The NOAA ship Hi'ialakai, shown here at Honolulu Harbor, left Monday for a research voyage.

Ship focuses on
NW isle study

A better understanding of the unique environment of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands is the goal of a five-week mission by the newly commissioned research vessel Hi'ialakai.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ship is the floating base camp for the fifth annual Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program, a multiagency effort that began monitoring the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands in 2000. The ship left Honolulu Monday on the way to its first stop in the French Frigate Shoals.

Scientists plan to:

» Do rapid ecological assessments of reef fish, corals, other invertebrates and algae, and survey fish and ocean floor composition.

» Map underwater habitats.

» Conduct long-term biological and oceanographic monitoring of coral reef ecosystems.

"Twenty years ago we did much of the same research, characterizing marine habitats, looking at fish and invertebrate populations and abundances, but this was resource assessment with an eye toward consumption -- what is here that we can take back and use or sell," said Randall Kosaki, chief scientist for the voyage.

"Now, just 20 years later, the focus of our research has turned around 180 degrees. We are now asking questions such as: What is special about this place? How can we preserve this for future generations? Really, this is a fairly short time span in which to see such a dramatic turnabout in attitudes, from consumption to preservation," Kosaki said.

During the expedition, a science writer on board will document the research and monitoring efforts for a general audience, which will be posted at www.hawaiianatolls.org. Teachers and students are encouraged to ask questions online, which scientists will answer.



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