Science and voyaging converge on board Hikianalia as The Nature Conservancy teams up with the Polynesian Voyaging Society on an expedition to Nihoa, a remote island 120 miles northwest of Niʻihau in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.
“The Nature Conservancy (TNC) was approached through the Polynesian Voyaging Society to try to collaborate on a trip that encompassed traditional navigation training, and crew training, on board Hikianalia going up to the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, and combining that with some science that The Nature Conservancy would help provide. It was a great fit,” said Russell Amimoto, Watch Captain and Marine Monitoring Community Coordinator at The Nature Conservancy.
Also on board Hikianalia were five other crewmembers representing The Nature Conservancy, including Chad Wiggins, Hawaiʻi Island Marine Program Director at TNC.
“There are a few studies that have been part of the Worldwide Voyage that we jumped right into. They’re looking at water quality monitoring with common water quality characteristics like oxygen and temperature. Any fish that we catch, we’re looking at total length and taking a fin clip for genetic study. They’re also looking at plankton, catching the critters that live at the surface of the water. We passed through some amazing plankton communities because the winds were so slack we could actually look at the surface of the ocean and see tons of plankton,” said Wiggins.
A lack of winds early on in the trip also led to other opportunities for the crew to practice Mālama Honua.
“Along with us just cruising along on those really calm days, we picked up a number of pieces of marine debris, including plastic floats, rubbish and we even came across a weather balloon that was floating around in the ocean which was really cool. Everybody in their everyday lives just doing little things like that, makes a big difference,” said Amimoto.
Once Hikianalia arrived at Nihoa, the scientists took their studies underwater.
“What we do at The Nature Conservency is we do fish assessments and coral health assessments all throughout the state of Hawaiʻi. We extended those protocols and methods up to Nihoa, which was outstanding but also a big challenge,” said Wiggins.
Some challenges were too hard to overcome. Time soon ran out and Hikianalia had to head back after only one day at Nihoa.
“Unfortunately we didn’t get as many surveys as we wanted to get done, but we did get a good feel for what is possible up there, and what kind of conditions we’ll need,” said Amimoto.
“The reef there is so much different than the reef on the main Hawaiian Islands that we have a little bit more learning and tweaking to do on the methods before we try again,” said Wiggins.
Amimoto reflected on the purpose of the voyage to Nihoa and the Worldwide Voyage as a whole. He said, “The Mālama Honua mission coincides with the TNC mission. We’re both working towards the same thing, we’re both working towards giving a sustainable future for future generations.”
A sustainable future could find answers by looking to the past.
“Traditional practices of Hawaiʻi gave us an unbelievably healthy fish population. We’ve departed from that in a major way today, and getting back to a community driven and kuleana-based management is the best way to take care of this place,” said Wiggins.
“To me, a Native Hawaiian is in his own way, a great scientist. He’s taking a look at everything around him and looked at them very carefully. The knowledge that they have is something that I think the modern western science has been trying to learn for a very long time,” said Amimoto.
“In a sense, science is our culture, you know all we did as people was observe the environment and that’s what science is, and so there’s no real difference between science and culture, that’s what we do, it’s just in a different fashion,” said Brad Kaʻaleleo Wong, Watch Captain and Papahānaumokuākea Program Specialist at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.