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Tuesday, September 19, 2000

Second ship to join
reef expedition

This will be the first detailed
study of pristine coral systems in
the Northwestern Hawaiian Isles

By Helen Altonn

The vessel Rapture was preparing to leave today to join the Townsend Cromwell for the first large-scale, detailed study of pristine coral reef ecosystems of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

The Cromwell, operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, left Sept. 8 for the remote archipelago and began surveys for more intensive investigations by Rapture scientists.

Jim Maragos, coral reef biologist and principal investigator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the Rapture, received the first report today from Rusty Brainard, the Cromwell's chief scientist. He is with the Honolulu Laboratory, National Marine Fisheries Service.

Boats from the Cromwell have been pulling divers with video cameras on tow-boards to classify habitats for further study. Diving teams follow up with rapid ecological assessments.

They're using high-tech satellite imagery to map the reefs, which cover about 3,523 square miles and are home to valuable commercial fisheries and endemic and indigenous species found nowhere else.

Beth Flint, Fish and Wildlife Service seabird biologist, and Gordon Nishida, Bishop Museum insect specialist, were dropped off at Nihoa Island for land surveys. The Rapture, operated by Certified Marine Expeditions, will pick them up.

The Rapture will overlap with the Cromwell at Kure Atoll from Oct. 1-6 and exchange crews and some gear Oct. 7 at Midway Atoll.

Maragos and Dave Gulko, aquatic biologist and principal investigator for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, emphasized the unique state, federal and private partnership involved in the expedition.

For the first time, Gulko said, "We are looking at the big picture instead of select points" in the 10 small northwestern islands, which contain 70 percent of the nation's coral reefs.

"Nobody has looked at everything together to see what state they're in," he said.

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