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You are here: /main/news/nr 091402

News Release

For Immediate Release
Contact: Barbra Pleadwell (808) 292-3031 or
Aulani Wilhelm (on board the expedition)


(Gardner Pinnacles, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands-September 14, 2002)-Five days into their 30-day research expedition, scientists from NOWRAMP 2002 (the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program) have already located what they believe are new records of animals not seen before in Hawai`i's northernmost islands and atolls.

Although it's too early to confirm, scientists believe they have located at least two coral species and various crab, snail and nudibranch species never recorded at these locations before.

At least one fish species, the finescale triggerfish (Balistes polylepis) was seen for the first time in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. This find was significant as the species is native to the Eastern Pacific (commonly found in waters off Baja, California) and was only seen for the first time in the main Hawaiian islands a few years ago. The movement of this fish seems to be a natural one and scientists aren't sure what triggered the expansion of territory.

Aside from the possible new records of species, scientists continue to be amazed by the abundance of wildlife, algae and coral.

"The abundance of fish and other species here gives us an idea of what the main Hawaiian islands must have been like not that long ago and underscores the need to properly care for this place," said Dr. Randall Kosaki, chief scientist aboard the Rapture. "It's a glimpse into our past that we need to hold on to, to help guide us in our efforts to protect our oceans in the future."

Also significant so far is the possible location of a shipwreck site at Mokumanamana (Necker Island). According to Dr. Hans Van Tilburg, leader of the Maritime Archaeology team, although no shipwrecks have ever been reported at this island, his team found pieces of heavily encrusted iron artifacts and machinery that are typical of the type of debris that would be found at a shipwreck site. Estimating the age of the debris would be very difficult, however, the items have been in the ocean long enough to be covered with coral and appear at first glance to be part of the reef.

Overall, scientists are pleased with the expedition so far and have welcomed the fairly calm seas and light winds they've experienced so far.

In all, aboard the two research vessels the R/V Townsend Cromwell and Rapture, there are 3 teams of divers conducting rapid ecological assessments of various sites at each island, reef or atoll. Other activities include night time sonar measurements to accurately map the seafloor habitat; towboarding and towed camera surveys to obtain quick assessments of habitat over large areas; coral monitoring and hyperspectral imaging; intertidal and shallow water surveys and maritime archaeology.

"The goal of these multi-disciplinary surveys is to simultaneously
examine the condition and health of the fish, corals, algae, and
invertebrates of these complex and diverse reef ecosystems in the
context of their benthic (sea floor) and oceanographic habitats, which change over time," commented Dr. Rusty Brainard, Chief Scientist aboard the R/V Townsend Cromwell.

Other expedition highlights include:

  • Rapid ecological assessment teams have completed 20 dives, adding to the 200 sites surveyed in the past two years.
  • NOAA Surface Velocity Program (SVP) satellite tracked drifting buoys were deployed off Nihoa and Mokumanamana (Necker Island) to examine ocean circulation patterns which influence reef conditions and larval transport and recruitment for numerous animal species.
  • At Mokumanamana, an Ocean Data Platform and a sea surface temperature buoy were deployed. The Ocean Data Platform will measure profiles of ocean currents from the sea floor to the ocean surface, ocean wave height and direction, and temperature and salinity. The sea surface temperature buoy will transmit ocean temperatures to satellites to allow scientists and managers to monitor ocean conditions remotely using the Internet. These ocean conditions often determine the condition, health, and biogeography of the coral reef ecosystems.
  • The Coral monitoring team found 2 new records of coral species at Mokumanamana (Necker Island) raising the total number of coral species known at this island to twenty (20).
  • Coral specimens were collected at Mokumanamana and two coral cores were taken for use in measuring climate change, growth rates and ages of the coral around this island.
  • Near Mokumanamana the U.S. Coast Guard requested that the Townsend Cromwell divert from her research track to search for a potential vessel in distress. Fortunately, the distress signal was a false alarm and the vessel could resume course.
  • At French Frigate Shoals major gaps have been filled in verifying habitat maps through direct diver observation of the ocean floor.
  • Also, one new permanent monitoring site was installed at both Nihoa and Mokumanamana to measure changes in ecology over time. At French Frigate Shoals two permanent monitoring sites were revisited to look for any changes. Fortunately, at the revisited sites, no significant changes were found.

"One of the best things about this expedition is the way that we've put together an intergenerational group of older and younger experts from various fields," said Dr. Karla McDermid, one of Rapid Ecological Assessment team leaders. "We have three generations of scientists, ranging from some of the older and most experienced scientists in the field of coral reef ecology, to the next generation of experts who are leading this expedition, to the undergraduate and graduate students who will be our future experts. We've brought with us all that our mentors have taught us and are helping to pass on this knowledge to the next generation of young, local scientists.

'This is the kind of continuity of knowledge, interest and commitment that it will take to care for this place for the future," continued Dr. McDermid.

Two research vessels, the Rapture and the R/V Townsend Cromwell, headed to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands earlier this month to expand the baseline of knowledge and information about the biological, historical, and cultural resources of the area. This baseline information is critical for the development of effective management strategies and future priorities for the region, and will be of value to all agencies with NWHI jurisdiction. This will be the last research trip of the Townsend Cromwell, which has conducted marine research in Hawai'i and the Pacific for nearly 40 years. The vessels are expected to return to O'ahu Monday, October 7, 2002.

Primary collaborators are the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Ocean Service and National Marine Fisheries Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the State Department of Land and Natural Resources, along with the University of Hawai'i, Bishop Museum, and the National Park Service.

Media Note: A sampling of still images and newly shot video will be available through Hastings & Pleadwell. (Still images were shot by Jim Watt, video images were shot by Mike May. Please credit photographer and NOWRAMP 2002.)

To track the vessels, obtain anecdotal stories from participants or learn more about the expedition overall, visit:

Updates are being posted daily.








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