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2007 Papahanaumokuakea Expedition
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The Mission

The work conducted by maritime archaeologists in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands in 2007 featured non-disturbance surveys to locate and assess selected historic and archaeological resources within the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. The team used a combination of methods to explore and document these sites including diver tow board surveys, video and photo documentation, and mapping the distribution of major features and site boundaries using metal detectors and hand held GPS units.

Divers use tow boards to search for potential shipwreck sites in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (Credit: Tane Casserley/NOAA)
Divers use tow boards to search for potential shipwreck sites in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (Credit: Tane Casserley/NOAA)

Historic documents and other sources indicate that over 60 ships have been lost in the Monument, some dating back to 1805.  Many of these wrecks are important sources of information, capturing details about the maritime history of the region.  Assessments of these sites provide important management and inventory data.  Maritime sites also can be unique biological “experiments,” because each site provides an artificial substrate of known age and can function as a reef or habitat for marine life.

Diver conducts search with a handheld metal detector at French Frigate Shoals (Credit: Tane Casserley/NOAA)
Diver conducts search with a handheld metal detector at French Frigate Shoals (Credit: Tane Casserley/NOAA)

Many of the shipwrecks within the Monument occurred in the shallower waters of the atolls’ high energy environments.  Access during the 2007 survey, therefore, was limited by sea state, as well as the distance from where the dive boats were launched every morning to the sites.  Nightly meetings were held on board the Hi‘ialakai to plan operations, taking into consideration the variety of working areas and weather projected for the following day.  Typically, some of the intended targets for the science teams will be “blown out,” by surf breaking on the sites, or when transits in the dive boats prove too slow and difficult when pounding into 8-10 foot seas.  To compensate for these conditions survey plans always include a number of different targets for investigation, distributed on several different sides of the atolls. 

Divers survey for artifacts around a historic anchor at Welles Harbor in Midway Atoll  (Credit: Tane Casserley/NOAA)
Divers survey for artifacts around a historic anchor at Welles Harbor in Midway Atoll (Credit: Tane Casserley/NOAA)

The 2007 surveys required extensive support of diving operations (SCUBA and snorkeling) in both lagoon and open ocean conditions seaward of the reef crest.  Three to four small boats were launched each day so that all teams could operate in separate locations around the atoll.  The 2007 NOAA cruise (officially designated as HI-07-07) allowed scientists a total of six working days on sites.  Once again, the collaboration between disciplines led to a greater shared understanding of the resources of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

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