Monday, November 11, 2013

Fiji 2013 | Five become one

For the past several years, the New England Aquarium has participated in a joint expedition to Fiji, along with the Monterey Bay Aquarium and other conservation-minded groups and individuals. The last expedition took place in Spring 2012

Today's post about the joint aquarium Fiji expedition comes from the Aquarium supporter and Boston Harbor Cruises Vice President Alison Nolan. (Our partners at Boston Harbor Cruises present the New England Aquarium Whale Watch.) 

The Earth is covered with five oceans: the Antarctic, Arctic, Atlantic, Indian and Pacific. These oceans cover 141,600,000 square miles—or 72 percent of Earth's surface. In fact, from space at just the right time during our daily revolution, Earth appears to be almost completely covered by water.

The world seen from space is largely blue ocean.
This image is of the Pacific Ocean. Image: NASA/Google Earth

But what divides the oceans other than boundaries identified by us? Where does one ocean stop and another start? Does what happens in the Atlantic stay in the Atlantic?

These are questions that we may have all wondered about but don’t often contemplate more deeply until a catalyst piques our interest. For me, that catalyst was my time spent in the Pacific with the New England Aquarium/ Monterey Bay Aquarium Joint Fiji Expedition.

Kiobo village children wave goodbye and bid us moce (pronounced moe’ they)—Fijian for see you again soon.  Kiobo is only a few feet above sea level.  Our climate changing actions in the States directly impact them half a planet away. Photo: Bailey

The Pacific Ocean is Fiji’s home and a welcoming host for our two-week journey. It is the world’s largest ocean by far, covering 69,375,000 square miles, or 35 percent of the earth. It is as big as the other four oceans combined and all of the Earth’s continents could fit snuggly into the Pacific Basin. My/Boston’s home, the Atlantic Ocean is the second largest, covering 41,105,000 square miles, or 21 percent of the Earth. It, however, is only slightly larger than half of the Pacific.

According to the World Register of Marine Species, there are 221,299 accepted marine species. It is further estimated that there are 700,000 – 1,000,000 species living in our oceans; most of which are yet to be discovered. As a new diver in Fiji, I must admit it felt as though all 700,000 were right in front of me at many, if not most, of our dive sites. I was struck at once that not only were the oceans vast, but they contained a quantity and diversity of life that in many ways outshines what is found here on land. From the smallest zooplankton to the largest blue whale, on some level, each of these species are dependent upon, and impacted by, each other in ways big and small—most of which we cannot even begin to measure. For every fish I saw, how many other species did it depend on and how many others depended on it? As a result, it is difficult to quantify what effect human interaction and environmental change is having on this delicate balance.

A banded sea krait (Laticauda colubrina) ambles through thick acropora. We nearly always see them at this site, and respectfully give them wide berth, even though they’re not as venomous as sea snakes. 
Dive site: Anthias Corner, Gau Island, Fiji | Photo: K. Ellenbogen

Abundance abides: Thick clouds of plankton feeding fishes, gorgonian sea fans and crinoids make the most of this end of a bommie crest. Cakemomo Atoll is a new dive site for the joint aquarium team,
and we surely were impressed by its richness. Photo: K. Ellenbogen

Blue green chromis (Chromis viridis) school around dense acroporid coral formations at  E6. Fiji’s Bligh Water and Vatu-I-Ra reef systems contain some of Fiji ‘s most beautiful and healthy animal assemblages.
Photo: K. Ellenbogen

This also hit home for me during our island clean up visit to Vatu-I-Cake. On this incredibly beautiful and seemingly pristine uninhabited island, we found piles of plastic, Styrofoam and other beach debris. So, although we have drawn lines across and assigned names to the world’s oceans, this was clear evidence that both ocean surface and deep-water currents are connecting us all to each other.

Ocean surface current illustration – NOAA

Just this summer, at Long Wharf, Boston, we were excited to find a message in a bottle that had traveled from New York over a period of two months. If that bottle weren’t fished out at Long Wharf where would and could it have gone in five years? Probably not Vatu-I-Cake but maybe Brazil or Morocco…

Message in bottle | Photo: A. Nolan

Ocean stewardship and conservation should start at home.  Each of us has to do what we choose is right for us as individuals, then it should continue on to our local communities, states, country and the global community.

For me, there were already many aspects of conservation that I understood, discussed and implemented in my personal and professional life.  But, being in Fiji and seeing firsthand the vast and diverse marine populations that live just out of sight below the ocean’s surface was something unique and eye opening.
From beginning to learn the names of fish species from Bailey, Mark and Heidi, to taking in Doc Webster’s daily post-breakfast talks that opened up a new world of invertebrate zoology, to checking out Jane’s first-ever underwater pictures, I developed an emotional connection to the marine environment that was distinctly different than before my first descent. For me, that is what I will take away from the Joint Fiji Expedition, as well as new friendships, great stories, some wonderful pictures and a beautiful kava bowl.

Since returning I have also begun to dive deeper into the New England Aquarium’s programs and offerings. I encourage you too to take a look, see what piques your interest and give an upcoming lecture a try. They are great ways to see what each of us can do to both better understand and protect our blue planet. Maybe I will see you there.

— Alison

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