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2008 Papahanaumokuakea Maritime Heritage Expedition
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Mission Blog: August 27, 2008
A Remarkable Voyage of Discovery

By Kelly Gleason, Maritime Archaeologist
Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument

The Maritime Heritage Team at their last stop, Tern Island at French Frigate Shoals.

The Maritime Heritage Team at their last stop, Tern Island at French Frigate Shoals. (Photo: NOAA ONMS)

As our ship makes its approach to Pearl Harbor, another incredibly successful field project comes to a close. Over the course of the last 28 days, the maritime archaeology team completed site plans of two shipwreck sites (Churchill and Hermes), documented four shipwrecks (SS Quartette, Gledstanes, Dunnottar Castle, and the unidentified whaling shipwreck discovered at French Frigate Shoals), monitored four sites for environmental and human impacts (Pearl, Carrollton, Macaw, F4U Corsair at Midway) and discovered two new whaling shipwrecks (Gledstanes and the unidentified whaling shipwreck at French Frigate Shoals). The information that the team gathered at these shipwreck and aircraft sites help us to better understand the human story associated with this expansive marine protected area in the North Pacific. In addition to systematically surveying these sites and interpreting the evidence on the sea floor, our goal is always to develop ways to share the first-hand experience of these wreck sites with the public.

Many factors contributed to the success of our 2008 field season: Hans Van Tilburg’s historic research laid the framework for survey and discovery; an incredibly talented team of maritime archaeologists worked tirelessly to document, explore, and understand the stories behind these sites and their wrecking events; and the skilled crew of the Hi’ialakai provided us with a superb and safe platform for dive operations in a very remote part of the world. We were also fortunate to have a long run of good weather and calm seas. These favorable conditions allowed access to parts of the reef that are rarely workable—we ventured to spots along the atoll that even some of the archaeologists who have been coming here for years had never been to. The company of a talented filmmaker, Stephani Gordon, will help bring our experience in the Monument to the public. Her artistry and understanding of the underwater environment in Papahanaumokuakea create a means of translating this breathtaking place for an audience who may not ever get the chance to visit these sites in person. For all of these reasons, our team returns to Honolulu, perhaps a bit tired, but loaded with new information, ideas, perspective, and visual means of sharing the Monument’s story.

What this voyage also reminds us is that we still have so much to learn about the Monument’s resources. The information we gathered on this trip is just a glimpse of larger, more complete stories about shipwrecked sailors and seafaring traffic throughout these atolls. We were fortunate to uncover a few secrets: the British whaling shipwreck Gledstanes and the French Frigate Shoals mystery whaler. These sites inspire us to learn more and pursue answers to questions like: Who were the men who sailed aboard these ships? Where did they come from and what led them pursue a life at sea? Where are their logbooks and letters home? What happened to the parts and pieces of the ship we don’t see on the sea floor? We return home with our heads filled with questions that we will try to comprehend. Over the course of the next several months, these site plans and our documentation of artifacts will develop into more complete reports and interpretation of the sites we visited this summer. Additionally, we will work to create outreach material and means of bringing this experience to a broader audience. Exhibits, films, presentations, and publications are just a few of the ways that we hope to share these timeless stories from the sea floor of Papahanaumokuakea with everyone.

Many thanks to all who contributed to this effort.


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