Frigate Shoals, Day 1
Photography by Jim Watt
running pop corn clouds butter tinged by an egg yolk sun
the Rapture carefully works its way through shallow channels
into the extensive half moon atoll whose low shores and
barrier reefs in the far distance can scarcely be seen.
We anchor up in sixty feet, six and a half miles from Tern
Island. Inside, the wind blows timidly out of the west and
the seas are calm relative to the stretches we have so far
encountered. It is seven in the morning and those on the
bow appear bleary eyed, no doubt through the demanding sixteen
hour work days that everyone so gleefully endures. After
all we are exploring new and exciting territory. For much
of the time this whole operation seems to run on a large
measure of adrenalin that is as contagious as it is uplifting.
are at the midpoint of the Hawaiian
Archipelago, and the largest coral reef system in Hawaii,
Reef and Pearl
and Hermes Atoll, French
Frigate Shoals, total some 500 square miles of reef
system. To put this into some perspective the main Hawaiian
Islands reef system totals 360 square miles. So we are dealing
with a lot of reef here, and by virtue of the extent of
this system it would be difficult if not impossible to cover
just a small portion of it. The teams have their work cut
out for them. Clearly they cannot measure and observe it
all so they, through studying charts and satellite photos
will selectively chose to set up their transect lines, underwater
video cameras and digital still cameras in the most favorable
areas. From their findings they can quantify how the fish
populations are doing, and what's going on in the invertebrate
in the distance a tall white monument of a rock, La Parouse
Pinnacle, demands ones attention. It stands in the center
of the atoll at one hundred and twenty-two feet. When the
light strikes it right it appears to be snow white, what
with a thousand years of bird dung clinging to it and looks
very much like a square rigged sailing vessel. Hans Von
Tilburg the on board Maritime Archeologist tells me that
more than one ship mistook the rock for a unlighted vessel
and drew them onto the shoals and their ultimate demise.
area is also the home and resting place for the Hawaiian
monk seal and green sea turtles. However on these shoals
it is the bird populations that hold court in this place
so far removed from man. Sooty Terns are the most abundant
species of seabird in the central
Pacific, and quite naturally the most plentiful in these
Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Nearly one and a half million
breed right here. Another million and a half come and go
on the wind, but are not involved with breeding. They rarely
land on the water because their plumage is not waterproof,
which for a seabird is highly unusual, additionally their
feet are not strong enough to propel them off the surface,
so landing on the water is pretty much out of the question.
Perhaps the most astounding feature about the Sooty Terns
is that they can sleep while flying, and spend up to nine
months in the air. No one knows how they do it, but if I
may be so bold as to offer up a theory. Such behavior has
been found in dolphins, who swim while asleep. One hemisphere
of their brain is asleep while the other hemisphere hangs
out in a deep alpha state, mildly keeping watch. Is it possible
these terns could be doing the same thing?
Collins went ashore today at Tern Island. The island has
the largest running seabird research study in the world,
under the auspices of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Not coincidently it is also the one of the largest seabird
rookeries in the Pacific, the home of Terns, Blackfooted
Albatross, Great Frigate, Masked Booby, and Red Footed Booby,
among others. The experience of entering such an environment
was other-worldly. Coming in on the boat they were followed
by flocks of birds all hovering just above there heads,
as if looking to perch. When they landed at the dock birds
were sitting everywhere a bird could sit, there were no
empty spaces. They were perched on rooftops, gutters, pipes,
push carts, anything that protruded into open space. The
noise level was unnerving, non stop chatter and screeching,
that I am told increases as night falls. Thousands upon
thousands of birds, more than he had ever seen or imagined
could be seen in one place at one time. A Fairy Tern flew
over to Moani and as she extended her hand it regurgitated
a fish; a gift of the highest order. When you don't know
what to get that special person for Christmas this year,
remember where you heard this distinctive gift idea.
Andy walked down the runway there were always one or two
birds shadowing him just above his head, so close he felt
they would land on him at any moment. But as soon as he
stopped they flew off. This behavior brings to mind the
dolphin again, when swimming on the bow of a moving boat
they are content to run for as long as the boat is moving
but as soon as the boat stops they wheel away. Of course,
the dolphins are being pushed along by the force of the
wake, perhaps Andy was creating a wake of his own.
rather keen observation was made when he saw signs of different
species holding on to a section space and fighting off same
species who tried to intrude. While four different species
of birds were occupying a bush, a Frigate, Brown Booby,
Red Footed Booby, another Booby tried to land on the same
bush, the four birds assaulted it rather viciously and ran
it off, passing doubt on the notion that birds of a feather
Talk About It!
Maritime Archaeology at French Frigate Shoals
Asked by John on Sep 13, 2002.
Did the Maritime Archeologists have any luck finding any of the vessels wrecked at French Frigate Shoals?
Answered by the NOW-RAMP Crew on Sep 14, 2002.
The Maritime Archaeology team began to formally document the remnants of a known wreck, a barge, near Tern Island. A more complete update on shipwrecks will be posted on the web at a later time.