parrotfish and groupers move slow in comparison to the fore busy-ness. Occasionally white tip and black tip reef sharks glided through the water near the reefs. The entire ecosystem before me was enchanting. I was mesmerized by the vibrant collected chaos.

Breaking away from the water, we approached Korre (our Kiribati government representative) who was eating fresh clam and drinking from a coconut. He invited us to share the meaty coconut, which we gladly did. Here we were standing on the shore of paradise, feeling the cool refreshing breeze come from the soft breaking waves, coconut in hand. We were lead to the low coconut trees beyond the brush, from which Korre grabbed coconuts for each of us to drink from. We cheers’d to “the first, and the last” referring to our opportunity to be on the island of Orona.

We made our way back, walking along the beach in the direction of our pick-up location. In the heat of the sun, we left the tropical Eden. As we dragged our heavy feet I was left in thought, reminiscing the experience that had occurred only moments ago. We stumbled over pieces and pieces of trash that interrupted the trance of beauty. I couldn’t comprehend how so many shoes, shampoo bottles, and other miscellaneous plastics ended up all over an island over a thousand miles away from major civilization. It was disheartening to confront and recognize how large of an impact mankind had/has on places we don’t even know exist — in the middle of the Pacific,
isolated, and our trash still winds up covering the otherwise-pristine beaches.

I found myself meditating on during our walk back, I’ve met and made friends with some incredible people and have been blessed beyond measures to sail to a place like this. Earlier this evening we mustered (gathered as a group, taking attendance) on the quarterdeck (main meeting area of the ship) and passed around drinks, taking turns sharing reflections and cheers under the sky filled with stars. On my left was Tom, right stood Captain and Kevin. I could look out and see Sergio and the rest of C-watch. I couldn’t help but smile at the thought of how close we had become in such a short amount of time. The other day Sergio and I laughed at the reality of less than 2 months ago, we hadn’t met and today we interact like friends with years of history. Today (earlier) our watch went out for a snorkeling excursion where we again encountered sharks, an abundant amount of fish, and intricate substrate housing all given life. I allowed the surface current to push me steadily along as I watched once again in amazement of the hustle and bustle of life. I am experiencing and living a life I never would’ve foreseen for myself… loving every ounce of it.

With love,
Brooke Morgan (C-watch)