in a Bottle
Written by `Aulani Wilhelm and Mark Heckman, Education and
Documentation Team Members
it was the way the sun hit the little glass bottle, or the
container's resemblance to a Japanese glass fishing float
(prized finds of the experienced beachcomber) that caught
his eye. Or maybe it just happened to be located along the
footpath that Jeremy Polloi (1) used to
collect his limu (seaweed) specimens. Whatever it
was, destiny chose that the little glass bottle, with the
delicate handwritten note, would be found today.
fifteen years, four months and three days after it was placed
in the ocean, Emi Komasu's note which she wrote in High
School in Hiroshima, Japan, was found. Emi composed the
message for part of a class excursion (2)
where all of the students wrote a brief note, enclosed postage
and encouraged the finder to write back. She wrote in both
English and Japanese, clearly uncertain as to where the
bottle would find itself.
note in the bottle reads:
May 15, 1987
How do you do?
We're Showa High School students in Hiroshima. Now we're
going to Tanegashima Island and Kagoshima on a school excursion.
This is one of the bottles which all of the students are
making float on the sea.
If you will read this letter and send your letter, we'll
be very glad.
I'm looking forward to your letter.
Faithfully, Emi Komasu
Jeremy found the bottle amidst the zillions of scattered
glass and plastic debris strewn across the entire length
of the island's sandy shoreline, we'll never understand.
There were nearly twenty of us on island that day, each
traversing the same stretch of beach (not to mention the
two Fish and Wildlife Service staff permanently stationed
there for months at a time). There was nothing showy about
the glass bottle, nothing that would make it stand out from
all of the rest. But somehow, the bottle spoke to Jeremy
and encouraged him to pick it up.
is likely because the little bottle knew that Jeremy, a
native of the island of Ngiwal in Palau (in Micronesia),
would take the significance of the find to heart and write
back, completing the bottle's journey.
a fellow Pacific islander, Jeremy understands family, distance
and connections. Jeremy did not go to college immediately
after High School. He took care of family obligations; made
sure his younger brother finished high school, and then
considered where to go. His oldest brother had returned
to Palau to take care of the family, while his middle brother
had just completed a year of college in Hawai`i. It seemed
to Jeremy that Hawai`i was a good choice for the three younger
brothers. It is a good school, they could save on money,
and they could get home whenever possible - family, responsibility,
care, togetherness. Of course Jeremy will write back.
was in High School in Hiroshima when she wrote the letter.
For most of us, Hiroshima is still a remembrance of times
of war and strife, a time when much of the human race was
doing it's very worst to get along, not it's best. Today,
Hiroshima is a big city. Yuko
Stender, one of the crew member's aboard grew up in
Japan and noted that Emi probably went to a fairly large
high school, worked hard and was not so different from high
school students today.
wonder of her hopes and dreams. She is in her 30's now,
perhaps with a family or career. A message she sent over
15 years ago has now completed the first leg of its trek,
3,400 miles at a minimum (3). But how long
it has been drifting and how long beached we will never
know. It has had time to travel many thousands of miles
more. Perhaps it does not matter; perhaps the lesson here
is simple. Although the Pacific Ocean is massive, all nations
and islands within her reach are connected.
References: Jeremy Polloi, Expedition biologist, Yuko Stender,
Rapture crewmember, Educator/Biologist, Jokiel, Paul L.
1990. "Long-distance Dispersal by Rafting: Reemergence
of an Old Hypothesis". Endeavour. New Series. Volume
14, No. 2, 66 - 73. Pergammon Press. Great Britain, Sheltima,
Rudolf S. 1986. "Long-Distance Dispersal by Planktonic
Larvae of Shoal-water Benthic Invertebrates Among Central
Pacific Islands". Bulletin of Marine Science 39:241-256.
Jeremy Polloi has a BA in Biology from the University of
Hawai`i - Hilo and is part of the Intertidal/ Shallow Reef
REA group. His specialty is algae, but he has a broad background
in biology and assists his team leader, Larry Basch with
a variety of collecting and documentation duties.
Crewmember and Japanese National, Yuko Stender, notes that
a special senior year trip is common for Japanese High Schools.
The trip is a reward for the hard work of the students and
incorporates educational elements. Emi's trip included time
in the Kagoshima district, famous for its active volcanoes.
High School trips typically include a history component.
Tanegashima is famous in Japan for being the port through
which guns were first imported, resulting in a variety of
cultural and societal changes. The stop at Tanegashima Island
obviously also focused on marine biology as well as providing
time for the students to relax and enjoy themselves.
Drift bottle experiments have been used to determine current
rates in the ocean. Most tropical marine fish and invertebrates
have a planktonic stage of their life in which they drift
with the currents to colonize new areas. The planktonic
stage is typically limited to days, a few weeks, or for
a very few, months before settlement is required.
ocean currents can only move a larval animal a few hundred
kilometers before competence (survival) of the larvae is
limited (Jokiel, P., 1990). But, surface drift rates of
up to 20 - 25 km/ day have been noted for at least some
Pacific Ocean currents (Sheltima, R., 1986). At this rate,
Emi's bottle could have made it to Laysan in less than a
year. In reality, most surface currents are probably not
that fast and it is highly unlikely that the bottle moved
in even remotely a straight line. There are certainly no
direct currents from Japan to Laysan. The bottle may have
spent a considerable about of time in gyres, on other beaches,
or just traversing the open ocean to the north, south, east
or west before ending up on Laysan Island. It may have spent
years at sea. If you have time, take a look in a text book
for the North Pacific currents. Try and find the Island
of Tanegashima on a map and then Laysan Island. It is always
interesting to speculate the path such a bottle might have