By Sandy Webb, Saturday, August 13, 2005
Sabra and Kekuewa performed beautiful chants and explained their meaning – the pu was blown – offerings were made – and all the while looming just beyond the ship was Nihoa. We gave the Nihoa team our blessings and watched them head away to spend the week on what seems to be a forbidding cliff of rock rising from the sea.
Everyone is looking forward to hearing about their findings when we pick them on the way back: the mystery of the invasive grasshoppers, the bird census which will help determine the health of several bird populations and the findings of Kehau and Kekuewa as they seek to determine the mystery of their Hawaiian ancestors and their presence on Nihoa.
It wasn’t long before we realized that we would make our own way to the island – not to land but to snorkel in the waters off shore. The abundant and curious shorebirds mesmerized us as we gazed up at the sheer cliffs of Nihoa. Brown Boobies, Sooty Terns, Brown and Blue-Grey Noddies, Bulwers Petrel flew all around our small boats while overhead, hundreds of ‘Iwa watched it all. None of us had ever seen so many shore birds in one place!
Everyone excitedly jumped in the water and immediately saw more fish, larger fish and more sharks than they had ever seen in one place. Monk seals came to investigate the snorkelers who were bobbing in the gentle swells and we counted 17 on the small beach as we left the island. In just 3 hours, we knew we had glimpsed what marine life used to be like on the islands back home: abundant, varied and diverse.
Back on the ship we made a list of all the fish we had seen- in 5 minutes the list was up to 33 types! Now the challenge of the night – how to impress upon our students how important these islands are and what they can teach us about taking care of the islands we live on.