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Phoenix Rising

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The Primal Ocean Project

Who'd have thought an adventurous dive trip into unknown territory would have captured so many hearts and minds? The Phoenix Rising Expedition to the Phoenix Archipelago in Kiribati in 2000 was such a monumental success from both the marine science standpoint and thanks to the sheer abundance and beauty of the coral reef and fish communities, that we headed back there in June and July 2002.

The New England Aquarium, Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute, and the National Geographic Society conducted a multi-disciplinary scientific expedition to the remote Phoenix Islands in the South Pacific country of Kiribati. The expedition helped to shed light on the condition of the pre-human oceans and the impacts of human activity. These rarely visited and mostly uninhabited islands are uniquely positioned to answer questions about the diversity and condition of marine life in environments unexploited by the growing human population.

NAI'A, in conjunction with the New England Aquarium and the World Wildlife Fund, first set sail to explore the remote Phoenix Islands in Kiribati from June 22 - July 15, 2000. Our second survey expedition ran June 5 - July 10, 2002.

NAI'A chose the Phoenix Islands in Kiribati to launch the first of a series of ambitious and adventurous voyages of discovery. The journeys aim to realize both the dreams of bold dive travelers to explore remote, pristine and mysterious locales as well as to provide marine scientists and conservationists with a rare and invaluable opportunity to understand and protect our oceans. The scientists and divers proved a superb partnership.

The Phoenix Island Group in Kiribati consists of eight (almost entirely uninhabited) atolls that sit about 1000 -1500 nautical miles northeast of Fiji. We visited there originally as part of the TIGHAR Amelia Earhart search when we dived only along the southern edge of Gardner (Nikumaroro) Island. The mantas, schooling trevally, turtles, sliver tip, gray reef, black tip and white tip sharks totally thrilled us. During our brief time actually looking, we also encountered a large pod of spinner dolphins (and perhaps some bottlenose) as well as a few distant whales. The water was beautifully clear and the steep hard coral slope was perfectly pristine. "So, this is what a coral reef looks like without people or anchors to destroy it!" We vowed then to return to fully survey the region in the hope that we might discover one of the planet's few remaining precious ocean oases - and then campaign for its protection.

Mary-Jane Adams, two-time Phoenix researcher and veteran of more than 70 live-aboard expeditions, summed it up best:

"It was an unforgettable experience and a major highlight of my 25 years of diving. The Phoenix Islands experience exceeded my most optimistic expectations. Diving with New England Aquarium biologists greatly enriched my understanding of tropical reefs and their inhabitants. If I ever get this kind opportunity again I will grab it."

For more details, read the Background outline, the Voyage Summary and the Voyage Press Release. You can re-trace our journey through the Daily Reports from the Ship by WWF Marine Conservation Officer, Sangeeta Mangubhai. Check out Cat Holloway's exhilarating write-up, Sharks on Prozac, Coral on Steriods. Also, see the New England Aquarium site at:


Features NAI'A's Phoenix Islands Expedition

PHOENIX ISLANDS: A Coral Reef Wilderness Revealed
"On the healthy reefs of the Phoenix Islands, scientists find new species and clues to preserving paradise..." Explore along with us:

Follow our Dispatches from Sea

For a Good Read:

Karen Burns and Thomas King

Amelia Earhart's Shoes
by Thomas King, Randall Jacobson, Karen Burns and Kenton Spading

"Whatever happened to Amelia Earhart?" has been an enduring question since she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared somewhere in the Pacific on July 2, 1937. This book posits that due to bad weather, Earhart and Noonan missed their refueling stop on Howland Island in the mid-Pacific and landed on Nikumaroro. Working from a wide range of fields its authors are an archeological consultant, a geophysicist, a forensic anthropologist and an army engineer. This book claims that human bones and a shoe found on Nikumaroro indicate that Earhart possibly landed and died there. This is a must for "what happened to Amelia" fanatics, and also those who are interested in how science can be used to test the veracity of theories about historical mysteries." -Publishers Weekly

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