are here: /main/research
expeditions/ 2005 RAMP/9_29_05
- Kure Atoll
David Nichols, State of Hawaii, DLNR, HIHWNMS
pair of oval butterflyfish hover above the coral at Kure Atoll.
Kure Atoll is 55 miles west-northwest of Midway Atoll and
is the northernmost coral atoll in the world. We are at the
extreme northwest end of the Hawaiian archipelago. The atoll
is nearly circular with a 6-mile diameter enclosing about
200 acres of emergent land. The outer reef almost completely
encircles the lagoon except for passages to the southwest.
The only permanent land in the atoll is crescent-shaped Green
Island, located near the fringing reef in the southeastern
part of the lagoon. Almost 80,000 acres of coral reef habitat
are found at Kure Atoll.
Atoll provides opportunities for scientists to study a reef
at the "Darwin Point," where the rate of coral growth
barely equals the rate of submergence and erosion. North of
Kure, the atolls have drowned to form the Emperor Seamounts.
The seamounts lie in water too deep and cool for coral growth.
Kure’s coral is still growing slightly faster than the
island is subsiding.
its northern location and relatively cool waters, the aquatic
habitats of Kure offer a large diversity of corals and other
marine organisms. In fact, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
include a much greater diversity of reef habitats than in
the main Hawaiian islands. Many species exist only in the
Northwestern Hawaiian Islands that are not (or no longer)
found in the MHI, (i.e. corals of the genus Acropora).
Northwestern Hawaiian Islands provide perhaps the last remaining
“pristine” coral reef ecosystem on the planet.
It is a great place to perform comparison studies between
reef systems here in the remote NWHI and those in the Main
Hawaiian Islands that are disturbed by human impacts. Coral
biologist, Greta Aeby, described it best when she said, “the
NWHI is your coral – the MHI is your coral on crack”.
The relatively intact marine communities here offer us an
opportunity to see what the ecosystems of the main Hawaiian
Islands may have been like thousands of years ago.
to Expedition main page