Native Hawaiian researchers take a groundbreaking field trip to Papahanaumokuakea

Published: Aug. 18, 2021 at 5:45 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Nine researchers and community members recently traveled to Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument for a 15-day expedition.

It was a groundbreaking field trip. All of them are Native Hawaiians.

“Together as a group of Native Hawaiians we went up there to really assess and to learn from the place through a Hawaiian perspective,” Haunani Kane said.

Kane is an assistant professor at Arizona State University’s Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science. She led the study.

“When you look at the representation of native people that get PhD’s in ocean and earth sciences, we aren’t represented by number. We’re represented by two letters, ‘NA,’ because there’s less than 20 of us in the world that’s pursuing this research,” she said.

The team documented conditions on the eastern side of the monument that was hit hard in 2018 by Hurricane Walaka, especially East island.

Kane said the perspective is very different when you see it in person as opposed to looking at satellite imagery.

“When you go out there and you are able to stand there on the island and see it from sea level, you see that the island still is not as tall as it was before, which is really important for sea-level rise, for high tide and things like that,” she said.

She estimates the atoll has returned to about three-quarters the size of what it was before the storm.

University of Hawaii-Hilo graduate student Lauren Kapono led a study on how opihi on the islands’ shorelines are being affected by external pressures like waves, sea-level rise and sunshine and shade.

“It really just speaks to more of the question we’re trying to understand, that the opihi wasn’t as much as you would expect to see because the aina isn’t providing necessarily everything the opihi may need,” she said.

The scientists did see a good number of green sea turtle hatchlings and monk seals, and they made several dives to observe the shallow water reefs around the islands.

Their data will be used to make three-dimensional models and help form future management plans.

“We brought up two community members from Kauai, and one of them has genealogical ties to Nihoa. That’s a big part of the community engagement that we’re doing here at home,” said Kanoeulalani Morishige, a UH Marine Biology PhD Candidate.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs paid for the expedition aboard the aboard the Makani Olu, a 96-foot, triple-masted schooner.

Kane said the entire journey was a cultural experience.

“We were able to offer aloha to the place and to do it in a way that, I think, our kupuna and our ancestors would really be proud of,” she said.

She hopes to return to Papahanaumokuakea with more Native Hawaiians next summer to do additional research.

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