I’ll Be Back One Day

Cook Islands 363 Cook Islands 191 Cook Islands 329 Cook Islands phone 116 Cook Islands 144

I experienced a vast amount of things going to the Cook Islands; it is almost hard to even put into words. I was able to go snorkeling several times, which I had only done once before this trip. I was in awe seeing all of the coral, beautiful organisms, and clear waters; I am excited and proud to have experienced that kind of snorkeling. Many people from our group hiked up to the highest point on Aitutaki, Maunga Pu Summit, and the views up there were beautiful. It was surreal to be able to see all the surrounding motus and light blue water in the lagoon. In addition, I ate foods I have never tried before; I am not a very adventurous eater, so I am proud of myself! We visited the Cook Islands Marine Park center, too. We were able to speak with Kevin Iro about the marine park, the challenges the Cook Islands face in regards to the park, and his hopes for the project. Honestly, I was pretty star struck because some of us watched a documentary at CSUCI on their marine park, and Kevin was in it! In addition, I was able to experience a completely different culture. This trip allowed me to familiarize myself with the daily lives of a society so removed from my own urbanized life. For instance, their daily struggles and life worries are just as important, yet living on an island does not make those difficulties any less valid than my own. Also, I made new friendships with the people in our “CI in CI” group, as well as with some of the locals from the Cook Islands. The people out there are so kind, and I am very grateful to have experienced such a friendly and welcoming community.


The biggest things I learned on this trip were the many aspects of research. I am fairly new to the concept of collecting, recording, and analyzing data. I did research more days than not, so it was important that I caught on performing field work quickly. I was in the lagoon group on this trip, so I learned the correct procedure when surveying the lagoon with the assistant of transect tape. Also, I quickly acquired the skill of efficiently recording data while performing these surveys. Neither writing big nor writing many full words is preferred because both take up too much room on the waterproof paper; every bit of space on the slate is valuable! In addition, I learned how to input data into Excel in a way that can be generated into a graph, if necessary. Doing this, we are able to analyze the data to find trends in the research we did. I am really glad that I was able to obtain these skills because this is the same kind of work that I will hopefully be doing once I graduate and to have these abilities will be vital when doing field work. On a more personal note, I learned a lot about myself on this trip. For instance, I learned that I am not as anxious on planes as I thought I would be, my tolerance for working in groups, and that I sort of (and by sort of, I mean really) freak out when I am in water. Mental note: a spring wetsuit is not enough for me to feel comfortable in the water. The whole trip was a learning experience, and I think I gained a lot from it personally, academically, and socially.


As I mentioned in one of my first posts, I am quite naïve when it comes to other cultures and general act of traveling. I would not say I experienced “culture shock” when staying in the Cook Islands, yet I loved seeing a culture that strayed far from the urbanized, hustling life I know. Being able to experience a society so completely different than my own, I am humbled. I think we often forget about other regions of the world that do not have similar living expectations as ours. With that, we lose the connection to the fact that each of our individual actions affects those that are out of site and out of mind. Now, I am much more aware of the repercussions of my personal choices, such as using plastic-based products, because I witnessed the depressing reality of where it ends up: on the shores of a small island nation far from the origins of these plastics. What I took away from this experience is that the world’s problems are much bigger than my own; however, that is not to say that my small, single efforts are not worth putting forward in attempts to ease the severity of the problem. With that, I hope we all realize that the world’s problems are each of our problems and our responsibility to help.


Thank you again to all of those who made this trip possible. I think it was extremely valuable, and I hope CSUCI and the others who joined us get the opportunity to continue this research on the Cook Islands.


Rarotonga Snorkeling

One thing I wish I got the chance to do more of was snorkeling while we were in Rarotonga.  The lagoon tour that we did was really quite amazing.  The water was light blue and unbelievably clear; it is the kind of water I never thought I would see in person let alone snorkel in.  The creatures in the water were another amazing site to see. I feel like I saw more fish during this snorkeling session than I have in my whole twenty-three years leading up to this trip.  In addition, I saw a small eel that traveled from one rock to another, as well as Roger (a giant moray eel).  I could not believe how huge Roger looked when a crew member from the lagoon tour pulled the eel out and up from his hiding spot in the rocks!  Another thing I recall seeing was the coral garden in the lagoon.  This is where a metal grate/structure is placed on the sea floor and pieces of coral are attached to the top and grow with less space restrictions than on the coral reef itself.  It was really cool to be able to see a protective environmental measure that I have learned about in school while I was out in the lagoon; I was glad to see that the locals put forth those efforts and were educating other people and tourists about what they are doing to enhance their coral reefs.

Cheers to CIinCI

It is our last night in Aitutaki before our plane takes off to Rarotonga and then back to LAX.  Emotions are running high as almost everyone seemed to have cried during and/or after our final salute on the beach before coming to the airport.  With the sun setting at the ocean’s horizon, our group stood in a circle and shared what we thought was the most interesting thing or what we were amazed by over these past two weeks followed by what we thought we would miss the most upon leaving.  As some probably knew I would say, I said that one of my favorite things was the beach clean-ups that we did.  Honestly, I was blown away by the amounts of trash that we picked up off of these beaches, and it saddens me to think that I cannot be there everyday to collect the present and future marine debris that washes up onto the shores of the Cooks Islands anymore… In regards to what I would miss, I said the island life.  I am going to miss the quiet (along with the random and frequent rooster calls), the beautiful views that I could never get sick of seeing, the absolutely amazing people that we met out there, and the opportunity to do research in service of the community.  This trip was life-changing; I built new friendships, strengthened previous relationships, learned a lot about data collection and recording, and I feel less naïve about cultures that differ from mine.  I promised myself prior to our last tribute to CIinCI 2015 that I would not cry.  I got through the whole thing without shedding a tear, gave hugs to those who I most likely will never see again, and patted myself on the back for not crying.  However, once I get to Tasha, a lovely woman who (along with her husband Shane) took care of us daily throughout our trip, the tears start pouring down my face because the reality of leaving these wonderful people and inspiring place finally hit me.  Their hospitality and genuine care is something I am always going to remember and yearn for in the future.  Thank you guys again for everything; I’ll miss you all…


