Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

“Pele migrated from Kuaihelani to Hawai‘i to escape conflict between her and her sister Nāmakaokaha‘i, a deity of the sea. Their journey led them through the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands...Pele first stopped at the island of Nihoa and decided to leave Kāneapua , her younger brother, behind. Pele’s journey continued down the island chain.”

Account of the Epic of the Volcano Goddess Pele and her sister Hi‘iaka[i]


Overview of the

Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

Western Names / Hawaiian Names

(Distances in Miles from Honolulu;

Acres of surrounding Coral Reef)

 

Nihoa Island / Mokumanu (280; 140,554)

Necker Island / Mokumanamana (460; 186,338)

French Frigate Shoals / Moku Pāpapa (560; 232,894)

Gardner Pinnacles / Pūhāhonu (690; 291,056)

Maro Reef (850; 316,812)

Laysan Island / Kaūo (940; 145,334)

Lisianski Island / Papa‘āpoho (1,065; 298,581)

Pearl and Hermes Atoll / Holoikauaua (1,210; 193,834)

Midway Atoll / Pihemanu (1,309; 88,457)

Kure Atoll / Kānemiloha‘i (1,380; 79,972)

Total Coral Reef: 1,973,832[ii]

Combined Land Area: 3.108 square miles (8 sq.km.), not including Midway Island, which is not part of the State of Hawai‘i.

Also called: The Leeward Islands; the Kupuna Islands.

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands constitute less than one-tenth of one percent of the total land area of the State of Hawai‘i. The eight main Hawaiian Islands comprise the other 99.9% of the total land area.

[Illustration: Map—Northwestern Hawaiian Islands]

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands include 124 scattered islands, islets, reefs, shoals, atolls, shelves, shallow banks, and seamounts that span over about 1,050 miles (11,690 km) of ocean beginning at Nihoa Island about 150 miles (241 km) to the west-northwest of Kaua‘i and extending as far as Kure Atoll about 1,264 miles (2,034 km) west-northwest of Kaua‘i.

All of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are included in the State of Hawai‘i except Midway Atoll, which is a United States territory. Most of the tiny islets, shoals, and atolls of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands barely rise above the water’s surface.

The ages of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands range from about 7.2 million-years-old (Nihoa) to about 27.7 million-years-old (Midway). During this vast time span the basalt landforms of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands have endured extensive erosion as well as subsidence, which is the sinking of the land due to warping downward of the Earth’s crust because of the great weight of all the piled-up lava that forms the islands.

Both of these processeserosion and subsidencehave the effect of lowering the landforms’ highest points. At the same time, the upward growth of coral has raised the highest points upward.

Everywhere north of Gardner Pinnacles, coral reef has covered the volcanic basalt. Some of these northern islets are also sandy, (the sand being derived from the coral). Exposed basalt substrate may still be found on Gardner Pinnacles and other locations to the south, including on La Pérouse Pinnacle (French Frigate Shoals), Necker, and Nihoa.

Timeline of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

Mokumanu (Nihoa) and Mokumanamana (Necker) show extensive evidence of inhabitation by Hawaiians in ancient times, yet they were uninhabited at the time of Western contact in 1778.

After Western contact, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands were visited by various ships, including whalers, coal transport ships, salvage ships, guano miners, fishermen, seal and turtle hunters, military ships, science research vessels, native Hawaiians, and bird hunters who collected eggs and feathers for the fashion industry.

During the post-contact era, the islets and atolls of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands were rarely inhabited except for occasional castaways waiting to be rescued, sometimes constructing small vessels from the shipwrecks to sail for the main Hawaiian Islands to get help. (See Midway Island and Kure Island below.)

In 1898, when the Hawaiian Islands were annexed to the United States, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands were ceded to the United States along with the eight main Hawaiian Islands.

The first scientific expedition to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands took place in 1902 when representatives of the United States Fish Commission visited Nihoa, Laysan, and Midway on the steamer Albatross. Commercial fishing in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands began around 1917.

President Theodore Roosevelt signed an executive order on January 20, 1903, creating the Midway Islands Naval Reservation under the jurisdiction of the United States Navy.

On February 3, 1909, in part due to public uproar against the destructive activities of the feather trade, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 1019 to create the Hawaiian Islands Reservation, which encompassed all of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands except Midway Atoll.

Armed enforcement arrived on Lisianski Island in 1910 to arrest feather poachers. About 1.4 tons (1.3 mtons) of feathers were destroyed (the feathers came from about 140,000 birds).[iii]

Another scientific research vessel that explored the region was the Tanager in 1923. President Theodore Roosevelt put Kure Atoll under the control of the United States Navy with an executive order signed on February 20, 1936.

A proclamation signed by Franklin Roosevelt on July 25, 1940 changed the name of the Hawaiian Islands Reservation to the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge and provided increased protection for the region’s native species. Between 1963 and 1969, Smithsonian Institute biologists visited French Frigate Shoals ten times to collect information about the region’s plants and animals.

Commercial fishing operations in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands resumed after World War II and a fishing station was established at Pearl and Hermes Atoll. The airstrip built by the United States Navy on Tern Island at French Frigate Shoals was used to fly the to Honolulu the fresh catch, which included reef fish, bottomfish, akule (bigeye scad), lobsters, and sea turtles.

Commercial fishing in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands declined in the late 1950s when demand for products declined in Honolulu. In 1967, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and the surrounding submerged lands were designated as Research Natural Areas by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

As marine resources around the main Hawaiian Islands were increasingly exploited in the 1960s, a Governor’s Task Force recommended developing fisheries in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan designated all United States waters from 3 miles (4.8 km) to 200 miles (322 km) from all United States shorelines as an Exclusive Economic Zone, placing control of all resources within those boundaries under the jurisdiction of the United States.

Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1988. Kure Atoll State Wildlife Sanctuary was established in 1993.

On October 31, 1996, President Clinton signed an executive order transferring the administration of Midway Atoll from the United States Navy to the United States Secretary of the Interior, allowing the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to begin managing the remote site as the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.

In 2000, President Clinton declared, by executive order, a Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve on 99,500 square nautical miles, located northwest of the main Hawaiian Islands, encompassing the previously designated Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge.

The Reserve measures about 1,200 nautical miles (2,222 km) long and 100 nautical miles (185 km) wide. Oil and gas drilling were banned along with dumping, and new restrictions were placed on fishing.

