UH Hilo students explore beyond the reef

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Date: Tuesday, September 24, 2002
Contact: Dr. Karla McDermid, (808) 933-3906

For Immediate Release

Fresh off their successful summer course in coral reef atoll ecosystems at Palmyra Island, Dr. Karla McDermid and Dr. Randall Kosaki of the University of Hawai`i at Hilo Marine Science Department are again out in the field on an exciting 30-day research expedition, this time to the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, as part of the Rapid Ecological Assessment Teams. Seven UH Hilo seniors or recent graduates are also on the expedition: Kara Osada; Jeremy Polloi; Marc Hughes; Mark Albins; Brooke Stuercke; Daniel Okamura and Todd Wass.

Their mission is to quantify the natural and cultural research of the atolls, including fish, invertebrates, coral and seaweed diversity and abundance, as well as marine archaeological sites. Among the sponsors of the expedition are the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Ocean Service, the National Park Service, the State of Hawai'i Department of Land and Natural Resources and Bishop Museum. There are two research vessels on the expedition, the R/V Townsend Cromwell and the R/V Rapture. This is to be the last voyage for the Townsend Cromwell, which has been doing marine research in Hawai'i and the Pacific for almost four decades.

In the early stages of the month-long expedition, which began on September 8, the researchers have recorded at least one fish species never before seen in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. Kosaki, the chief scientist aboard the Rapture, said the presence of the finescale triggerfish (Balistes polylepis) is significant because the species is native to the Eastern Pacific waters off Baja California, Mexico, and was only seen in the main Hawaiian islands a few years ago. The scientists are not sure what caused the triggerfish's expansion of its territory.

"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," Kosaki explained. "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."

Another significant find early in the expedition is the location of a possible shipwreck site at Mokumanamana (Necker Island). According to UH Manoa's Dr. Hans Van Tilburg, the leader of the Maritime Archaeology team, there have been no shipwrecks reported on Mokumanamana. But his team found pieces of heavily encrusted iron artifacts and machinery typical of the debris found at shipwreck sites. Van Tilburg said that estimating the age of the debris would be difficult because it has been in the ocean long enough to be covered by coral and appears at first glance to be a part of the reef.

The coral monitoring team found two new records of coral species at Mokumanamana, raising the total number of known species at the island to 20. "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," McDermid, one of Rapid Ecological Assessment team leaders, said. "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," she added. The expedition is expected to return to Honolulu on October 7. The progress of the expedition is chronicled on the Internet at www.hawaiianatolls.org.


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