PORT ALLEN — It was a sunny morning as a small orange boat cruised back and forth, transporting four loads of students and teachers from the dock to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ship Hi‘ialakai for an all-day educational cruise late last week.
“I’m excited,” said Kula High and Intermediate School science teacher Paul Clark, as he waited his turn to get on the ship.
“You don’t always get to go on a trip like this. I missed the one to the Northwest Islands, so I wanted to make sure I got on this one.”
Clark made sure to pack his video camera to document the cruise, and will most likely turn the footage into an educational DVD.
Jeanne Russell, chairperson of the educational board for the National Marine Sanctuaries, was also on board for the cruise.
“They’re doing these (educational cruises) all over the islands now,” she said.
“It’s one thing to do the research, but it’s another to get the high schools involved. Who knows? It might spark more careers from this.”
The crew of scientists and engineers for the 224-foot-long Hi‘ialakai conducts research on coral-reef health, fish stocks, and bio-analysis assessments of the water. They also generate shallow-water, coral-reef maps. But the main focus is on the humpback whale and its environment.
The purpose of this cruise was to raise awareness of the whale and opportunities for conservation through marine science.
Select students from Waimea High, Kapa‘a High, Kaua‘i High, and Kula High and Intermediate schools were joined by students from Ke Kula Ni‘ihau O Kekaha public charter school to tour the vessel and get hands-on training from the crew themselves.
In the wet lab, students studied sediment from the bottom of the ocean for critters by taking small samples and analyzing them under a microscope.
In the dry lab, youngsters studied and identified different types of plankton found in their water samples.
On the aft deck, students were shown the devices used to check the quality of water at various depths of the ocean.
The students visited the multi-beam mapping room, where the crew creates all their different maps, and were also treated to a tour of the bridge.
One lucky student of each group got to steer the ship, under the direction of the captain.
Kaua‘i High School student Jessica Hensen admitted that she wasn’t interested in marine science until she took the course at school. For the cruise, Hensen said she hoped to learn more about the field.
“I hope to see you measure the depths of the ocean,” she said. “I want to find out how many creatures there are in the ocean. We went whale-watching, but that was different from this.”
Kula High and Intermediate School student Wailana Waite was looking forward to this cruise because marine science is what she wants to major in when she attends college.
“I might as well get as much information as I can before I go (to college),” Waite said.
The cruise started at around 9 a.m., and lasted all day. The students were split into groups, and rotated stations throughout the day, then were treated to lunch.
At the end of the day, Kapa‘a High School student Pauline Lucas said the cruise exceeded her expectations.
“It was like you see in the movies with all the technology. I didn’t think it was going to be like that,” she said.
“The plankton was the most fun. I was thinking of getting into meteorology, but working with the water just opened new doors.”
For more information on Hi‘ialakai or the National Marine Sanctuaries, visit www.moc.noaa.gov/hi or hawaiihumpbackwhale.noaa.gov.
• Lanaly Cabalo, lifestyle writer, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 237) or firstname.lastname@example.org.