In June of 2004, the Hōkūle‘a Voyaging Canoe sailed from O‘ahu to Hanalei Bay on Kaua‘i before continuing on to complete a 2,400-mile (3,862-km) round trip through the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to Kānemiloha‘i (Kure Atoll) and back.

In a United States Ocean Action Plan drafted in 2004, President George W. Bush identified the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as a “national ocean policy priority”[iv]

On September 29, 2005, Hawai‘i’s Governor Linda Lingle signed Hawai‘i Administrative Rules establishing State Marine Refuge status for all State of Hawai‘i waters around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (not including Midway Atoll).

On June 15, 2006, President George W. Bush signed Presidential Proclamation 8031, designating the whole region of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as a National Monument. The declaration relied on the Antiquities Act of June 8, 1906, which authorized the President of the United States to “declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest...to be national monuments.[v]

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument

The boundary of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument begins about 150 miles (241 km) northwest of Kaua‘i, and stretches about 1,400 miles (2,253 km) in length and 100 miles (161 km) in width, making it larger than all of the United States’ National Parks combined and larger than 46 of the 50 United States.

The name Papahānaumokuākea derives from four separate Hawaiian words: papa, hānau, moku, and ākea. Papa refers to a feminine ancestor and kupuna, or elder, and is said to represent the “broad expanse of the earth, or reef”[vi]; hānau means “to give birth”[vii]; moku means “islands”[viii]; and ‘ākea means “broad, wide,”[ix] referring to the broad expanse of the region.

Together the words form the name Papahānaumokuākea, said to refer to the deity of our ancestors who extends to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, the great expanse she gave birth to.”[x]

The Monument is the country’s largest conservation area ever, and the largest protected marine area on Earth, encompassing all waters within 50 miles (80 km) of any emergent reef or land, beginning 50 miles (80 km) west of Kure Atoll and extending to a point 50 miles (80 km) east of Nihoa.

The emergent and submerged lands and water of the Monument total about 139,793 square miles (362,062 sq. km.), and within the region are a diversity of ocean habitats, including beds of seagrass and benthic algae, as well as about 70% of the United States’ coral reefs and more than 7,000 native marine and terrestrial species.

Species of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands provide the main nesting areas for more than 90% of Hawai‘i’s honu (Chelonia mydas, Hawaiian green sea turtles), and the breeding and birthing areas of more than 90% of Hawai‘i’s ‘ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua (Monachus schauinslandi, Hawaiian monk seals).

More than 4,500 square miles (11,655 sq. km.) of coral reef are located within the Monument boundaries, and these reefs are inhabited by a multitude of reef fish species.

Overall in the Hawaiian Islands, there are about 536 inshore fish species native to Hawaiian waters. These species are found near reefs and other nearshore areas to a depth of about 200 feet (61 m), and about 25% of the 536 native inshore fish species are endemic (unique) to the Hawaiian Islands.

The overall rate of endemism for native Hawaiian fish is about 13% (149 endemic species and 994 indigenous species). (See Hawaiian Reef Fish, Chapter 6.)

More than one-fourth of all of the native species in the Monument region are endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. This 25% rate of endemism for marine species in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands is one of the world’s highest rates of marine endemism.

Marine Species

Marine species that are endemic specifically to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (found nowhere else) include: a snail (Nerita plicata) found in the shallow waters of the region; a scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis pluralis) (just one of these species has been documented, it was found near Laysan Island); a cardinalfish (Epigonius devaneyi), found in the deep waters between Maro Reef and Necker Island; and a dragonnet fish (Synchiropus kinmeiensis) found from Kure Atoll to Maro Reef.[xi]

Sharks, Hawaiian groupers, jacks, and other predatory fish are about 15 times more numerous in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands than around the main Hawaiian Islands.

In the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, the biomass (total weight of the fish) is comprised of about 50% top-level species (top of the food chain), while around the main Hawaiian Islands only about 3% of the fish biomass are top-level species.[xii]

Birds

The Monument region also supports at least 19 species of seabirds, totalling more than 14 million seabirds, many of them migratory. These seabirds include: ‘ā (Sula dactylatra, masked boobies); ‘ā (Sula leucogaster, brown boobies); ‘ā (Sula sula, red-footed boobies); ‘akē‘akē (Oceanodromo castro, band-rumped storm petrels); blue-gray noddies (Procelsterna cerulea saxatilis); Bonin petrels (Pterodroma hypoleuca); Christmas shearwaters (Puffinus nativitatis); ‘ewa‘ewa (Sterna fuscata, sooty terns); ‘iwa (Fregata minor, great frigatebirds); ka‘upu (Phoebastria nigripes, black-footed albatross); koa‘e kea (Phaethon lepturus, white-tailed tropicbirds); koa‘e ‘ula (Phaethon rubricauda, red-tailed tropicbirds); manu-o-Kū (Gygis alba, white terns); mōlī (Phoebastria immutabilis, Laysan albatross); noio (Anous minutus, black noddies); noio-kōhā (Anous stolidus, brown noddies); ‘ou (Bulweria bulwerii, Bulwer’s petrels); pākalakala (Sterna lunata, gray-backed terns); Tristram’s storm-petrels (Oceanodroma tristrami); ‘ua‘u (Pterodroma sandwichensis, Hawaiian petrels); and ‘ua‘u kani (Puffinus pacificus, wedge-tailed shearwaters).

For some seabird species, such as Bonin petrels (Pterodroma hypoleuca) and Tristram’s storm-petrels (Oceanodroma tristrami), the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands provide a last refuge because rats have infested many of the Pacific islands that formerly provided habitat for the birds.

Various species of migratory shorebirds visit the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Some of these species are the kōlea (Pluvialis fulva, Pacific golden plovers), ‘ulili (Heteroscelus incanus, wandering tattlers), and kioea (Numenius tahitiensis, bristle-thighed curlews).

Endangered birds inhabiting the Monument region, including: the Nihoa finch (Telespiza ultima); the Nihoa millerbird (Acrocephalus familiaris kingi); and the Laysan finch (Telespiza cantans), as well as the world’s rarest duck, the Laysan duck (Anas laysanensis), which is also known as the Laysan teal.

Three other native bird species once inhabited the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, but now extinct, are: the orange-colored Laysan honeycreeper (Himatione s. freethii), which was similar to the ‘apapane (Himatione sanguinea); the Laysan millerbird (Acrocephalus f. amillaris familiaris); and the Laysan rail (Porzana palmeri).

