Mission Blog: August 16, 2008
By Tane Casserley, National Maritime Heritage Coordinator
Office of National Marine Sanctuaries
It’s been 171 years since the first recorded castaways, the crew of the whaler Gledstanes,
struggled for survival on Green Island at Kure Atoll in1837.
Kure’s reefs have always had a voracious appetite for shipwrecks,
and in the nineteenth century it was not uncommon for US Navy ships
passing through the area to swing by Ocean Island, as it was then
known, to check for shipwreck survivors. This pursuit is what put USS Saginaw
so close to the atoll when it struck the reef in 1870. Today these
reefs are still eating ships like a vindictive sea beast. One of the
most recent wrecks is the Japanese fishing vessel Hoei Maru
whose torn hull fragments jut out of the water in Kure’s
deceptively tranquil lagoon like a forlorn lover beckoning other ships
to join her lonely existence.
Historic sketch of the USS Saginaw survivors' camp drawn by Lieutenant Commander Sicard.
Today, the maritime archaeology team had the opportunity to visit Green Island, where the Gledstanes, Parker, Saginaw, Dunnottar Castle,
and numerous other shipwreck survivors once struggled for so long to
eek out a meager subsistence waiting for rescue. Our plan was to locate
the remnants of their camps.
What became readily apparent after walking the beach for five minutes
with my brand new shoes and instantly raising a blister the size of
Texas was that everything I learned about surviving on a desert island,
which I, of course, learned from reality shows, had to be completely
thrown out the window. No medic was going to come running, there were
no band aids handy, except in the first aid kit on our jet boat that I
was too embarrassed to walk over to, and a cold glass of water
wasn’t readily available to cool my parched throat after
attempting to stifle my moan of pain into an exaggerated cough. You had
to be resourceful to survive, you had to be hardy, and you had to have
the will to live to see your loved ones again. These survivors deserve
Cynthia Vanderlip and her team: Kure Atoll's modern day survivors on the same beach depicted in the historic sketch.
On the beach we were warmly greeted by Cynthia Vanderlip, Kure Atoll
National Wildlife Refuge Manager, and her team of state- and federal
researchers and volunteers, who gave us a tour of their facilities and
instructed us on the protocols so we wouldn’t disturb any of the
marine life or nesting birds on the island. Cynthia told us how Kure is
an extremely dynamic environment with constantly shifting sand dunes
and vegetation layers. With these words of advice, we gingerly began
the survey with a metal detector, being very mindful of our footing and
shielding our eyes anytime a bird erupted out of the bushes with what I
decided was a mad appetite for my eyeballs. And although we never found
any conclusive evidence of survivors’ camps and were constantly
stalked by what I can only describe as a pterodactyl, but what Cynthia
insisted was a frigate bird, we were honored to visit this very special
place that acted as a haven for so many.
Jason Raupp uses a metal detector to search for buried artifacts from wreck survivor camps.
To ask us questions, you can email the team at: firstname.lastname@example.org
and we will answer your questions within the blog, or in a live
internet broadcast later in the cruise. Again, stay tuned for details.