Protecting the Phoenix Islands






The Phoenix Islands: The last coral wilderness on Earth

During an epic 3000-nautical-mile blue water passage from Honolulu, Hawai’I to Pago Pago, American Samoa, you’ll explore the rarely visited Phoenix Islands Protected Area, described as the last coral wilderness on Earth. You’ll participate in science and policy research related to conservation efforts in the region.

SUMMER 2023: June 5 to August 8, 2023

Summer 2023 Voyage:

Cruise Track: Honolulu to Pago Pago, American Samoa

Destinations & Port Stops: The Phoenix Islands group is geographically diverse and traditionally includes Howland and Baker Atolls (U.S. Minor Outlying Island), as well as Enderbury, Rawaki, Manra, Birnie, McKean, Nikumaroro, Orona and Kanton Islands (Republic of Kiribati).

Port stops generally consist of anchoring near uninhabited or sparsely populated atolls and exploring the reefs, lagoons, and landmasses.

All port stops are highly dependent on weather conditions at the time of arrival.

June 5- June 23, 2023: Shore component in Woods Hole

June 26 – August 8, 2023: At sea

Application Deadline: April 15, 2023

Program Highlights

  • See first-hand the results of marine protected area conservation efforts on equatorial atoll environments and ecosystems.
  • Collect baseline data to assess the impacts of climate change and El-Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) on coral bleaching.
  • Contribute data and observations to potential changes in marine conservation efforts

View full program description

Academic Credit

Protecting the Phoenix Islands carries 11 semester hour credits from Boston University for successful completion of the program.  View course descriptions & syllabi

Who Should Apply?

This is an excellent program for students at the intersection of science and marine policy. PIPA is a real-time issue in marine conservation and SEA’s data sets and policy work directly contribute to the dialogue around marine protected areas.

SEA Admissions and Financial Aid staff members offer individual advising and assistance to help students complete the application process. We encourage you to contact one of us to learn if SEA is right for you.


Program Description

Sailing through one of the last coral wilderness areas on Earth, this program covers over 3000 nautical miles from Honolulu, Hawai’i to Pago Pago, American Samoa while exploring the Phoenix Islands Group of coral atolls. Students will conduct science and policy research that will assist recent changes in marine protected area development and monitoring in the equatorial Pacific. During a three-week shore component in the oceanographic community of Woods Hole, MA, students will conduct background research and develop a research project proposal. Transitioning to the sea component, students will learn to conduct science deployments and safely operate a 134-foot-long research sailing vessel on a voyage to the Phoenix Islands archipelago, culminating in a project presentation at the conclusion of the program.

Community partnerships – Sea Education Association partners with Boston University’s Rotjan Lab, the Boston Aquarium, the Republic of Kiribati, and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for various collaborations in the equatorial Pacific, including the Phoenix Islands Group.

Activities – depending on the exact voyage track, which is subject to weather, pandemic conditions, and international policy decisions, students may participate in projects such as oceanographic drifter deployments, larval tuna sampling for biomonitoring, marine protected area research, ethnographic research, fishing effort monitoring, and other related activities. Students will explore the reef, lagoon and terrestrial environments of a variety of Pacific Atolls.

Course Descriptions & Syllabi

Life on Shore

At the beginning of every SEA program, up to 25 students from various institutions across the U.S. — and often the world — come together on SEA’s residential campus in Falmouth, Massachusetts, on scenic Cape Cod, just down the road from the village of Woods Hole, a world-renowned hub of oceanographic research and discovery.

During this initial shore component, you’ll undertake coursework with SEA faculty that will prepare you personally, academically, and practically for the second part of your experience at sea. You’ll develop an original research project, explore the connections between humans and the ocean, and learn the principles necessary to crew a tall ship. You’ll also have access to some of the world’s foremost scientists and policymakers addressing the leading environmental questions of today.

Living in fully furnished private cottages on our campus, you’ll share all of the responsibilities of community living including grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning. From day one, your class will begin building skills in teamwork, communication, and collaboration, all of which will prepare you for the demands of living and working together at sea. Everyone will play a role in meal planning, provisioning (each house gets a pre-paid grocery card on a weekly basis), and meal prep, which is a great opportunity to hone your organizational and budgeting skills – not to mention putting your culinary skills to the test!

Morning and afternoon classes take place a short walk away from the cottages in the main academic building, the Madden Center. This facility also hosts the library, computer lab, science lab, faculty offices, and is home to the SEA administrative offices. A midday break allows time for lunch, a pickup game of frisbee, soccer, or volleyball, or a run along the local beach. Then it’s back to the classroom. The course schedule is intensive, with academic activities scheduled from roughly 9am to 4pm, Monday through Friday. Evenings and weekends are usually free, though sometimes community activities are organized by your faculty or the Head Resident on campus.

The shore component is one of the hallmarks of SEA programs. It prepares you to be effective in your roles as researcher, crewmember, and shipmate at sea, and equips you with the tools to embark upon a successful ocean voyage.

C-300 Class at Woods Hole
Volleyball on campus

Life at Sea

While the shore component is one of the hallmarks of SEA programs – providing important preparation for a successful ocean voyage – not surprisingly, students look forward to the day they ship out.

As your time in Woods Hole comes to an end, you’ll feel a mix of excitement and perhaps some trepidation as well. You and your shipmates may ask, “Can we really do this?” Because of the intentional design of all SEA programs, you can be confident that the answer is, “Yes!”

The sea component of SEA programs immediately immerses you in applying practically what you have just learned in the classroom on shore. As you set sail, you take on three roles: student, crewmember, and researcher. Life at sea is full as you take ocean measurements and samples; participate in classes; stand a watch as part of an around-the-clock schedule, on deck and in lab; and assist with navigation, engineering, meal preparation, and cleaning. Depending on the voyage, you may also make port calls – an opportunity to break from the rhythm of life at sea and to visit a foreign destination, not as a tourist, but as a working sailor and researcher.

Privacy and sleep are both limited aboard ship, yet there is always time for personal reflection. Teamwork takes precedence as you assume increasing levels of responsibility for the well-being of your shipmates and the ship itself. “Ship, shipmate, self” will be your new mantra, representing a shift in priorities for all on board. A phased leadership approach over the course of your time at sea will allow you to gradually assume the majority of shipboard responsibilities under the watchful eye of the professional crew. Near the end of every program, each student will lead a complete watch cycle as part of a rewarding final capstone experience.

When you step off one of our ships, you’ll take away academic credits, self-confidence, lifelong friends, a toolbox of skills and knowledge, and a sense of direction that will serve you far beyond your voyage.

Life at sea is concentrated: every moment holds more substance, texture, and complexity than I am ever aware of on land. Tapping in to the rhythms of a ship, you slip like a cog into a well-oiled machine: each part has purpose, and together things run smoothly. This environment is one where actions have meaning, repercussions are real, and each moment teaches the meaning and value of hard work done well. At sea I learn that I am capable of much more than I give myself credit for.SARAH WHITCHER, Clark University, Biology Major


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