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands provide nesting habitat for more than 95% of all mōlī (Phoebastria immutabilis, Laysan albatross) and ka‘upu (Phoebastria nigripes, black-footed albatross), and about 25% of the world’s ‘ua‘u kani (Puffinus pacificus, wedge-tailed shearwaters). The world’s largest colony of Bonin petrels (Pterodroma hypoleuca) nests on Lisianski Island.

Administration and Rules

The Monument designation includes the phasing out of commercial fishing in the region over a five year period. Gas, oil, and mineral exploration and extraction will be prohibited along with all other activities involving the extraction of resources. Regulated public access may be allowed on Midway Atoll.

The newly designated Monument will be operated by the United States Department of Commerce, which already operates 13 national marine sanctuaries including the Hawaiian Islands National Marine Sanctuary. The Monument is about seven times as large as all of the marine sanctuaries combined.

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument’s Native Hawaiian cultural program will collect information and initiate research projects to help guide management decisions and issues regarding access for cultural purposes.

Shipwrecks

At least 52 ships are known to have been lost on the various reefs and shoals of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and about 12 of these wrecks have been located.

At least 67 aircraft have been lost in the region, mostly during World War II, including 27 shot down during the Battle of Midway. Just two aircraft wreck sites have been discovered.

Midway Atoll is perhaps best known as the site of the pivotal World War II Battle of Midway, which began on June 4, 1942 when the Japanese naval fleet attempted to secure Midway Atoll as a strategic military outpost.

In the Battle of Midway, American fighter pilots and dive-bombers sank four carriers of the Japanese fleet along with three destroyers and two cruisers. United States forces also lost an aircraft carrier, the Yorktown, as well as one destroyer.

During the past decade, various governmental agencies have removed more than 560 tons of fishing nets and other marine debris from the reefs and shoals of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Continuing exploration of the region’s wreck sites (see Kure Atoll; Midway Atoll) will yield more information about the history of the region.

[Photograph/Map: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands]


Mokumanu Nihoa Island

Nihoa Island is located 150 miles (241 km) northwest of Kaua‘i, making it the easternmost Northwestern Hawaiian Island, and the nearest to the eight main Hawaiian Islands. The Hawaiian name for the Nihoa Island is Mokumanu, which means Bird Island.”[xiii]

[Illustration: Nihoa]

Nihoa Island is the ancient remnant of a volcanic peak that formed about 7.2 million years ago, and today is about 1 mile (1.6 km) long by ¼-mile (.4 km) wide, with a total land area of about .26 square miles (.67 sq. km.). The highest elevation on Nihoa is 903 feet (275 m), making it the tallest of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

More than 60 ancient home sites have been discovered on Nihoa along with extensive prehistoric agricultural terraces, stone-walled enclosures, and habitation caves. In all, at least 88 cultural sites have been identified. Many cultural artifacts have been discovered on Nihoa, including stone bowls, stone adzes, octopus lures, fishhooks, and many small stone images that are now in the Bishop Museum.

Despite the abundant evidence of past human inhabitation, Nihoa was uninhabited when Captain Cook established Western contact with the Hawaiian Islands in 1778.

Nihoa means “Firmly set.”[xiv] Another name associated with Nihoa is Mauloku, which means “Continuous falling,” referring to a “...leaping place for souls.”[xv] Nihoa is also mentioned in ancient chants, including the renowned chant entitled Ka Wai a Kāne.[xvi]

The first Western ship to visit Nihoa was the British ship Iphigenia under Captain Douglas, which came upon the island on March 19, 1789.

Nihoa was claimed by the Hawaiian monarchy when Queen Ka‘ahumanu traveled there in 1822. King Kamehameha IV (Alexander Liholiho ‘Iolani) reaffirmed the status of Nihoa as part of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1856.

When King Kamehameha IV traveled to Nihoa again in 1857, he sent the ship Manuokawai under the command of Captain Paty to search for other lands northwest of Nihoa. Paty documented numerous islands and atolls including Nihoa Island (Mokumanu), Necker Island (Mokumanamana), Gardner Pinnacles (Pūhāhonu), Laysan Island (Kaūo), Lisianski Island (Papa‘āpoho), and Pearl and Hermes Atoll (Holoikauaua).

Princess Lili‘uokalani visited Nihoa Island in 1885 along with a scientific expedition on the ship Iwalani. For a brief time in the 1960s, Nihoa was occupied by the United States military.

Nihoa has two endangered native land bird species—the Nihoa finch (Telespiza ultima) and the Nihoa millerbird (Acrocephalus familiaris kingi).

Also thriving on Nihoa are Tristram’s storm-petrels (Oceanodroma tristrami); the world’s largest known colony of ‘ou (Bulweria bulwerii, Bulwer’s petrels), and the Hawaiian Islands’ largest colonies of several species, including ‘iwa (Fregata minor, great frigatebirds); manu-o-Kū (Gygis alba, white terns); ‘ā (Sula sula, red-footed boobies); ‘ā (Sula leucogaster, brown boobies); blue-gray noddies (Procelsterna cerulea saxatilis); noio-kōhā (Anous stolidus, brown noddies); and noio (Anous minutus, black noddies). In all, about 500,000 seabirds nest on Nihoa.

A Hawaiian proverb states: “Nihoa i ka moku manu (“Nihoa, island of birds.”)[xvii]

The only tree found on the island is the Nihoa fan palm (Pritchardia remota), a tree unique to Nihoa. Six species of land snails are endemic (unique) to Nihoa, along with 35 endemic species of insects and spiders.

The double-hulled voyaging canoe Hōkūle‘a sailed to Nihoa in 2003 carrying a cultural protocol group that conducted ceremonies on the island. The Hōkūle‘a returned to Nihoa on the summer solstice of 2005 along with the voyaging canoe Hōkūalaka‘i, bringing a cultural protocol group to conduct ceremonies.

Iwi (bones) of native Hawaiians were repatriated to Nihoa in 1997 by the group Hui Mālama i Nā Kūpuna o Hawai‘i Nei. Nihoa Island is listed on both the State and National Registers of Historic Places.

