Researchers head out to protect coral reefs

A team of scientists and educators left O’ahu Tuesday on a month-long research

expedition to conduct a first-ever, comprehensive mapping of the coral system

of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

The plan is to generate data that

wil help protect the pristine coral reefs and marine life found in the

area.

The region contains 70 percent of the coral found in the United

States.

The health of coral reef is critical to many endangered species,

including the green sea turtle and Hawaiian monk seal, and the reef “is showing

signs of damage from a lot of different sources,” according to a spokesperson

with the expedition.

Meetings to generate public opinion on how to protect

the resources were recently held across the state, including Kaua’i. They were

requested by President Clinton, who asked the heads of the U.S. Commerce and

the Interior departments for recommendations on protecting the ecosystem of the

Northwest Hawaiian Islands.

The 26-member team, including members from the

state Department of Land and Natural Resources and the University of Hawai’i,

will conduct their mission aboard the Rapture, a vessel operated by Certified

Marine Expeditions.

The Rapture, which left from Sand Island on O’ahu, and

a sister vessel, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ship

Townsend Cromwell, which left O’ahu Sept. 8, will play key roles in the

project.

The Cromwell will conduct video assessments of the reef and

pinpoint areas that warrant further study.

Researchers aboard the Rapture

will do followup assessments of the reef areas. The first-ever detailed maps of

the archipelago and reef habitats also will be produced from new satellite

images and other remote sensing information.

The cooperation among agencies

and the use of high-technology equipment are unprecedented, officials

said.

A media and education team, comprised of professional photographers,

writers and educators, will document the research trip.

By satellite, they

will send daily news updates and images to people in Hawai’i and around the

world wanting a glimpse of the wildlife, geology and historic artifacts found

on the islands, islets and atolls, according to Debra Ward, spokeswoman for the

state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

The daily updates and

still images are available to the public at http://explorers.bishop

museum.org/nwhi.

Using the Web site and educational materials, fourth,

fifth and sixth graders in elementary schools also can follow the progress of

the expedition, officials said.

A limited number of live call-ins from the

vessel to classrooms also will be made available to schools on a first-come,

first-served basis.

Additional information is available from Liza Simon at

587-0365 or Barbara Maxfield at 541-2749.

Staff writer Lester Chang

can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and[

HREF=”mailto:lchang@pulitzer.net”>lchang@pulitzer.net]

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