By Barbara Mayer, Friday, August 12, 2005
My alarm went off about 4 hours after I had gone to sleep; it was 5:00 a.m., and I didn't want to get out of bed into the dark morning. But then I remembered: today was the day I was lucky enough to be going to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands! Imua; let's go!
It's now early afternoon, and our ship is moving smoothly away from O`ahu. In one direction the island looks substantial, with its distant green uplands and busy, modern skyline. But if I look in another direction, all I see is the empty open ocean. This quickly is going to become the dominant horizon for me in my 10 days aboard the NOAA Ship HI`IALAKAI.
Our goal as a “Boatload of Educators” is to create individually and together activities and lessons that will bring the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve (NWHICRER) to our students. Our goal in these lessons is to engender in the students a knowledge and love for the NWHI so that they will grow up to become careful stewards of these distant specks of islands, these pristine gems in the world's ocean…
Ah ha! Here's an image: “pristine gems in the world's ocean,” sparkling treasures in an empty sea. That's a good image because the open-ocean water around the NWHI is very impoverished. Nutrients come to the sea from the land as recycled organic material or freshly eroded from the rocks and soil. Therefore, the water around the remote NWHI has a very low level of nutrients, which means that there is a depauperate salty ecosystem.
But wait a minute! Haven't we all heard about the abundance of the marine life ecosystem around the NWHI? Yes; so what's up? Somehow, the reef, which is composed of both coral and algae, is able to create an oceanic oasis of life in the middle of the desert-like open ocean. How truly remarkable! How magical! What an uphill battle against entropy!
In the days ahead as we approach the NWHI, I will appreciate these oases, these gems in the middle of an empty ocean—and I will want to have these treasures treated very well so that they will exist into the future for my students' students' students.