[Photograph: Nihoa]


Mokumanamana Necker Island

Ke ala nui polohiwa a Kāne

The black shining road of Kāne

“Mokumanamana played a central role in Hawaiian ceremonial rites and practices a thousand years ago as it was directly in line (23º 34.5’ N) with the rising and setting of the equinoctial sun (23º 34.1’ N) on the path called the Tropic of Cancer. In Hawaiian, this path is called “ke ala polohiwa a Kāne,” or “the black shining road of Kāne.” Since the island sits on the northern limit of the path the sun makes throughout the year, it sits centrally on an axis between two spatial and cultural dimensions—pō (darkness, creation, and afterlife) and ao (light, existence). On the summer solstice (the longest day of the year) the sun will travel its slowest across the sky on this northern passage going directly over Mokumanamana.”

Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument:

A Citizen’s Guide.[xviii]

Necker Island is a rocky, steep-sided, J-shaped (fishhook-shaped) island about 310 miles (499 km) northwest of Ni‘ihau. The Hawaiian name for the island is Mokumanamana, which means “Branching islands.”[xix] The two parts of the island are connected by a low elevation isthmus.

Necker Island formed about 10.3 million years ago, and today has a dry land area (above sea level) of about .07 square miles (.18 sq. km.). The highest point on Necker Island is 276 feet (843 m). Exposure to waves limits coral diversity on the reefs around Necker Island

Many heiau (sacred places of worship) are located on Necker Island as well as evidence of numerous ancient home platforms, loko i‘a (fishponds), ‘auwai (irrigation ditches), and agricultural terraces. At least 52 cultural sites have been documented on Necker.

An extensive complex of heiau (sacred places of worship) on Necker Island was likely used for cultural ceremonies. Like Nihoa Island, Necker Island was uninhabited at the time of Western contact in 1778 despite evidence of earlier inhabitation.

On November 4, 1786, French navigator Count de la Pérouse named Necker Island after the French Minister of Finance, Jacques Necker, who served under Louis XVI.

Nesting or roosting on the island are at least 16 species of seabirds, including noio (Anous minutus, black noddies), a large colony of blue-gray noddies (Procelsterna cerulea saxatilis), manu-o-Kū (Gygis alba rothschildi, white (fairy) terns), and other species, totalling about 60,000 birds in all. However, just six native plant species have colonized Necker.

Iwi (bones) of native Hawaiians were repatriated to Nihoa in 1997 by the group Hui Mālama i Nā Kūpuna o Hawai‘i Nei. Nihoa Island is listed on both the State and National Registers of Historic Places.

[Photograph: Necker Island]


Moku Pāpapa — French Frigate Shoals

French Frigate Shoals consists of 16 sandy islets reaching a maximum of only about 6 feet (1.8 m) above sea level, as well as a 120-foot (37-m) high volcanic rock (actually two rocks) known as La Pérouse Pinnacle.

French Frigate Shoals’ 20-mile (32-km) long crescent-shaped reef (open to the west) makes it the largest atoll in the Hawaiian Islands, and also the atoll with the largest coral diversity.

The Hawaiian name for French Frigate Shoals is Moku Pāpapa, which meansFlat Island.”[xx] The total dry land area of French Frigate Shoals is about .1 square miles (.26 sq. km.).

The last visible volcanic remnant at French Frigate Shoals and the highest spot on the atoll is the rock outcropping known as La Pérouse Pinnacle, located south of the main reefs. The rock is named after French navigator Count de la Pérouse who made the first documented Western discovery of the islets on March 6, 1786.

Count de la Pérouse was in command of the Boussole and the Astrolabe, two 500-ton (454-mton) armed naval frigates surveying the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, when he almost wrecked on the reefs that would later be named French Frigate Shoals in honor of this first Western discovery and the near mishap.

French Frigate Shoals was claimed by the United States in 1859, and in 1882 a ship chartered by an American company harvested shells and oil of sea turtles, down from birds, and fins, flesh and oil of sharks. Also taken were bêche-de-mer (sea cucumbers). In 1895, French Frigate Shoals was annexed to the Republic of Hawai‘i.

French Frigate Shoals was used extensively by the United States Navy as a training area in the 1930s. At the northern end of French Frigate Shoals’ long, curving reef is Tern Island, which was just 11 acres (4.5 ha) in size until World War II, when the United States military built seawalls, blasted coral from the reef, and dredged a channel to one of the French Frigate Shoals’ sandbars.

After the Battle of Midway, which began on June 4, 1942, coral from the dredging at French Frigate Shoals was used to enlarge Tern Island to more than 34 acres (14 ha) and create an airbase that included a 3,000-foot (914-m) runway for military planes so they could refuel on their way to Midway Atoll.

A United States Coast Guard LORAN (navigational aid) station was constructed on East Island in 1944. The airbase on Tern Island was closed in 1946 and the area was subsequently used by fishermen. Operation of the LORAN station on East Island ceased in 1952, and the United States Coast Guard began operating a new LORAN station on Tern Island.

Between 1963 and 1969, Smithsonian Institute biologists visited French Frigate Shoals ten times to collect information about the region’s plants and animals. The LORAN station on Tern Island remained in operation until it was decommissioned in 1979.

The Fish and Wildlife Service took over the LORAN station in 1980. Tern Island began serving as a biological field station for the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge.

The Refuge is now part of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, and the Fish and Wildlife Service workers on French Frigate Shoals engage in wildlife conservation activities to protect native species.

At least 16 native bird species inhabit French Frigate Shoals, including about 140,000 ‘ewa‘ewa (Sterna fuscata oahuensis, sooty terns), 4,800 mōlī (Diomedea immutabilis, Laysan albatross), and 3,600 ka‘upu (Diomedea nigripes, black-footed albatross) as well as other seabird species, totalling about 200,000 birds in all. French Frigate Shoals is the only location in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands where all 18 seabirds known to nest in the region may be found.

In a research project based on Tern Island, ornithologists attached transmitters to mōlī (Diomedea immutabilis, Laysan albatross). The transmitters sent signals to a satellite that relayed the birds’ latitude and longitude data back to Earth.

The results of the project revealed that one albatross flew 24,843 miles (40,000 km) in just 90 days. The bird traveled all the way across the North Pacific and back, a distance equal to flying all the way around the world. Another bird made repeated trips east to the San Francisco Bay area and then back to the Hawaiian Islands to feed its young. (See Albatross in Chapter 7, Native Birds.)

Most of the approximately 1,300 ‘ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua (Monachus schauinslandi, Hawaiian monk seals) in the Hawaiian Islands live on and around French Frigate Shoals. The sandy islets are also a main nesting area of honu (Chelonia mydas, Hawaiian green sea turtles), which suffered a steep population decline in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

By the 1970s, just 100 nesting female Hawaiian green sea turtles remained. The population of nesting females has now increased significantly (there were more than 500 nesting females in 1997).

