Melissa Fye, April 8, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melissa Fye
Onboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai
April 4 – 25, 2005

Mission: Coral Reef Ecosystem Survey
Geographical Area: Northwest Hawaiian Island
Date: April 8, 2005

Seabirds on Tern Island
Seabirds on Tern Island

Location: Latitude: 28.5 N, Longitude: 49.3 W

Weather Data from the Bridge
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: 42
Wind Speed: 16 kts
Sea Wave Height: 3 feet
Swell Wave Height: 3-4 feet
Sea Water Temperature: N/A
Sea Level Pressure: 1021 mb
Cloud Cover: 3/8 SC, AS, Ci

Science and Technology Log

The HI’IALAKAI continued running survey lines laid out by scientists across the Pacific Ocean to add to data for the creation of benthic habitat maps. Approximately 10 AM this morning several scientists deployed the AHI research boat with 2 computer engineers aboard from our ship. The engineers were on board to get the new sonar system up and running and correct any glitches as they occurred.  Their services did not require them to be on board for the whole cruise, so they went on the AHI this morning to Tern Island to rendezvous with a small plane to fly them back to Honolulu. I began interviewing Scientist Kyle Hogrefe in the dry lab and he showed me a slide show regarding the GhostNet project and the subtropical convergent zone.  The projects concern the studies of winds and currents converging in the Pacific Ocean, sometimes coming together near the Hawaiian Islands, which entangles and clumps debris from humans (fishing nets, Bic liters, toothbrushes-things littered into the sea) and damages coral reefs and kills marine life, choking or strangling them.

Visiting the seabird sanctuary
Visiting the seabird sanctuary

Many dead sea animals have been found, the cause of death due to their bodies being full of garbage like lighters and plastics, which ends up getting entangled in their organs or choking them. Mr. Hogrefe works as a Marine Debris Specialist and often goes on diving trips which reclaim some of the pollution that endangers ocean ecosystems. An hour later I boarded a shuttle boat with the Commanding Officer (CO), a deck hand, and chief boatswain to also go to Tern Island and take a tour of the bird, monk seal, and turtle refuge, run by the Fisheries Dep’t (Dep’t of Interior)on the island.  Jennifer, the manager of the sanctuary, led the CO and me on a tour of the half mile long island, which is nothing more than a few research barracks, a landing strip, and thousands of birds. The studies they are conducting for Hawaii’s bird population proved to be very interesting.

At this time, a manager and 3 volunteers are stationed on the island for a minimum of 4 months at a time to count bird eggs, tag chicks, and count the adult species.  Tern Island bird sanctuary has the largest collection of data in the world on the species of birds which spend their lives flying over the ocean and which are indigenous to the Hawaiian Island Chain. The data has been collected for over 30 years, the reproductive rates of the birds are improving, and the work there will lead to the Albatross bird being put on the endangered species list. More than 90 percent of Hawaii’s bird population uses the island as a mating area.  The birds which reproduce on Tern, once adult, may spend up to 4 years flying over the ocean without ever stopping and their bodies have a way for the bird to rest or sleep while in flight. We learned about adaptations, like a waterproofing gland at the base of the bird’s body to protect them from ocean water, and we also saw a monk seal, and 5 huge sea turtles. A binder was also given to me about a unit of lessons called “Navigating Change”, involving the Northwestern Hawaiian Island Chain that can be used to teach respect and understanding of the ocean and environment to 4th and 5th graders. It was an invaluable gift! We then boarded the shuttle back to ship for the 15 minute ride across the ocean. Returned to the HI’IALAKAI at approximately 4:30 PM. A CTD cast was made (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth measurement in the ocean) at approximately 6 pm.  Deck hand/Surveyor Jeremy Taylor lead a group of new surveyors through the steps to conducting a cast and retrieving the data sent up through the cable. Survey lines continued to be performed by the ship at 7 knots.

Bird action!
Bird action!

Personal Log

I was very busy today and it was the most exciting day of the trip so far. I arose to eat breakfast and send out my computer logs, answer emails, and send pictures to my class via the internet.  I soon interviewed scientist Kyle Hogrefe aboard the ship and learned a lot about marine debris, as mentioned in the science log above. I then boarded the shuttle boat to Tern Island, watched the computer engineers take off in their small Cessna plane and took a fantastic tour of the place. The bird sanctuary teemed with thousands of birds!  As soon as you stepped foot on the island, you saw thousands of birds flying and roosting below. Literally thousands of birds blanketed the entire island except for the landing strip in the middle.  The entire place is covered with bird feces and I was rightfully inducted as a visitor when a bird pooped on my leg!  Ha Ha!

There are many interesting species of birds living on the island and the 4 people living there are tracking the reproductive rates of the birds. The sounds the birds make are actually the same sound bites used in the movie, “The Birds!” After a great tour of the place, I saw my first monk seals and gigantic sea turtles and took many pictures.  After returning to the island I spent the afternoon learning how to edit data on the survey computers, so I could help the survey scientists, and I told many members of the crew about the trip to Tern Island since only 4 of us had permits to go.  It was quite an informative and exciting day.  It was energizing to ride across the ocean on a raft type engine boat and see the coral reef beneath!

QUESTION OF THE DAY for my fourth grade students:  If a small plastic bag was found floating in the ocean, and a bird or shark went to eat it, what do you think that small bag looks like to the sea animal (what ocean animal)? After reading the information above, why is it important for humans to recycle?


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