Aloha and welcome to my travel and research blog! Over the next month I will be embarking on a research cruise aboard NOAA ship Hi’ialakai to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Hi’ialakai means “embracing pathways to the sea” in Hawaiian and it is a beautiful vessel that hosts over 20 scientists and 20 crew. I am very lucky to be part of a research team with my advisor, Dr. Megan Donahue, and Dr. Òscar Guadayol i Roig who is a post-doc in the Thomas Lab. We are going to be collaborating on two different projects. The first is a study of the bioeroding community throughout the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands for my PhD research and the second is a study on water exchange rates on coral reefs. I will update you more on each of these projects throughout the cruise. We are also very honored to be sailing with a chemical oceanography lab from Hawai’i Pacific University, a coral/fish disease lab from the Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology (where I also work), and many scientists from the Rapid Assessment Monitoring Program (RAMP) in the Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) at NOAA (oh man that was a lot of acronyms!).
A schematic of my research sites in the Main and Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands is a very special place to work. The diversity and abundance of marine life is like no place I have ever seen. It is probably one of the last places where top-predators still dominate the ecosystem, the coral is mostly healthy and alive, and macroalgae has not overgrown the reef. Besides the ecological significance, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are rich with native Hawaiian culture and history. In 2006, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands was proclaimed as the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument by President George Bush and a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2010. The monument is one of the largest marine protected areas in the world encompassing 139,797 square miles of the Pacific Ocean. There are also over 7000 marine species of which 25% are endemic (meaning that they are only found in the monument and no where else in the world).
The word Papahānaumokuākea is a combination of the words Papahānaumoku, meaning Mother Earth, and Wākea, meaning Father Sky. The monument is literally the joining of Mother Earth with Father Sky and the islands and atolls that rest within Papahānaumokuākea are the children of the two (see this to learn more about the history of Papahānaumokuākea and how to properly pronounce it) . Each of the islands and atolls within the monument have fascinating stories associated with them. I will share a little bit of the history of each of the places that I visit on this trip.
I really hope that you enjoy my stories and pictures over the next month! Mahalo nui loa for reading!