Still maintained on Tern Island at French Frigate Shoals is a white-coral runway that is ½-mile (.8 km) long and takes up about half of the island’s 460-foot (140-m) width. A wreck discovered among the reefs of French Frigate Shoals is believed to be a World War II era amphibious landing craft.

[Photograph: French Frigate Shoals]


PūhāhonuGardner Pinnacles

Gardner Pinnacles, also called Gardner Island, consists of two rocky islands, the largest of which is just 300 yards (274 m) long. Together the two islands of Gardner Pinnacles have a total land area of about 5 acres (2 ha) of dry land,[xxi] and the highest point is about 190 feet (58 m).

The Hawaiian name of Gardner Pinnacles is Pūhāhonu. The Hawaiian Dictionary defines pūhā as “to breath air, as a sea turtle,”[xxii] and honu means “turtle.”[xxiii] A proverb states: “Pūhā hewa ka honu i ka lā makani,” which means, “The turtle breathes at the wrong moment on a windy day [one who says the wrong thing].”[xxiv]

Captain Joseph Allen, the captain of the American whaling ship Maro out of Nantucket, became the first Westerner to document Gardner Pinnacles when he sighted the islands’ rocky outcroppings on June 20, 1820.

Gardner Pinnacles provides roosting and breeding habitat for at least twelve species of seabirds, including blue-gray noddies (Procelsterna cerulea saxatilis). Some monk seal breeding and pupping also occurs.

Plant life on Gardner Pinnacles is scarce, but the diversity of marine species in the offshore waters is among the highest in the region. About 291, 056 acres (117,786 ha) of coral reef habitat support dozens of coral species.[xxv]

The lack of shallow water habitat and Gardner Pinnacle’s exposure to waves limits the amount of coral around Gardner Pinnacles, although there is a high diversity of coral species.

The only plant species on Gardner Pinnacles is ‘ihi (Portulaca species, purslane).

[Photograph: Gardner Pinnacles]


Maro Reef

Maro Reef is actually a complex of reefs with several isolated lagoons but no significant atoll or fringing reef. Maro Reef has a total dry land area (above sea level) measuring as much as 1 acre (.4 ha) in size but other times it is completely awash.

The first Western ship to visit the area was the Maro in 1820. The Maro was an American whaling ship out of Nantucket under Captain Joseph Allen, and the reef complex now bears the ship’s name.

Maro Reef has the largest coral reef (316,812 acres) in all of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and also the greatest coral diversity. At least 37 species of stony coral were documented by researchers in 2000 and 2001.[xxvi]

Despite an incredible abundance and diversity of coral, Maro’s reefs have rarely been researched or even visited due to the difficulty of navigating ships near the hazardous coral.

A significant number of Galapagos sharks (Carcharhinus galapagenesis) and other sharks inhabit the Maro Reef area. A modern shipwreck at Maro Reef is the tanker Mission San Miguel.

[Photograph: Maro Reef]


Kaūo — Laysan Island

Laysan Island, also called Moller Island after the Russian ship Moller, is about 2 miles (3.2 km) long and 1 mile (1.6 km) wide, with about 1,015 acres (411 ha) of dry land. Laysan is the second largest of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands after Midway’s Sand Island.

Laysan Island is partially surrounded by fringing reef, and in the middle of the island is a large lake. Laysan’s lake is extremely salty (hyper-saline, also called euryhaline), and is about 100 acres (40 ha) in size.

The highest spot on Laysan Island is 40 feet (12 m). Laysan Island is also the northern extent of the range of Acropora corals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

The Russian ship Moller arrived at Laysan in 1828, and this was the first well-documented visit to the island. In 1857, Laysan Island was annexed to the Kingdom of Hawai‘i.

Rabbits were released on Laysan Island in 1903 in an attempt to start a rabbit-canning business. The enterprise failed and then the rabbits multiplied out of control and killed most of the island’s native plants. This led to the extinction of Laysan’s several native land bird species, including the orange-colored Laysan honeycreeper (Himatione s. freethii), which was similar to the ‘apapane (Himatione sanguinea).

Other extinct birds that formerly inhabited Laysan Island include the Laysan millerbird (Acrocephalus f. amillaris familiaris) and the Laysan rail (Porzana palmeri).

In the late 1800s Laysan Island was the site of extensive mining of guano (dried bird droppings) for use as fertilizer. Hundreds of thousands of birds on Laysan were killed by egg, skin, and feather collectors. The bird feathers were sold for use in the fashion industry. Significant raids on the birds by Japanese poachers occurred in 1909, 1910, and 1915.

Also hunted on Laysan Island were large numbers of honu (Chelonia mydas, Hawaiian green sea turtles) and ‘ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua (Monachus schauinslandi, Hawaiian monk seals). Laysan’s monk seal population was nearly wiped out due to hunting.

A coastal forest of ‘iliahi (Santalum species, sandalwood) once thrived on Laysan Island along with native palms. By 1923, however, just four plant species remained on Laysan.

Today Laysan Island’s two surviving endangered land birds are the stout-billed Laysan finch (Telespiza cantans), a yellow and brown bird with a melodious song, and the Laysan duck (Anas laysanensis), also known as the Laysan teal.

The Laysan duck is a brown bird with a blackish face and white around the eyes. The Laysan duck was once also found on the main Hawaiian Islands but disappeared due to rats that ate the birds’ eggs.

The Laysan duck came very near to extinction due to bird hunters and introduced rabbits on Laysan Island. The population of Laysan ducks is currently about 400, which is up significantly from only about 100 in 1993. The salty lake on Laysan provides habitat for this endangered duck species.

Midway Atoll, which is a United States territory and not part of the State of Hawai‘i, has the largest colonies of mōlī (Diomedea immutabilis, Laysan albatross) and ka‘upu (Diomedea nigripes, black-footed albatross) in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, however the largest colonies of these species in the State of Hawai‘i are on Laysan Island, along with the State’s largest colonies of ‘ua‘u kani (Puffinus pacificus, wedge-tailed shearwaters) and Christmas shearwaters (Puffinus nativitatis).

Also on Laysan Island is a substantial colony of koa‘e ‘ula (Phaethon rubricauda, red-tailed tropicbirds). In all, about 17 species of seabirds nest on Laysan Island, totalling about 2 million birds in all.

