Crew Blog | Shawn Malia Kanaʻiaupuni: Science and Education on Tortola Island, British Virgin Islands

Today, the crew left Saba Rock by ferry, crossing the beautiful Caribbean ocean to Virgin Gorda. From there we took a van around windy roads up through the mountain overlooking vast expanses of incredible turquoise ocean and white beaches. This blog is also a bit circuitous, because I need to talk about science, a bit about educational approaches, and, most importantly, about our visit with the fabulous students at a local school. First, I am so drawn in by the colors of this Caribbean ocean. What gives it such mesmerizing hues? There are a few reasons that I’ve been able to research, first, the Caribbean is very shallow compared to the Atlantic or the Pacific ocean, and it has very white sand, which reflects the sunlight more brightly creating the distinct blue color. Also, there is less iron in the Caribbean waters. Algae grows with iron in the water and colder waters permit more iron to release into the ocean. Finally, according to NASA, light absorption is what colors the water. Sunlight, composed of electro-magnetic radiation ranging in color from red to blue, is scattered by particles suspended in the water. The shorter blue wavelengths scatter more effectively and are absorbed less rapidly than the longer red and orange wavelengths. Seawater appears blue for about 100 feet under the surface, then becomes black with the absence of light. In essence, sunlight brightens the water, accounting for the vividly colored Caribbean Sea. By contrast, the Red Sea is red because it contains algae that release reddish-brown pigments; the Yellow Sea is yellow because rivers fill it with mud; and the Black Sea is black because it is essentially landlocked, resulting in little oxygen except near the surface and a bottom filled with hydrogen sulfide.

Continuing our story, the van arrived in Spanish Town and we took another ferry across another beautiful expanse of sea to the island of Tortola. From there we were escorted by generous resident hosts, Aragorn Dick-Read and John Frederick, to a school on the outskirts of the main town called Cedar International School, an International Baccalaureate school. What’s an IB school? Well, IB students are responsible for their own learning, choosing topics and devising their own projects, while teachers act more as supervisors or mentors than sources of facts. All around the world, IB schools emphasize research and encourage students to learn from their peers, with students actively critiquing one another’s work. Beyond preparing students for critical thinking and college-level work, the full IB program calls for students to express themselves through writing, requires community service, and aims “to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.” For audiences at home in pae ‘aina Hawaii, do you know of any IB schools in Hawaii (hint: there are at least three)?

Kālepa teaching the haumana a few Hawaiian words

Kālepa teaching the haumana a few Hawaiian words

Nearly all students grades 1 through 7 gathered very quickly in a central, open air assembly room under colorful, fluttering flags from around the world covering the ceiling. They brought in chairs for the older students and rugs for the little ones. Captain Kālepa kicked off the presentation by asking the students to do three things: First, SMILE (and he checked for big smiles all around); second, LISTEN, because we’d be sharing some important information with them; and third, LEARN, because he had a quick test for them at the end of the presentation. Heads immediately perked up and all students responded with huge enthusiasm to learning several Hawaiian words, including aloha (giving a huge shout out to the camera for everyone back home at Hawai’i), mālama honua, Hōkūleʻa and mahalo. Anakala Kawika followed up sharing what it was like to sail using photos about the most recent journey from Brazil. Near the end, the students were thrilled to see the WWV video from around the world about stories of hope in caring for island earth and each other. During a robust Q&A session, we could sense the island connections and ‘ike in these students by the sophistication of their questions. Many of the students were sailors and ocean conservationists themselves. We also learned that the school served students of about 40 different nationalities. Just like home! By the end of our short time with them, we felt a deep sense of kindred spirits connected by mālama honua. I mua!

Happy Birthday, Hōkūleʻa!

Help us celebrate Hōkūleʻa’s 41st birthday by becoming a member, or gifting membership to another!

On March 8, the iconic deep-sea voyaging canoe Hōkūleʻa celebrates her 41st birthday! Our master navigators use the stars, waves, wind, and birds to find their way, following in the wake of their ancestors. Hōkūleʻa has journeyed more than 150,000 miles over the past 41 years, and a new generation of navigators is sailing around the world to explore how people and communities are working to Mālama Honua – care for our Island Earth.  We need your support to keep us voyaging – please visit to help.

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