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You are here: /main/research expeditions/May 2005/Day1 FFS

Day 1, French Frigate Shoals
by Kelly Gleason, Maritime Archaeology Team

Maritime heritage launch, photo by Robert SchwemmerOn Monday morning, May 16th, NOAA’s R/V Hi’ialakai arrived at French Frigate Shoals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. After two days of transit from Honolulu, scientists and the vessel’s crew were ready for their first day of operations. With four small boats of scientists deploying from the ship, this is no small task. This particular cruise includes four groups of specialists: coral disease, maritime archaeologists, multi-beam mapping and a fish team. Prior to our arrival at French Frigate Shoals on Monday morning, hours of preparation including gear set up, drills, and daily operations planning kept crew and scientists aboard the ship busy. No matter how much planning and tedious preparation goes into a scientific
expedition, the first day in the field always includes a great deal of shake down and day one was for most teams, a day to work out kinks and figure out the best ways to achieve their goals in these remote atolls where seas are rough and unpredictable. Shark sightings, eight foot seas and close encounters with ulua made Monday’s operations both challenging and exciting.

On Monday morning, the first team to deploy in the ship’s boat HI-2
was the maritime archaeology team led by Hans Van Tilburg. For the maritime archaeologists, this atoll is an opportunity to conduct remote sensing survey where no shipwreck sites have been located. We started our magnetometer survey in an area where the whaling ship South Seaman was run aground in 1859. This was the first remote sensing survey conducted at French Frigate Shoals, which is a very large atoll where vessel remains could be scattered for miles across the seafloor. Rough seas made the surveychallenging, but magnetometer data in this area is an important first step towards inventory of the maritime heritage resources in this part of the world.

HI-1 was deployed shortly after loaded with coral disease specialists and plenty of scuba tanks led by Greta Aeby. Their plans were to establish permanent transects in order to collect time series data on the coral health in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, particularly instances of bleaching and disease. Encountering many of the same rough sea issues as the maritime archaeology team, the coral disease specialists were challenged by conditions that make working off of a small boat difficult. Nevertheless, the team successfully set a permanent transect that will be monitored for changes in coral health. The best stories at dinnertime were reports from the fish team who encountered plenty of the kind of fish they were looking for: large jacks and sharks.

Two fish teams were working in tandem to collect data for two different projects. One is a project to collect data for molecular genetics conductivity led by Brian Bowen, and the other is a project to track the movements of apex predators in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands by Carl Meyer. Ulua are one of the seven species Meyer is looking to track by deploying transmitters in the fish and sharks. Sharks and jacks were in no short supply and at least one dive had to be aborted due to the large quantities of sharks in the area.

As the fish, coral and maritime archaeology teams wrap up for the night, the multi-beam mapping team is just getting their operations started. Led by Joyce Miller, they conduct their work at night, while everyone else is sleeping. The ship is outfitted with sophisticated multi-beam mapping equipment that allows the scientists to create a base layer for accurate maps and benthic characterization. Their work is critical to everything that scientists in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands do, and their work rounds out a 24 hour day of operations for the R/V Hi’ialakai.

Our cruise is just beginning, and our first day was characterized by the unique conditions in these beautiful, and extremely remote atolls. As I write this, Joyce and Jonathan keep their eye on a successful deployment of the TOAD, a camera deployed on the seafloor (26 meters below) that will help characterize the benthic habitat at French Frigate Shoals. I am heading to sleep, and their “day” of work is just beginning…



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