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2008 Papahanaumokuakea Maritime Heritage Expedition
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Mission Blog: August 17, 2008
A Variety of Maritime Heritage Resources at Midway Atoll

By Cathy Green, Education and Outreach Coordinator
Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary

The maritime heritage team spent today and yesterday diving on sites at Midway Atoll. Midway's Sand Island is the only place the ship ties up at the dock during the voyage until we return to Pearl Harbor at the end of the month. Suffice it to say, the entire ship's company was looking forward to a chance to stretch our legs on terra firma for a few days. Diving did not take a backseat, however, each of the scientific teams had goals to accomplish at Midway. For the maritime heritage team, monitoring dives anchored our agenda.

The remains of a WWII Corsair airplane at Midway Atoll.

The remains of a WWII Corsair airplane at Midway Atoll.

The first site we visited was not a ship at all, it was a WWII-era Corsair. Midway is so steeped in WWII history that the significance of exploring a physical reminder of that momentous time was appreciated by each of us. Additionally, this would be by far our deepest dive - over 100 feet to the sea floor. Our Unit Diving Supervisor made sure all the proper safety measures were in place, and we rolled over the side and descended to the site of the airplane below. Only the wings and its connecting fusilage remain-the cockpit and tail section are still missing. The wings sit inverted on a large expanse of white sand with ammunition for the wing-mounted machine gun scattered across the sea floor. This site is not associated with the Battle of Midway (June 4-6, 1942), as the maneuverable Corsairs were not used until afterwards.

Schools of fish kept Dee company on the wreck of the Carrollton.

Schools of fish kept Dee company on the wreck of the Carrollton.

The dive went smoothly with great visibility and negligible current. We did, however, have a visit from our friends in the gray suits...sharks. We counted nine total, and they got quite close on our slow ascent to the surface. Among the Hi'ialakai crew, Midway is recognized as a great place to see sharks...if you like that kind of thing, and it certainly did not disappoint this time. Even the Apex Predator team (shark researchers) got a little nervous on their dives here.

Small boiler used for an auxiliary engine aboard the collier Carrollton.

Small boiler used for an auxiliary engine aboard the collier Carrollton.

After the Corsair, we dove the barque Carrollton, an Maine-built collier that struck the reef in 1906, leaving pieces and parts all over the reef line. An anchor fluke still sticks out from the surface of the water and points the way to the remains below. This wreck site serves as an interesting turn-of-the-century contrast to the early 19th-century whaling sites we have been examining. The scattered iron remains of the ship consisted of anchor, chain, windlass, auxiliary boiler, and various ship fittings and rigging components. The team wrapped up the day with a few towboarding runs, looking for signs of an historic (but never completed) channel blasted through the western side of the atoll that predates the deepwater channel that has facilitated the strategic commercial and naval operations on Midway for over 100 years (the first transPacific cable station was operational in 1903). No signs of the channel were discerned in the limited time we had today, but the search will continue on future expeditions.

To ask us questions, you can email the team at: sanctuaries@noaa.gov and we will answer your questions within the blog, or in a live internet broadcast later in the cruise. Again, stay tuned for details.

 

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