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Not for the weak
- Not for the weak
David Nichols, State of Hawaii, DLNR, HIHWNMS
Yannis Papastamatiou enters the water off Tern Island,
French Frigate Shoals.
The 224 foot NOAA Ship Hi`ialakai has hosted many scientific
and educational missions since its commissioning in September
2004. Now it is engaged as support for a Northwestern Hawaiian
Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve (NWHICRER), National
Ocean Service (NOS), NOAA project until October 6, 2005. This
Rapid Assessment and Monitoring Program (RAMP) will assess
and monitor marine life at numerous locations throughout the
archipelago. Annual monitoring at fixed locations in the NWHI
began in 2003. Returning to the same sites helps in understanding
the abundance and distribution of fishes, algae, corals, and
other reef invertebrates. The scientists onboard bring a diverse
expertise. There are scientists from the Northwestern Hawaiian
Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve (NWHICRER), State of
Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), Hawaii
Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB), University of Hawaii (UH),
and the Bernice P. Bishop Museum (BPBM).
particular RAMP cruise began on August 8, however, a small
fire in the engine room forced an early return to Honolulu
just three days into the expedition. The very dedicated engineering
staff repaired the problem and the crew and science teams
were quickly back underway to complete the mission.
a two-day transit from Honolulu we finally arrived at our
first stop along the Northwestern Hawaiian Island (NWHI) chain.
French Frigate Shoals is an open atoll consisting of a large,
crescent-shaped reef surrounding numerous small, sandy islets.
There isn’t much to see above the water here. The land
area is only ¼ square kilometer (67 acres). Much of
the excitement is beneath the surface. The total coral reef
area of the shoals is over 938 square kilometers (232,000
Iliana Baums checks the air pressure in scuba tanks
the NOAA Ship Hi`ialakai.
day starts with several teams of Rapid Ecological Assessment
(REA) divers and collecting and tagging scientists deploying
on smaller vessels to get to the revisit sites within the
reef. I manage to work my way onto the small boat HI-2 which
carries the collecting and tagging team of Randy Kosaki, Matt
Craig, Yannis Papastamatiou, and Carl Meyer. Their goal today
is to Recover, download, and redeploy (tomorrow) receivers
placed during the May-June 2005 cruise. These receivers have
been detecting previously tagged fish (apex predators including
sharks and ulua) since their deployment. This data helps document
their space utilization patterns within and between reefs.
The team will also be making a couple of dives to collect
specimens of reef fishes for stable carbon isotope analyses.
This will help estimate the proportions of benthic (bottom)
and planktonic (drifting) primary productivity that support
apex predator (sharks and large jacks) dominated ecosystems.
we are lowered onto the water and set free our driver aims
the HI-2 toward a steep-sided basalt pinnacle that juts out
of the water in the center of the atoll. This unique rock
formation is the last remnant of the original volcano. The
pinnacle was named "La Pérouse Pinnacle"
after Compte de La Pérouse, who visited the atoll in
1786. In the moonlight the pinnacle so resembled a full-rigged
sailing ship that it lured more than one vessel to her doom
on the shoals as Captains investigated the unidentified companion.
water is extremely sloppy and as we transit to the pinnacle
and our first receiver pick-up it seems that there is just
as much water coming across the bow into our faces as there
is passing beneath the boat. I struggle to take a breath and
even take a serious look around to see if there is an available
scuba regulator and tank that I can start breathing from.
As I feel consciousness slipping the HI-2 launches off the
top of a large wave. During the brief moment that we are airborne
I am able to take a few quick breaths of the gaseous oxygen
that my body was craving. Euphoria sets in but only briefly
because I must prepare for that inevitable gut-wrenching jolt
as the boat slams back onto the water surface. After what
seemed like hours of drowning and pounding we finally arrive
at the site. After retrieving receivers from here, East Island,
Trig Island and Tern Island our team then makes two separate
dives to collect reef fish specimens before returning to the
now realize why the scientists on this expedition are such
youthful and fit individuals and not the chubby, elderly,
lethargic type that was prevalent during my college years.
Science in the NWHI is not for the weak, the timid, or those
without passion and dedication to protecting this fragile
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