Marine Debris

It is Friday night, and I am already trying to think about my answers to all the questions I will be getting when I get home. If someone asks me what my favorite part of the trip was, then I would probably say (as of right now) collecting trash on a motu yesterday. It seems strange to write that out right now, but I really found it fascinating how much marine debris washes up on such a small island area. My group found a Barbie leg, toothbrush, and flip flops to mention a few. Among these, there were countless plastic bottles and bottle caps. Everything we found was weathered and at times broke into smaller pieces with the slightest of pressure. All the trash shows you how big of a problem and how abundant plastics really are to the ocean, as well as any sized land masses. The beach clean up was truly an eye opener. It is one thing to learn about the world’s plastic problem in school or in the media; it is another thing to see it first-hand and be able to eliminate it from the system.

In addition, yesterday we were on and off a boat for approximately eight hours straight. Thinking about it now, today is the first day we did not ride on a boat. Funny how being on a boat has already become such a familiar feeling after only being at the Cook Islands for five days. Using a boat has been such a vital part of our time here; I can only imagine how important it is to the locals who use them on a daily basis for fishing and tourism. They depend on each of these so heavily for survival and their economy. It is difficult to imagine what would happen to their way of life if either fishing or tourism became hindered in any way. However, this is something we must consider and plan for because the health of their reefs are threatened, which can quickly influence both negatively. Hopefully, our work here will be of some aid in determining the proper resource management techniques to prevent further depletion of the reefs here and keep the ecosystem thriving.

Only End of Day Three

Since arriving to the Cook Islands, I have been blown away by the beauty of the land and surrounding ocean, the friendliness of the locals, and the differing culture. The crystal clear water and the dense vegetation of both islands we have been on seize to amaze me. They are sites I have only seen in movies or on social media. No filters needed on the pictures I am coming home with because nothing can enhance the raw beauty of these islands. Also, the local people here are more than welcoming, and it is refreshing to see people so connected to their culture. Their passion is quite prevalent here; it makes our stay really surreal. Being at the 50th anniversary of independence celebration (Te Maeva Nui), I was taken aback by the power behind the drums from music and the traditional clothing worn during the dances.

It is only day three of this amazing trip, which blows my mind because we have already done so much. I am looking forward to the rest of the time here. Rarotonga was amazing, but I know the duration of our time spent on Aitutaki will be filled with research and will be just as adventure filled.

Looking Forward

Going on this trip to the Cook Islands, I am most looking forward to the overall experience I will be getting out being given this opportunity. First, I am not a very experienced traveler, so I feel like the traveling on this trip better prepares me for future endeavors where large traveling is required. Also, I am anticipating the “way of life” out of the islands. I cannot wait to just take in all of the societal norms of their culture, as well as be there for their 50th year anniversary of independence. It is an honor to be able to observe and be a part of such as significant celebration that many others will not get the chance to see. Likewise, I am excited to be doing research out there, especially as an undergraduate. I am very much looking forward to doing hands-on studies and being able to say that I did field work out on the Cook Islands. In addition, I will be taking this trip with one of my best friends; I am really excited to share this kind of opportunity with someone close because it will only make our friendship even stronger.

When thinking about the trip, I am curious to experience their culture. I am very inexperienced when it comes to foreign countries and their lifestyles; therefore, I am eager to be immersed in such a different culture for two straight weeks. I am interested to learn more about the marine protected area the Cook Islands established, too. It would be interesting to know how much the average resident there knows and cares about the MPA, as well as how involved they are in the MPA. Moreover, I am interested in learning about the dynamics of any research that they are trying to do on the islands that is not heavily influenced or involved with outside sources, such as our CSUCI group. I am curious to know if they are trying to do any analyses on local biotic and abiotic factors, even if it happens to be unorthodox or outdated methods.



Sea Level Rise

With global warming on the rise, small island nations are already noticing the negative effects. The Cook Islands are said to be the subject of drastic sea level rise within the next 25-40 years. With that, the residents of these islands must face the harsh consequences that affect the things they are most reliable on: marine resources, agriculture, water resources, and even the stability of a home. Coral reefs, which hold many economic and cultural values, begin to fail with ocean levels rising. In addition, salt intrusion starts to diminish the productiveness of their crops and abundance of freshwater on the islands. Also, the rising sea levels (along with the severity and increased occurrence of storms due to global warming) take a toll on the homes of residents. Each of these features is a key part to the survival of the people on the Cook Islands. If sea levels rise to a point where these islands become inhabitable, then their traditions, culture, and possibly language become in jeopardy of becoming nonexistent. We need to put more effort into figuring out a way to combat these challenges that sea level rise bring before we begin to lose the rich culture of the people who resides on these islands.