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You are here: /main/research expeditions/May 2005/Day 1 Kure Atoll

Kure Atoll, Day 1: Reporting from the top of the Archipelago
by Kelly Gleason, Maritime Archaeology Team

Kelly and Tane setting a permanent
datum point using epoxy.

This morning we all woke up to a blustery day. The wind was blowing, seas were high, and the skies were grey and a little bit ominous. After weeks of gorgeous weather, we really can’t complain, but the conditions today made everything a little more exciting. Launches of the small boats were done with greater care and as we cast off into the drizzly grey skies this morning no one was quite sure how this weather was going to affect their work. When the weather gets rough like this, compromises have to be made in the field since the conditions really do dictate some of the work that can be done.

For the maritime archaeology team, Kure Atoll is an important site. Several shipwrecks have been reported and a few very exciting wrecks have been located in two previous surveys of the area in 2002 and 2003. A main target for our work here at Kure Atoll is the shipwreck site of the USS Saginaw. In the past, weather has hindered work at this site, so we are hoping that weather will cooperate in order to begin to interpret and fully document the entire site. One of our first goals will be to determine the boundaries of this expansive site that has certainly been scattered far inside and outside of the reef after years of rough weather and dynamic waves and currents. The USS Saginaw was a bark rigged side wheel steamship that captures a critical period of American involvement in the Pacific as a historic vessel of the “old steam navy.” She wrecked on the reef at Kure on her way from Midway to Honolulu in 1870 after running up to Kure to check for shipwrecked sailors. Upon her discovery in 2003, several artifacts from the ship were located including anchors, canon, sounding lead and various rigging parts. Unfortunately, today we were unable to revisit this site because of the weather condition on the outside of the East side of the reef and instead we headed to another important shipwreck site inside of the lagoon, an area with greater protection from waves and weather. This site is an unidentified sailing ship, possibly the shipwreck site of the American whaleship Parker which wrecked in a severe storm in 1842. Items found at the site include anchors and rigging parts. Our work at this site was incredibly successful and we were able to set a permanent baseline which we will be able to relocate for years to come in order to return to the same spot to create a detailed map of the artifacts associated with the wrecksite. The permanent datum points also enable us to monitor changes in the shipwreck site for years to come which will contribute to several studies including site formation processes at these atolls. If this site is indeed the whaleship Parker, it will add a great deal to the inventory of whaling shipwrecks in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Whaling is a large part of the history of this region and these shipwrecks add a great deal to the historic record.

The weather challenged the fish team as well. Their original plan was to tag sharks in about 100 feet of water, however, because the conditions were so rough in water at that depth, they ended up working in shallower water. This was successful and the team tagged three sharks: a Galapagos and two grey reef sharks. Carl Meyer reported that it was the largest Galapagos shark that he had ever seen: a 224 cm female. Tagging these sharks will help Carl and other scientists understand how closed the populations of sharks are at these atolls. If species are moving between atolls you can’t make the same assumptions. Tagging is a classic way to answer population questions, however, understanding if the sharks are moving between atolls is an important aspect of validating population estimates. Presently, the only species with a very solid dataset in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands is the tiger shark, which is highly mobile. Carl is targeting four different types of shark for study: tigers, Galapagos, grey reef and white tip.

The coral disease team continued their record breaking streak of setting permanent transects and added two more permanent transects to the dataset at Kure Atoll. Greta and her team’s work at Kure Atoll is making her realize that they truly are just scratching the surface in their understanding of coral bleaching. She is noticing a little bit of coral bleaching here at Kure, which is puzzling considering it is still so early in the season. Comparing what she sees now to what she will see in September will be a critical step in filling these gaps in knowledge.

Everyone is a little weary from the conditions today, however, it was still another exciting and successful day for everyone on the ship. We go to sleep hoping for clear skies and calm waters tomorrow morning.




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