Crew Profile

Savannah Mapes




Moananuiākea Voyage – Leg 8: San Francisco to Ventura


Savannah is a micro-phycologist, dedicated to the study of phytoplankton. She recalls telling a mentor not long ago, that her biggest dream “would be to immerse myself in their (phytoplanktonʻs) environment” and “maybe Iʻll sail around the world, study phytoplankton, and teach communities about phytoplankton in their area along the way!” Two months later she was listening to a presentation by Nainoa Thompson and Lehua Kamalu and learned about Hōkūleʻa and the mission of the Moananuiākea Voyage. That was at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), a PVS partner and where Savannah is a PhD candidate.

She said: “I felt alive! I was tingling. I had never resonated with a mission so much in my life. Connecting with nature, using stars, wind and waves as a compass, learning about the ocean while immersed in the ocean, sailing around the world, engaging with communities around the world - learning and exchanging knowledge about Earth, oceans, and life itself. Everything about the mission inspired me.”

Little did Savannah know, a few months later, she would be in Seattle, placing a planktoscope on Hōkūleʻa to track the oceanʻs phytoplankton, and teaching crew how to use it to take microscopic pictures of the planktonic community in just a few drops of water. Then she got in a VIMS car and served as land support as Hokuleʻa sailed south. In San Francisco, she moved from land crew to Hokuleʻa Leg 8 crew.

As a marine scientist, Savannah sees the negative impacts of human actions on our oceans. But, she sees Hokuleʻa as “a vessel of hope.” She says “We are all connected, to everyone and everything. Connected to the things we can see and to what we cannot see. The things we cannot see, the tiny things, are the building blocks that provide the life force of everything else. As a micro-phycologist, I have a deep curiosity and admiration for phytoplankton, the tiny water plants of the sea that produce more than half of the Earthʻs atmospheric oxygen and create energy that sustains all higher orders of life in the ocean. It is my personal lifeʻs mission and mission for the voyage for us to learn from phytoplankton and gain a better understanding of how we can live in communion with them.”