Frequently Asked Questions:
  • Why is this Expedition taking place?

  Recently, the health of coral reef ecosystems of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands has become an important issue.  Shipwrecks, pollution, marine debris, Presidential Executive orders and recent court rulings have focused the public's attention on the NWHI in the past few months.  The cooperating government, non-profit and private organizations involved in this cruise have proposed a Rapid Ecological Assessment.  

  • What is a Rapid Ecological Assessment?

  Teams of scientists inventory and catalogue marine species, study water chemistry and habitats of the marine life, use satellite photography, underwater videos and maps to help evaluate options to restore damaged areas and preserve pristine ones.

  • How big is the research ships that the scientists are on?

  The Rapture, where a number of the scientists will be, is 145 feet long and has 18 staterooms, enough room to sleep nearly 150 people.  It also carries two 20-foot support boats and a few kayaks for trips to get a closer look at the coral reefs that the researchers will be studying.

Contacting the Scientists
If you have a question for the researchers while they are at sea, click here  
(sorry, but we can't answer every question)

  • Q: FROM Mrs. Bernstien's Class
    We have been looking at your website and were upset to learn about the monk seal that was trapped inside the dilapidating seawall on Tern Island.  We want to know if the seawall is going to be removed, or if it will be repaired, or if it will just be left there to trap more animals.
    The US Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal agency that manages the year-round field station on Tern Island, has obtained $8 million  to construct a new wall. Although construction won't begin until next summer, some work may begin as early as next month. When construction begins, it will start at the western side of the island, near the landing dock. The work is estimated to take two years to complete. Palermo and his volunteers will do their best to monitor construction closely in order to minimize impacts to wildlife during construction 


  • FROM Robert,
    Who is in charge of the sedimentology and what are their plans for future compositional analyses? Who is evaluating the coralline algal component of the reefs?
    A: My team, Coastal Ecosystem Assessments and Information, is part of the Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment, one of the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Ocean Service. We have conducted the National Status and Trends Program that has monitored over 70 toxic chemicals from sediments and the tissues of mollusks, fish and other components of coastal ecosystems throughout the US continental for the past 15 years. The sediment samples we are collecting will be analyzed by our contract laboratories that have had experience with carbonate-based substrates (e.g., the Florida Keys) - Donna Turgeon


  • FROM Mr. Lapenas' 6th grade class:
    Q: Why would there be  such an overpopulation of "alien' insect species? (read the rest of this question here)
    A:  Biologist Beth Flint e-mailed a very detailed answer to this question.  Read it here.


  • FROM Lisa, 
    Q: I'm writing from the mainland and wanted to find out how well the expedition was going. Any unusual discoveries?
    A: Two spring to mind:  the new species of coral, Acropora cerealis that was discovered recently (read more here), and the surprisingly high number of alien insects on Nihoa Island (read more here)


  • FROM Kathy, 
    Q:  I'm puzzled about Necker Island...If La Pérouse discovered Necker in 1786 and found it to be uninhabited, did he find the Stone Figures ?  Does that mean the stone figures were carved during the 100 year period before they were collected in 1894? Were there only a total of 10 stone figures?  

    A:  La Pérouse "re"-discovered Necker Island in November 1786.  Large surf prevented him from landing on the island.  The first people to land in modern times were a party from the schooner Manuokawai in 1857 who annexed the island to the Hawaiian Kingdom.  Though a few landings were made in the intervening years, the Necker ki'i were first reported during the 1894 visit of the steamer Iwalani, there to annex Necker into the Republic of Hawaii.  Over the next two years, the ki'i were removed from the island - eight are in the Bishop Museum's collections, two are in the British Museum, and three are now lost.


  • FROM Amy:
    Will it be possible to see photos of these insects and others that have been found on this expedition? the "big-headed ants" sound like something from a sci-fi movie. we keep seeing photos of Gordon Nishida, but none of the insects he's collecting. Also, did Gordon ever find his male wasp on midway?
    A: We'll be trying to upload some of the photos, but as you probably know, it's not easy to do close-ups of insects in the field, but we might be able to augment the website with lab photos after we get back. Big-headed ants have actually been in Hawaii for some time. They have
    been often pointed to as the culprit that decimated the native lowland
    fauna of the Hawaiian Islands. They have definitely taken over on Kure, and in partnership with a scale insect and a weed are beginning to dominate the ecosystem. Sad, but a lesson in what happens to a limited and fragile ecosystem when an aggressive alien species is introduced. I unfortunately did not find the male wasp on Midway; it's very curious. However, I believe I did find some on Kure (same species). If we have the male, we'll be able to finally get a definitive species identification! All things considered this trip has been an eye-opener and a tremendous experience, once in a lifetime - Gordon Nishida

  • FROM Hans:
    When/if you come across submerged shipwreck sites which may be older than 50 years (and therefore protected by state and federal law), are you getting their locations? It would seem an easy thing to do, and there are more than 40 historic shipwreck sites in the NWHI, and you may accidentally come across one! 
    A: We have not surveyed any shipwrecks more than 30 years old. However, the trip is only half over and we may happen upon a wreck or two at the four remaining islands: Pearl and Hermes, Laysan, Maro Reef, and Gardner Pinnacles. If you have any info on historic wrecks at these islands, please pass it on to us as soon as possible. If we visit any of them, we'd be happy to get GPS fixes for them - Jim Maragos


  • FROM  Mr Lapenas' 6th grade Science class:
    Q: You mentioned an extremely large population of alien insect species on the island of Nihoa. The students have several hypotheses as to how they arrived there. (read the rest of this question here)

    A: Entomologist Gordon Nishida e-mailed an answer to this question.  Read it here

  • FROM Kathy, 
    I was told by my cousin, AMY that entomologist Gordon Nishida was also on the original Tanager Expedition ....Is that possible.?...Guess you must be older than your picture indicates!

    A:  Entomologist Gordon Nishida did NOT take part in the Tanager Expedition, the first scientific expedition to the NWHI in the early 1920's.  Gordon will turn 57 in a couple weeks and is quite well-preserved (probably from all that formaldehyde). 

  • FROM Amy, 
    What happened to the two researchers on Nihoa island? Have they been attacked by giant insects??? Are they still there??

    A:  Beth Flint and Gordon Nishida survived the insects of Nihoa and are now aboard the Rapture.  Click here or here to read about their studies on Nihoa.


  • FROM Mike, 
    Q: Will the bottom sampling be done manually or with the heavy metal device that is typically used?  I ask because the device I have seen can cause severe damage to live coral and in this pristine area all due care should be taken.

    A:  Sampling of the bottom and coral will be done by hand with utmost care. Most sampling will be done by photo and video which of course is harmless to the reef. Occasionally unidentifiable small live coral samples would be taken for species identification which might lead to discovering a new species of coral.

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