Wrecks discovered on the reefs of Laysan include what is thought to be the Hawaiian schooner CC Kennedy, which disappeared in 1905, and the Japanese fishing boat Kaiyo Maru No. 25, which disappeared in 1969.

[Photograph: Laysan Island]

Papa‘āpoho Lisianski Island

Lisianski Island is a relatively flat coral island with sandy, white beaches and about 381 acres (154 ha) of dry land. The island’s maximum height is a sand dune that rises to about 40 feet (12 m) in height.

Lisianski Island has no surrounding (perimeter) reef, although Neva Shoal just to the southeast is huge in comparison to Lisianski. The coral reefs of this area cover about 298,581 acres (120,831 ha) and support a plethora of coral species.

Lisianski Island is named after Russian explorer Captain Urey [Yurii; Iurii] Lisiansky [Lisianskii] of the ship Neva, one of two Russian Imperial ships that arrived in the Hawaiian Islands on June 7, 1804. The other Russian ship was the Nadeshda, under the command of Captain Adam Johann von Krusenstern (1770-1846).

The two Russian ships, the Neva and the Nadeshda, were the first ships of the Imperial Russian service to arrive in the Hawaiian Islands. The two ships were on a three-year, around-the-world journey (1803-1806) to re-establish trade with China and Japan. The Russians also hoped to find new opportunities for fur trading.

After the Neva left the main Hawaiian Islands for Canton, China, the ship ran aground twice on October 15, 1805 on what is now named Neva Shoal, located southeast of Lisianski Island. The Neva’s crew had to toss cargo overboard to free their vessel. Crew members noted that they saw a Hawaiian calabash gourd on the beach of Lisianski Island.

The Neva returned to the Hawaiian Islands on January 27, 1809 under the command of Captain Leonth Andreanovic[h] Hagemeister. On board the Neva was Archibald Campbell (1787—1821), who later became a sailmaker for King Kamehameha I.

Campbell remained in the Hawaiian Islands for more than one year and wrote extensively about native Hawaiian life. Campbell’s writings included observations of King Kamehameha I as he ruled all of the Hawaiian Islands.

In the 1800s, Lisianski Island was visited by a variety of ships interested in commercially exploiting the island’s resources, which included fish, sharks, monk seals, sea turtles, bêche-de-mer (sea cucumbers), and guano (dried bird droppings). Lisianski Island was annexed to the Kingdom of Hawai‘i in 1857.

Vegetation once covered Lisianski Island. The introduction of rabbits in the early 1900s, however, led to the destruction of the island’s plant life—and as the plants disappeared so did the rabbits.

Migrating shorebirds seen on Lisianski Island include the kōlea (Pluvialis fulva, Pacific golden plover), ‘ulili (Heteroscelus incanus, wandering tattler), and kioea (Numenius tahitiensis, bristle-thighed curlew).

The number of ‘ewa‘ewa (Sterna fuscata oahuensis, sooty terns) visiting Lisianski Island in a given year may exceed one million birds. Lisianski also provides habitat for the world’s largest colony of Bonin petrels (Pterodroma hypoleuca), including about three-fourths of all nesting Bonin petrels in the Hawaiian Islands.

From about 1904 to 1910, Japanese feather poachers exploited Lisianski’s bird population. Armed enforcement arrived on Lisianski Island in 1910 to stop feather poachers, who had captured about 140,000 birds yielding about 1.4 tons (1.3 mtons) of feathers, which were confiscated and destroyed.[xxvii]

[Photograph: Lisianski Island]


HoloikauauaPearl and Hermes Atoll

Pearl and Hermes Atoll, also called Pearl and Hermes Reef, is the largest atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Pearl and Hermes consists of numerous islets, and the highest spot on the atoll is about 10 feet (3 m), and even that location is sometimes inundated with water.

The oval-shaped coral reef atoll gets its name from the Philadelphia-built Pearl and the Montreal-built Hermes, two English whaling ships working the whale pods of the central Pacific Ocean. The ships were on their way to Japan on April 26, 1822 when they hit the reef in the area now known as Pearl and Hermes Atoll.

The two ships were sailing together when the Pearl ran aground and then the Hermes came to its rescue. Unfortunately, the Hermes also met its demise on the reefs within about ¼-mile (.4 km) of the Pearl.

The two wrecks of the Pearl and Hermes now grace the seafloor at Pearl and Hermes Atoll. Strewn across the seafloor at Pearl and Hermes are numerous artifacts typical of early 1800s whaling ships. These artifacts include cannons, anchors, hull sheathing, and large iron cauldrons know as try-pots, which were used to melt down the whale fat.

On board the brig Hermes when it ran aground was James Robinson, a carpenter who helped to build a schooner from the wreckage. Along with other survivors, Robinson sailed the small vessel named “Deliverance” to Honolulu.

Robinson later became a pioneer shipbuilder in the Hawaiian Islands, and in 1823 he formed James Robinson & Company, which was a prominent Honolulu waterfront shipyard. Robinson’s shipyard operated until 1868 when his partner in the venture, Robert Lawrence, passed away.

James Robinson married Rebecca Prever and had eight children. One of the children was Victoria, who married Southerner Curtis Perry Ward, who came to the Hawaiian Islands in the 1860s. Their estate was known as Old Plantation, and included the land that is now the site of the Neil F. Blaisdell Center.

Another of Robinson’s children was Mary E. (Robinson) Foster (1844-1930), wife of Thomas R. Foster, an initial organizer of the Inter-Island Steam Navigation Company. Thomas R. Foster and his part Hawaiian wife Mary Foster purchased the Honolulu property of German botanist Dr. William Hillebrand in 1890, and the property later became known as Foster Botanical Gardens, which was expanded when Mary Foster purchased surrounding property. (See Foster, Mary E. (Robinson) in Glossary, Chapter 18.)

Pearl and Hermes Atoll became a part of the United States in 1898, and from 1926 to 1930 a pearl oyster industry developed by Filipinos marketed pearl oysters from Pearl and Hermes Atoll to the United States Mainland. During this time several structures were built on the atoll’s Southeast Island.

Tons of shells were harvested by divers, and were used to make buttons. Eventually the supply of pearl oysters at Pearl and Hermes, once the best in the archipelago, was severely depleted. In October of 1931, the industry was abandoned, and the structures at Pearl and Hermes were destroyed during World War II. Only recently has the pearl oyster population around Pearl and Hermes begun to recover.

