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You are here: /main/research expeditions/July 2007/Journal Day 4

Journal Day 4

by Keeley Belva

Click here to see where the Hi'ialakai is now.
Click here to see current data from the ship.

Looking out from the ship this morning, as I drink my coffee on the stern of the main deck, all I see is water in every direction.  Disappeared is Nihoa, the highest island of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands chain, where we spent the last day and a half working on the various research projects.  Today is Day 4 of the research cruise to Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument aboard NOAA Ship Hi`ialakai and we are transiting today between Nihoa and Gardner Pinnacles, but to find exactly where we are I have to go to NOAA’s Ship Tracker website.

In the last couple of days of dive operations, we have been able “shake down” the plans for data collection.  There are three small boats that are being used to transport each of the research teams.  HI-1 has been transporting the “fish team,” the researchers that are collecting DNA on several species of fish to learn more about the genetic connection of the populations.  The algae team and the invertebrate team are aboard HI-2, and the mapping team is on HI-6, a small, hard bottom zodiac. 

Hiialakai researchers
Researchers on the “fish team” aboard HI-1 following a dive. Credit: Keeley Belva

Adams Bay on NihoaSo far, I have been able to spend time aboard both HI-1 and HI-2, learning more about their projects.  And since I’m not diving on this trip, it has been an opportunity to contemplate life above the surface at Nihoa, while listening to the myriad of birds flying overhead.  Archeologists have determined that this island did sustain Native Hawaiians for some period of time in the past.  From Adam’s Bay on the south side of the island, there are indications of these early residents—terraced platforms that may have been heiau and cutouts in the rock could have been used for shelter.  One thing you don’t see much evidence of is fresh water, yet from my view on the boat I can see the entire world population of the loulu or Nihoa Fan Palm (Pritchardia remota), an endangered species that obviously gets water from somewhere. 

At our next site on the west side of the island, the view is completely different.  The sheer cliffs meeting the water make it look as if we are seeing another island.  As the divers descend to the bottom, those of us on the boat see a freshwater seep coming from the rock wall—proof that there is a water source on the island.  You can also see the geological history of the island in the striations of the rock.

Freshwater seep on Nihoa
Without surface streams or ponds on Nihoa, archaeologists have speculated that Native Hawaiians were dependent on rainfall, and perhaps springs or seeps, to provide them with drinking water.  The vertical discolored area in the center of the photo is freshwater trickling into the ocean.  The rock structures at the source of the seep are a classic intrusive dike (vertical) crossed by a horizontal sill, the exact structures that one would predict to hold freshwater.  The density of the intrusive lava (relative to the flows around it) prevents the groundwater from migrating horizontally or percolating vertically into the subaerial/submarine portions of the island's water table. Credit: Randy Kosaki

Now far from “bird island,” the vast blue now surrounding the ship gives us time to prepare ourselves and our equipment for the next stop at Gardner Pinnacles—still somewhere in the horizon waiting for our arrival tomorrow morning. 

Nihoa at sunset
Sailing off into the sunset, last views of Nihoa before making our way to Gardner Pinnacles. Credit: Randy Kosaki

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Coral bleaching

Galapagos shark

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