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2008 Papahanaumokuakea Maritime Heritage Expedition
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Mission Summary

French Frigate Shoals
This year, the maritime archaeology team will begin its work at French Frigate Shoals, where in 2005 a NOAA Fisheries Coral Reef Ecosystem Division marine debris removal team discovered what could be a shipwreck site while towboarding for derelict fishing gear. They reported the find to the Pacific Islands Regional office, and in 2007 a maritime archaeology team conducted an initial brief survey of the site.

Artifacts at the wreck site of an unidentified large wooden sailing vessel, likely the four-masted schooner Churchill at French Frigate Shoals.Artifacts at the wreck site of an unidentified large wooden sailing vessel, likely the four-masted schooner Churchill at French Frigate Shoals. (Credit: Tane Casserley/NOAA)
The features and artifacts appear to be the remains of a turn-of-the-century wooden sailing ship, the four-masted schooner Churchill, which is known to have been lost in the area in 1917. During the 2008 cruise, the maritime archaeology team will begin to create a detailed archaeological site map of the Churchill, using baseline traditional underwater mapping techniques in order to fully interpret the shipwreck site.

Pearl and Hermes Atoll
Following work at French Frigate Shoals, the team will continue on to Pearl and Hermes Atoll, home of the two oldest shipwrecks discovered thus far in Hawaiian waters. Pearl and Hermes Atoll was named after the wrecks of the British whaling ships Pearl and Hermes, lost there in 1822. The 262-ton Hermes ran aground on the unseen reef on April 26, 1822, at about 4 a.m., and the 320-ton Pearl (actually an American-built ship captured by the British in the War of 1812) ran aground nearby a few minutes later.

In 2006, a maritime archaeology team thoroughly documented the Pearl site, but weather and time constraints have prevented the team from mapping the Hermes. For the 2008 expedition, the team plans to develop a site map of the Hermes shipwreck, revealing the distribution of artifacts associated with this British whaling ship and uncovering more of the story of its demise.

Kure Atoll
From Pearl and Hermes Atoll, the team will continue to Kure Atoll, where an important part of the 2008 expedition will take place. In 2003, a team of maritime archaeologists discovered the site of the USS Saginaw. The history of the Saginaw and the open ocean rescue voyage has become a legacy in the U.S. Navy, and tells an amazing story of survival at sea. The team plans to collect specific artifacts at the Saginaw site, as well from the site of the American whaling ship Parker lost in 1842, for the purposes of developing a maritime heritage-themed exhibit at the monument’s Mokupapapa Discovery Center in Hilo, Hawaii.

Dunnottar Castle Wreckage and Archaeologist Hans Van Tilburg.Dunnottar Castle Wreckage and Archaeologist Hans Van Tilburg. (Photo: Office of National Marine Sanctuaries)
This exhibit will provide the public with the opportunity to experience and understand these historic shipwreck sites, and representative artifacts — properly retrieved and stabilized at a conservation lab — are a good way to share the maritime legacy of this remote archipelago. The team will also begin baseline trilateration at the site of the tall ship Dunnottar Castle, discovered in 2006.

Midway Atoll
The maritime archaeology team will then visit Midway Atoll, where it will spend time documenting archaeological and historic sites with high-definition video for a short maritime heritage documentary film. Short videos are one way to share these stories, the maritime legacy of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, with the public.

Time and conditions permitting, the team will also search for and assess the 1870 channel cut through the Midway bar into Welles Harbor within the atoll’s lagoon. Back then, the U.S. Navy supported a team of Boston hard-hat divers in a (failed) attempt to blast a narrow channel into the protected anchorage. This would have provided transpacific steamships with a coaling depot, but the channel was never completed. Today, the location may still reveal traces of the 19th-century project, as well as the impacts and recovery of 138 years of coral growth.

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