In 1952, the SS Quartette wrecked on the reefs at Pearl and Hermes Atoll. The 20th Century steel freighter had formerly served as the World War II Liberty ship U.S.S. Swan.

In the 1960s, Laysan finches (Telespiza cantans) were introduced to Pearl and Hermes Atoll. The birds still inhabit the atoll today, and have evolved anatomical adaptations to the new food sources that differ from their native habitat on Laysan Island.

Like all of the Northwestern Hawaiian Island reefs, Pearl and Hermes Atoll has over time been subjected to some of the negative effects of human activities. In recent years, however, humans have also worked to protect the region’s unique resources—more than 324 tons (294 mtons) of marine debris (fishing nets, etc.) were removed from the reefs at Pearl and Hermes Atoll between 1996 and 2005, including more than 90 tons (82 mtons) of debris removed in 2003.

More than 50% of all fish species around the reefs at Pearl and Hermes Atoll are endemic (unique) to the Hawaiian Islands, and this is a higher rate of endemism than in any other area of the archipelago. Pearl and Hermes Atoll also provides significant habitat for the nesting of honu (Chelonia mydas, Hawaiian green sea turtles) and the pupping of ‘ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua (Monachus schauinslandi, Hawaiian monk seals).

Pearl and Hermes Atoll also supports at least 17 species of seabirds totalling about 160,000 birds. The atoll is home to about 20% of the world’s ka‘upu (Diomedea nigripes, black-footed albatross) and also provides an important habitat for Tristram’s storm-petrels (Oceanodroma tristrami).

[Photograph: Pearl and Hermes Atoll]


Pihemanu — Midway Atoll

Midway Atoll, also called Brook Island and Middlebrook Island, is the summit of an extinct volcano 1,580 miles (2,543 km) northwest of Hawai‘i Island, and consists of two major islands, Sand Island and Eastern Island, as well as smaller sand islets including Spit Island, and a fringing coral reef. The highest point on Midway Atoll is 12 feet (3.7 m), and the total acreage of dry land is about 2.4 square miles (6.2 sq. km.).

When Midway was initially formed about 28 million years ago, it was located where Hawai‘i Island is today, almost directly over the erupting lava of the Hawaiian magmatic hot spot (see Chapter 1), the stationary plume of lava that eventually produced all of the Hawaiian Islands.

During the last 28 million years, Midway has been carried northwest by the Pacific Plate to its present location, more than 1,500 miles (2,414 km) from where it originally formed (where all of the islands originally formed, near the current site of Hawai‘i Island). In comparison, the island of Kaua‘i is only about five million years old, and has been carried about 400 miles (643 km) northwest of the magmatic hot spot.

Captain N. B. Brooks made the first documented Western discovery of Midway Atoll on July 8, 1859. Brooks was aboard the Honolulu bark Gambia when he spotted Midway, naming it Middlebrook Island and claiming it for the United States.

The United States Navy used Midway Atoll as a coaling station in the late 1800s. On October 1, 1900, the Navy received a report from Captain Charles F. Pond, the Commander of the Pacific Reserve Squadron, that Japanese poachers were devastating the bird population on Midway Atoll.

By an executive order signed on January 20, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt created the Midway Islands Naval Reservation under the jurisdiction of the United States Navy. A transpacific cable station was constructed on Midway Atoll in 1902, and about 9,000 tons (8,165 mtons) of topsoil were imported for gardening.

The Hawaiian Islands had previously been linked to the United States on December 28, 1902 by a Commercial Pacific Cable Company telegraph cable laid on the seafloor of the Pacific Ocean. The submarine cable, laid by the cable ship Silvertown, was more than 2,000 miles (3,219 km) long and extended from Ocean Beach in San Francisco to Waikīkī’s San Souci Beach. The first message across the new undersea cable was sent to San Francisco from Waikīkī on January 1, 1903.

On June 3, 1903 the Navy ship Iriquois arrived on Midway Atoll and evicted the Japanese poachers who were there killing the seabirds. The superintendent of the Commercial Pacific Cable Company was appointed as “custodian and justice of the peace to protect the birds.”[xxviii]

The westward extension of the undersea communication cable—to Midway, Guam, and the Philippines—was completed on July 4, 1903, allowing the first round-the-world message. President Theodore Roosevelt sent a message to the United States and all of its properties and territories, wishing everyone a happy Independence Day.

A Marine Corps detachment arrived on Midway Atoll on May 2, 1904 to protect the atoll and its inhabitants.

In 1906, the wooden bark Carrollton became shipwrecked at Midway Atoll. The Carrollton was being used to transport coal from Australia to San Francisco.

In 1935, an airport was built on Midway and Pan American Airways made the atoll a mid-Pacific resting and refueling stop for its China Clipper airplanes. The airline’s pioneer flight to the Hawaiian Islands (from Alameda, California) had taken place on April 17, 1935 when a 19-ton (17 mton), 32-passenger amphibian Pan American Clipper Ship landed at Pearl Harbor (with no passengers) after a 19 hour and 48 minute flight (at an average flight speed of about 140 miles per hour (225 kilometers per hour)). (See Aviation, Chapter 12.)

During World War II, a Navy base was constructed on Midway Atoll and the reef was dredged to create a channel as well as Bishop Museum Harbor. Sand Island was used as a base for seaplanes and submarines, and the main airfield was on Eastern Island.

Midway Atoll is perhaps best known as the site of the pivotal World War II Battle of Midway, which began on June 4, 1942 when the Japanese naval fleet attempted to secure Midway Atoll as a strategic military outpost.

In the Battle of Midway, American fighter pilots and dive-bombers sank four carriers of the Japanese fleet along with three destroyers and two cruisers. United States forces also lost an aircraft carrier, the Yorktown, as well as one destroyer.

Japanese ships that were sunk to the north of Midway Atoll included the Hiryu, Akagi, Soryu, and Kaga. On June 5, 1942, United States Admiral Chester William Nimitz (1885—1966), the commander of the Pacific Fleet, announced the United States victory over the Japanese Fleet at Midway.

The Battle of Midway became a turning point of World War II, securing the atoll as a strategic United States Navy base location for the duration of the war, and also providing a strategic port location for submarines and ships. About 1,500 people lived on Midway Atoll during this time, and over the decades tens of thousands of military personnel and private contractors visited and stayed on the island.

Midway Atoll is now a National Historic Landmark. The Battle of Midway National Memorial on Midway Atoll commemorates the famous battle.

