By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Richard McCreedy, left, helps Edward Carus ready the yacht Aeolus
to sail to the Marquesas Islands, where a group of botanists are
taking an expedition to collect new plant species.
Carus will captain the boat on the expedition.
new species on cliffs
The expedition will have themBy Helen Altonn
scaling mountains and rappelling cliffs
Hawaii botanists are planning a daring adventure next month to collect plants in the remote Marquesas Islands, origin of Hawaii's first settlers.
Scaling precipitous 4,000-foot mountains and rappelling sheer cliffs to find new species will be botanists Steve Perlman and Ken Wood of the National Tropical Botanical Garden on Kauai.
"Our specialty is cliff-climbing and getting into really difficult-to-reach areas," Perlman said.
"We have taken that practice around the Pacific."
He said there is a lot of similarity between Hawaiian and Marquesan plants.
"We feel right at home when we're in the mountains there."
Acting as the scientists' liaison with the islands will be French-Polynesian botanist Jean-Yves Meyer, postdoctoral fellow at Haleakala National Park from the Delegation for Environment in Tahiti.
Edward H. Carus of Honolulu is providing his sailing vessel, the Aeolus (Greek for "wind"), for the "Ua Po Expedition." He will captain the 40-foot boat with Mark Guerin as first mate.
They are tentatively scheduled to leave June 2 and spend a month in the Marquesas, located about 2,400 miles from Hawaii.
"In a way we are following in the footsteps of Captain Cook," Carus said.
The botanists have been working for about 10 years on flora of the Marquesas.
The project was launched by David H. Lorence of the National Botanical Garden and Warren L. Wagner, chairman of the Smithsonian Institution's botany department.
Using the Aeolus, the botanists visited six of the 12 Marquesan Islands in the 1988 Fatu Hiva Expedition. They collected more than 2,000 herbarium specimens, as well as seeds to grow at the national garden.
"I'm developing a nice little Marquesan plant collection here," Lorence said.
He's also edited a book entitled "Allertonia," which contains a series of papers on botanical results of the first expedition.
Perlman, Wood and Meyer made another trip in 1995, collecting 3,000 herbarium specimens and seeds of 48 species for the garden's living collection.
Their main targets this trip are the islands of Mohotani, Ua Huka and Ua Pou. Carus said Ua Pou "is an almost Disney-like island with huge volcanic cones remaining."
The researchers will be packing into rugged valleys supplies to camp and climb perilous ridges.
New and rare species often are found on cliffs where they're safe from feral animals and weeds, Perlman said.
"A whole new flora sometimes exists only on cliffs that no botanist has ever seen."
The team's goal is to compare flowers and fruits, to understand, identify and classify the species and to determine distribution patterns, he said. They've already found 15 to 20 new species, Perlman said.
But many unique plants have become extinct or are endangered because of human encroachment, feral herbivores and alien plant and insect species, the scientists said.
Wood said a prime concern in their work is the Pacific Islands ecosystem. They want to apply knowledge from their research in Hawaii for conservation of other Pacific islands, he said.
They also collect duplicate specimens to share with world herbariums, Wood said.
Lorence said special collections are made for people doing DNA analysis to classify plants.
The Marquesas Islands are "really fern heaven," Lorence said, with a lot of tree ferns and very dense tangles of ie'ie, a vining member of the pandanus family in Hawaii.
Carus said contributions are needed to help cover the expedition cost of about $15,000 because of budget problems at the sponsoring institutions.
"There are enough pledges to guarantee we go," he said. Yet, "a lot of this is coming out of my own pocket."
Donations to help underwrite the project may be sent to Pacific Rim Media Co., 2600 Pualani Way, Apt. 2201, Honolulu, 96815-3938.
Carus formed the nonprofit foundation to promote the natural and cultural history of the Pacific islands.