By Nakoa Goo, Scientist, Diver, Cultural Resources Researcher
Another large apex predator found in abundance in Papahanaumokuakea. (Photo: Nakoa Goo)
It is now day 25 of the research cruise and we have finished our second day of the return trip to Kanemilohai (Kure Atoll). The experiences I have had so far at all the moku we have visited have often left me speechless and amazed. I've been fortunate to work on three different projects throughout the cruise including opihi, resource species, and fish surveys on different teams. My main focus lies in the surveys of resource species I am conducting for the traditional knowledge team.
A large he'e peering from its den. (Photo: Nakoa Goo)
The data I am collecting includes the size and abundance of targeted resource species and those of cultural importance, along with the information about the habitat types they occupy. This data will be used to provide an understanding of the variation of resource species assemblages at different sites and to identify trends in terms of their distribution. Another aspect of my project includes descriptions of sites from a holistic perspective, looking at environmental characteristics that may be influencing how resource species are distributed.
White Saddle goatfish, also known as Kumu, are a highly desireable food fish in Hawaii. (Photo: Nakoa Goo)
I find myself in an unusual position, using aspects of both traditional and western scientific knowledge systems for this project. I am drawing on knowledge I've acquired through my experiences in the ocean and my elders, while using the training I've received as a scientist to effectively communicate the results of this study to a broad audience of resource users and scientists. Traditional knowledge evolves in specific places over generations based on environmental observations of natural cycles, and is transmitted primarily through experience. Western science in much the same way is founded upon observation, but humans are not viewed as a part of the environment, or connected to its resources. As a result, there is a difference in the value and meaning that is associated with natural resources from both bodies of knowledge. Applying aspects from both knowledge systems will be important for effective management of Hawai`i's resources in the future.
Ulua are a common sight on many of the reefs within the Monument. (Photo: Nakoa Goo)
Working with Hi'ilei and Uncle Gabby Kawelo, and the fish team has been a new adventure every day, discovering the many treasures that each site has to offer. The crew of the Hi`ialakai are highly skilled and professional in the way they carry out their work making sure everything runs smoothly. It has also been interesting to meet scientists from different fields and research backgrounds to see their perspectives on the status of reefs in the monument.
My experiences so far have given me an idea of the abundance of resources in a wide range of habitats that experience minimal human impact. Where else in the world would I come face to face with giant ulua, kahala, uhu, and kumu on a daily basis? At times I almost can't believe the things I have witnessed, but it also raises many questions in my head about the current state of marine resources in Hawai'i, and the kuleana I have to protect what is left in my own home. I am both privileged and blessed to have this opportunity and establish a personal connection with Papahanaumokuakea.