Group Returns from Joint Expedition to Papahānaumokuākea
A group of 26 participants on a first-ever joint expedition returned to Hawai’i from the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument Tuesday. The group consisted of traditional navigators, cultural practitioners, and government and university researches.
Hikianalia, a double-hulled sailing canoe, and Searcher, a modern research vessel, were the modes of transportation for the expedition that consisted of training for future legs of the Polynesian Voyaging Society’s Malama Honua Voyage, shoreline ‘opihi counts, reef fish surveys, and exchanges of ideas on how to better manage marine resources in Hawai’i.
“The best part about the joint expedition was being able to talk with the Hikianalia crew about ways to malama, or care for, our ocean resources,” said Makani Gregg, cultural researcher traveling aboard the Searcher. “We were able to get on the shoreline with each other and count ‘opihi on some of the healthiest shorelines in the world.”
Members aboard the Hikianalia were able to learn valuable lessons and experience and take steps towards the necessary transition in leadership to the next generation of voyagers and navigators.
Kaleo Wong, captain of the Hikianalia, experienced his first opportunity to be in the captain’s seat.
“Nihoa and Mokumanamana have always been places of high spiritual mana (power),” Wong explained. “Situated near the transition of po and ao (the realms of light and dark, and life and afterlife), they remain sacred wahi pana (celebrated places) and allowed us to practice many aspects of our culture, one of which is gaining vital open ocean navigation experience while remaining relatively safe in our home waters of Hawai’i.”
Chris Bird, Ph.D and Patricia Crockett, both researchers with Texas A&M University, used the journey to continue their research of ‘opihi. During the expedition, the pair learned that the area had a wide spread of genetic diversity within ‘ophi.
“It appears that Nihoa is the ‘Fox Knox’ of ‘opihi in terms of genetic diversity,” said Bird. “This is significant because ‘opihi populations in the Monument could be more resilient to human-derived effects like ocean acidification and disease outbreaks that populations in the Main Hawaiian Islands.”
The information provides insight into the continued research of Bird and Crockett, who have studied ‘opihi in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands for six years. Bird says there are 99.9 percent more ‘opihi on the shores of the monument, compared to the shores of Oahu.
“On Oahu, there is an average of one ‘opihi per square meter, versus an average of 100-200 ‘opihi per square meter in the Monument. Working in Papahānaumokuākea continues to provide insight into what a healthy shoreline should look like.”
During the expedition, the team aboard the Searcher visited Mokumanamana and was able to survey ‘opihi for the first time on the north shore of the island. Future efforts plan to focus on ‘opihi habitat and gene flow from island to island.
The Office of Hawaiian Affairs, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, Polynesian Voyaging Society, Texas A&M University, The University of Hawai’i at Hilo, The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International Hawai’i, Kipahulu ‘Ohana, Na Mamo o Muole’a, and Na Maka o Papahānaumokuākea sponsored the expedition.