This semester, Mariah Reinke ’21, an environmental studies and cultural anthropology double major, is studying off campus on board a 134-foot tall ocean research vessel stationed in the Pacific Ocean.
Reinke is serving as a member of the crew of the SSV Robert C. Seamans, owned by Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, Mass. She is one of a select group of 15 students from U.S. colleges and universities enrolled in Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures and Ecosystems, which focuses on how societies adapt and evolve, given limited resources, growing populations and environmental concerns.
The program began with four weeks of rigorous class time in the U.S. before flying to Samoa to board the brigantine, which has served as the students’ home and classroom for six weeks as they journeyed to New Zealand by way of Pacific island countries such as Tonga and Fiji.
In addition to studying the complex relationships between the human communities and the environment, the students learned how to sail the vessel. One of the highlights of the trip for Reinke was learning to set a sail called a raffee, a square-rigged topsail which is triangular in shape. “During that moment, with new sails set, the sun setting to the west, a calm ocean with no land in sight—it was all just perfect,” she says.
During stops at American Samoa, Tonga and Fiji, Reinke and fellow students interviewed individuals native to the coastal communities. “I love the idea of learning about culture while actually being immersed in the culture,” Reinke says. “I feel like my academics on the ship really helped me to focus on what I was studying and allowed me to relate it to something real and meaningful.”
Another highlight for Reinke was visiting a newly-created volcanic island that formed due to a 2014 underwater eruption and, unexpectedly, finding it already littered with garbage that had washed ashore—an experience she wrote about in the Robert C. Seamans’ blog. “Thankfully, we have a caring and determined crew who began picking up the trash,” she writes.
Reinke says the experience of living and working with others in the close quarters of the vessel was challenging and rewarding, and will stay with her when she returns to her studies at HWS. “I loved living a life where I was looking out for others rather than myself,” she says. “And in return, I didn’t have to worry about myself because my shipmates were looking out for me.”