Sara E. Cannon, PhD

Aquatic Conservation Scientist

It’s go time!

In just under two weeks, I’ll board an airplane and say goodbye to continental North America for two and a half months, the longest I’ve ever spent abroad (well, if you don’t count living in Canada). My advisor and I will be spending a week in Honolulu for a conference, where we’re presenting a poster, “Climate Variability and the Resilience of Low Diversity Coral Communities to Bleaching in the Gilbert Islands, Kiribati”. We’ll meet the rest of our research team there, and then we’ll all fly 2,300 miles to Majuro, the capital of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI). You may have heard of it; the RMI are often in the news these days, as they have been heavily affected by rising sea levels, and the government has recently taken bold steps to fight for global nuclear disarmament. I’ll stay there for the rest of the summer, and will be returning to Vancouver in late August.


Screen Shot 2016-06-05 at 10.20.09 PM
Image via Google Maps.


With just under two weeks until go time, things are a little hectic. I’m working hard to finish processing raw data from Kiribati so that I can analyze them in time to prepare the poster I’m presenting. I just finished writing our Dive Safety Plan, which identifies our emergency contacts and a protocol for evacuation in case of a diving accident, in accordance with the University of British Columbia’s Research Diving Manual. Last week, I ran around and had a million medical tests done to show that I’m healthy enough to work as a commercial diver (I passed, thankfully). I’m making ever-growing lists of all the things I need to pack and loose ends to tie up. And, I’m studying up on Marshallese; most people in Majuro speak English, but in other atolls I won’t be able to communicate without at least a rudimentary understanding of the language. On top of all that, I’m trying to squeeze in as much quality time with my son as possible before leaving.

To give you a brief overview of my M.Sc. research, I will try to understand the influence of local human disturbance on coral composition and their resilience to heat stress in Majuro and it’s neighboring atoll, Arno (it’s about 19 miles away). The RMI have been inhabited for thousands of years, but unlike Arno, Majuro underwent extensive human modifications after American occupation during World War II, and it’s now home to half the country’s population. I’ll compare sites across the two atolls to evaluate the role of local disturbance in recovery from a major coral bleaching event that occurred in 2014. My research will contribute to a broader project being overseen by my advisor that is using the central Pacific as a natural laboratory to study the role of past climate experience and human disturbance on the resilience of coral reefs to climate change. The data collected from RMI should provide an important contrast to data from neighboring Kiribati, where the reefs are subject to more frequent heat stress due to the El Nino / Southern Oscillation.


Image via Arno is visibly much larger than Majuro, but is home to less than 2,000 people and the population is shrinking. The population of Majuro is about 30,000 and it’s still growing.


I get to stay for such a long trip thanks to my fellowship with TerreWEB, which has provided me with the fantastic opportunity to do an internship abroad. I’ll be working with my advisor to gather the data for my own research, but after that’s done (around July 9), I’ll stick around to work with the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority (MIMRA) until the end of August. I’ll be helping with things like data entry, data management, and data analysis, but will also get to observe and participate in the world-renowned Reimaanlok process, a conservation plan that is hailed as one of the first to emphasize a community-based approach. I may get the opportunity to join MIMRA when they visit Wotje and Mejit Atolls in late July, and could potentially participate in ciguatera monitoring in Ailinglaplap in August. They may even let me take a stab at writing a draft of a community-based management plan after consulting with communities in some of the outer atolls. It’s an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I’ll gain invaluable experience. I’m going to learn a ton, and I’m beyond excited!

Image via The RMI is made up of about 70 square miles of land spread out over 750,000 square miles of the Pacific. For reference, the area of Rhode Island (the smallest state) is about 1,545 square miles and the area of Alaska (the largest state) is about 663,267 square miles.

My fellowship requires that I document my experiences (which I’d probably do anyway because I don’t want to forget a second of it), so I’ll be doing that here. If you’re interested in staying up to date with my research and subsequent adventures, check back or sign up to receive email alerts when I post (see the right-hand sidebar). I may even try my hand at video blogging, but it depends on if I can get enough of a handle on my various electronics by then!


Published by

5 responses to “It’s go time!”

  1. Dana Krohnert Avatar

    Safe travels and I look forward to you sharing your adventure with us!

    1. Thank you, Dana!

  2. […] the Republic of the Marshall Islands (if you’re interested, you can read more about the project here). I worked in the Micronesia region before; as an undergraduate student, I worked in the Ulithi […]

  3. […] be doing similar work to what I was doing in the Marshall Islands for my MSc (which I finally finished in August 2017!). Tarawa, like Majuro, is more developed and has a large […]

  4. […] Her M.Sc. research was based in the Republic of the Marshall Islands (read more about the project here), and her Ph.D. work is based in both the Marshalls and […]

%d bloggers like this: