Latest News
For Teachers
For Keiki (Kids)
About the Area
Photo Images
Video Images
Maps and Satellite Images
More Info

You are here: /main/research/NOWRAMP 2002/journals/end of chain/


Ship Logs

The End of the Chain
Written by Carlos Eyles
Underwater Photography by Jim Watt
September 25, 2002

Spotted Knifejaw, Oplegnathus punctatus."Midway is beginning to feel like home," said Brian Hauk Documentation safety diver, "I think I'm getting soft from this good life." Hardly "the good life", but his point is well taken. At midnight we pulled out, and over relatively calm seas (judged calm by those who actually fell asleep during the passage), and made the fifty-six mile passage to Kure Atoll in six hours. A few hundred more miles and we would be crossing the International Date Line, which, at this point, has little or no relevance to those of us who have no idea what day it is, never mind what day we may or may not lose or gain in the course of this journey.

Both sun and moon suspend at opposite ends of the sky and hail the new day. Like orbs rebalancing the yin and yang of our overdue arrival. There blows a brisk wind out of the north that teases with malice, but the wind, sister of the moon dies with her fall. Clouds, broken and twisted, run with the false wind on quick rails, towing their empty cargos southward. Kure appears flat with a wide sandy beach sporting a crown of green vegetation; she is an atoll fifteen miles in circumference and has two islets, Green Island and Sand Island. Green Island has 236 acres of sand dune and vegetation and is what I am looking at this morning. Its low profile, and the island's rather uncertain position on charts, along with the sudden and violent winter weather due to its location along the southern edge of the Aleutian low pressure system, is responsible for a number of shipwrecks, (one, the USS Saginaw, a wooden-hulled side wheeled gunboat, is the object of our Marine Archeologist Hans Van Tilburg's pursuit.). After World War II President Harry Truman inadvertently returned Kure to the Territory of Hawai‘i rather than the U.S. Department of Interior. Kure was eventually made a state wildlife refuge under the jurisdiction of the Hawai‘i Fish and Game Department of the City and County of Honolulu, 1,367 miles away. Today it is under the management of the State of Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources. Kure is farther from the equator than any other coral atoll in the world.

This morning the Documentation Team with Keoki Stender at the helm are the last to leave after a terrestrial team of eleven personnel have been taken to the atoll to investigate its status and spend the night. Because of its northern storm-ridden location much of the underwater topography is barren and rounded, much like boulders at a sea shore that have been pounded for centuries by waves. We don't expect to see much and after having spoken to Randy Kosaki, who suggested we try south and east, then talked with Alan Friedlander who thought west and north would be good, we started as all explorers eventually do, from scratch. We went west not in deference to Alan it just seemed to be the way we went. I knew there would be a lot of scouting on this one and was prepared to do some extensive free diving. The first jump was as barren as Doc Overlock's bald head and similar to its contour. A single Galapagos shark appeared, larger than any I had seen on Spiny lobster, Panulirus marginatus.the other islands, but that was it, a few fish, and still fewer corals. We moved on, looking for any sign of life, or some relief in the reef system, a place that fish might hide in storms or from predators. Which oddly were absent as well, no sign of ulua. On my second jump in about fifty-five feet of water, nothing caught my attention other than some relief in the smooth reef system that rolled like endless sand dunes across the ocean floor. I dove down into a bowl that looked like the only promising place to try, and under several ledges were lobsters. We hadn't seen many lobsters at all throughout the course of the expedition, these were a pleasant surprise. The ocean holds many secrets, more than any entity on this planet, but they are not revealed to the casual observer, all on this ship, in their chosen disciplines are anything but casual observers, and what a joy it is to listen in on their observations of the day revealing the subtle and obscure to one another in delights of solved mysteries, and new discoveries.

I informed the team of my own discoveries and they suited up. The sighting reminded me of a time in my youth when I was down in the Sea of Cortez in the 1960's, for the first time diving in a sea that had rarely seen a diver. We came across this reef about the size of a Winnebago that conservatively had a thousand lobsters. There were not enough holes in the reef for them; they were walking around by the hundreds in broad daylight. It was a sight I would never see again. So to see these lobsters today was encouraging, it is a sign that man has not laid his sullied hand upon these pure reefs, and the lobsters are free to come and go upon their dwelling place. A few more lobsters are found by the team down the sand alleyways of the reefs, we expected to see more, but came up empty. Five good sized Galapagos make a showing then four vanish leaving one as a sentinel. Later a black ulua comes powering out of the blue directly for me. It has every intention of hitting me and I flinch as it veers away in the last foot. Its black skin is scared white around the head with bumps and open nicks across its body, a gangsta ulua running amuck challenging each and every diver who dares to intrude on his territory.

Whitesaddle Goatfish. Paruoeneus porphyreus.As this expedition has reached its most northern point, we have quite naturally moved out of the tropic zone, yet the tropical fish are here, perhaps not in great abundance but here nonetheless, the kumu are here, the prized eating fish in Hawai‘i, and they are three times as large as any I have seen on the Big Island, the knifejaws are here, the Moorish idols, manini, potters angels, weke, or goat fish, damsels, actually many of the fish we see in the main islands but these guys are over a thousand miles away, perhaps not in abundance as they are further south, but here nonetheless. As we are here, despite the hardship of this mode of travel, we are here at the very end of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Few of us it is true, not as many as in the Main Islands, but here to see for ourselves and say 'howzit' for all of Hawai‘i who cares about this pristine and beautiful water, and desires to do everything they can to keep it this way.

<<Journals Home

Home | News | About | Expeditions | Photos | Video | Maps
Discussions | Partners | Teachers | Keiki | More Info | Search
Contact Us | Privacy Policy
This site is hosted by the
Laboratory for Interactive Learning Technologies
at the University of Hawai`i