By Sandy Webb, Sunday, August 14, 2005
Every day on this voyage is like four days back home ... learning from nature, learning from other teachers, learning from professional scientists and learning from Hawaiian kupuna!
My first visit into the ocean was today and it taught me that these islands teem with hundreds of fish - many like those at home but so much larger and more numerous. They tell us the waters around the main Hawaiian Islands were once like this, possibly even more rich with life. 200 years ago did people in Oahu regularly swim with Monk seals, Giant ulua, and white tipped reef sharks like we did today? What would it take to let marine life back home recover to the levels we witnessed today?
Over the past few days I’ve learned from other teachers that share the same vision that I do…can the amazing Northwest Hawaiian Islands help us to inspire our students to make a difference and malama the areas where they live? We all think the answer is "yes" and we all strongly believe that our students have so much to offer in monitoring, protecting and improving the natural areas around them. After all, who will do it, if we don’t get kids involved now?
Learning from professional scientists who are on-board with us has been a real treat and we learn more from them everyday. They are studying birds, limu, coral, insects and fish so that nature itself can teach us how to protect the amazing places where we live. One vital thing we’ve learned is that studying wildlife in it’s natural habitat does not follow a rigid "scientific method." Scientists have to be flexible in the field and react to animal behavior - they have to adjust and make changes to their procedure work and they collect very detailed data that often does not lead to "cut and dry conclusions" but instead, brings up more questions. Many scientists study their animal of choice over several years! We also learned that one study is not enough - the Northwest Hawaiian Islands need repeated data collection to make sure they are being protected - distance alone is not enough. We also saw plastic bottles and a large net drifting out here in the middle of nowhere. Cindy Hunter spent all day diving in search of invasive algae and Angela Anders reported that albatross chicks on Midway have increased death rates due to eating plastic. All of the scientists on board are willing to help me develop great research projects for my students back home.
The amount I am learning is a humbling thing – especially when it comes to the Hawaiian culture. Although I've lived in Hawaii for twelve years and have enough respect for Hawaiians to learn more, I'm like a young child when it comes to understanding the Hawaiian perspective. What a blessing to have Sabra Kauka onboard- a kupuna and Hawaiian Studies resource teacher from Kauai. She is such a strong presence on the ship. She hopes that young people see the beauty of these "kapuna islands," understand that they are connected to the main Hawaiian Islands and their Hawaiian ancestors. Most importantly, that they need to be taken care of – they are the nursery for life in all of Hawaii.
It’s the end of an incredible, long day and I am now a`ohe hua `olelo – without words.