[Photograph: Battle of Midway]

Still present on Midway’s former military base are roads and houses as well as a water system and communications infrastructure. These facilities make Midway the only location in the Monument boundaries where public access may be allowed.

Midway Atoll is home to numerous shipwrecks, including the United States Navy submarine rescue vehicle U.S.S. Macaw. On February 13, 1944, the Macaw was on a mission to retrieve the submarine U.S.S. Flier when the Macaw ran aground east of the channel at Midway during a storm.

The Macaw remained lodged on the reef for about one month because the Navy was focused on rescuing the submarine. About 20 of the Macaw’s crew members stayed on the vessel, manning the ship’s pumps to keep it from filling with water.

The crew that was left on board had taken shelter in the pilot housing and closed all the ports. When the air went bad the men began leaping into the sea. Five men died as a March storm finished off the vessel. The other 15 crew members were later rescued from Eastern Island.

Other wrecks at Midway Atoll include an F4U Corsair airplane, an amphibious landing ship, a steel barge, and likely many more as yet undiscovered. The wreck of the U.S.S. Macaw is now just an expanse of twisted steel fragments strewn over an area of about 250 feet (76 m) of the seafloor.

Native Species on Midway Atoll

Today Midway Atoll remains a thriving habitat for many native Hawaiian species, including honu (Chelonia mydas, Hawaiian green sea turtles), ‘ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua (Monachus schauinslandi, Hawaiian monk seals), and at least 16 migratory seabird species totalling hundreds of thousands of birds.

A large group of nai‘a (Stenella longisrostris, spinner dolphins) rests in Midway’s shallow lagoons during the day, and then at night the pod heads for deeper waters to feed. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service began managing Midway as a wildlife refuge in 1996, taking over from the United States Navy. Midway Atoll National Wildlife (seabird) Refuge, not part of the State of Hawai‘i, was established in 1988.

Midway Atoll has the world’s largest breeding population of mōlī (Diomedea immutabilis, Laysan albatross)—about 400,000 nesting pairs. The Hawaiian name for Midway Atoll is Pihemanu (Pihe means “Crying, shouting, wailing”; manu means “bird”).[xxix]

A 20-foot (6-m) Laysan albatross statue on Midway Atoll is appropriately titled “Gooney Bird,” a nickname the bird earned due to its theatrical courtship dances and other curious behaviors.

Also inhabiting Midway are about 20,000 black-footed albatross (Diomedea nigripes), the second-largest colony found anywhere. Occasionally sighted is the endangered short-tailed albatross (Diomedea albatrus), known as the “golden gooney” because of its yellow head and neck feathers, and its pink bill.

Worldwide, many types of albatross are endangered due to hunting. Early explorers utilized their meat and oil, and millions of albatross have been killed for their downy body feathers that were used as stuffing for quilts and mattresses sold in European markets.

Also highly valued were the albatross’ long white tail feathers and wing feathers, which were prized for pen plumes. (See Albatross in Chapter 7, Native Birds.) Midway Atoll may be the only spot in the newly designated Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument where regulated public access will be allowed (see Overview of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands).

[Photographs: Midway Atoll; seabirds on Midway.]


Kānemiloha‘i Kure Atoll

Kure Atoll (also called Cure Atoll, and Ocean Island), is the world’s northernmost coral atoll (latitudenorth: 28.5; longitudewest: 178), and also the furthest northwest of all of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Kure Atoll has an oval-shaped (nearly circular) lagoon with a maximum diameter of about 6 miles (9.7 km), and about .5 square miles (1.3 sq. km.) of dry land called Green Island. Also part of Kure Atoll is neighboring Sand Island, which is sometimes inundated with water. A large population of Galapagos sharks (Carcharhinus galapagenesis) inhabits the area.

The Hawaiian name for Kure Atoll is Kānemiloha‘i, referring to the brother of the volcano goddess Pele. According to tradition, when Pele came to the Hawaiian Islands from Kahiki (foreign lands), Kānemiloha‘i was left on the atoll as a guard.

The first documented Western discovery of Kure was by Captain Benjamin Morrell Jr. on the schooner Tartar. The atoll was again “discovered” by Captain Stanikowitch on the Russian ship Moller in 1823, and Stanikowitch named it Cure Island to honor a Russian navigator who was said to have been the first to reach the atoll. Kure Atoll was annexed by the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1886.

Several ships have met their demise on the reefs of Kure Atoll, including the sailing ship Parker, an American whaler that collided with Kure’s reef in 1842 during a tempestuous storm. The Parker was washed completely into Kure’s lagoon, with some of the ship’s equipment washing right off the ship’s decks as the vessel went over the crest of the reef. Artifacts from the wreck of the Parker found at Kure include anchors and cannons.

Another ship that wrecked at Kure was the 155-foot (47-m) United States Navy paddlewheel gunboat U.S.S. Saginaw, a sidewheel Navy steamer on the way to San Francisco that crashed into the reef at Kure Atoll in November of 1870 while doing a good deed.

The Saginaw had been at Midway Atoll for about six months creating a channel for steamships. The Saginaw was not scheduled to pass Kure Atoll, but the ship’s captain, Lieutenant Commander Montgomery Sicard, decided to go about 60 miles (97 km) out of his path to the atoll to see if anyone was stranded there.

Captain Sicard misjudged the ocean current and the Saginaw ran aground on Kure’s eastern reef at about 3 a.m. Waves smashed the Saginaw in two, and the 93-person crew crawled over the fallen main mast to Kure’s lagoon.

The stranded crew of the Saginaw eventually made their way to the coral and sands of Green Island near the edge of the reef. There the crew survived by drinking rainwater and eating monk seals. The stranded men eventually decked-over the Saginaw’s 22-foot (6.7-m) gig (a captain’s boat), and fitted and provisioned the vessel to sail for help.

Five of the Saginaw’s crew members left Kure on the small boat on November 18, 1870 in an attempt to reach the main Hawaiian Islands and get help. They first sailed north and east, and then caught the tradewinds south.

The provisions of the storm-tossed and weather-beaten crew were soon ruined by ocean water. The men also lost their oars, and the captain of the tiny vessel, Lieutenant John G. Talbot, caught dysentery. Finally they spotted Kaua‘i’s north shore, and arrived offshore of Hanalei Bay at about 2:30 a.m.. There the boat was rolled by the rough ocean swell and swamped in the rough seas.

Crew members Peter Francis and John Andrews were swept away by waves and drowned. Lieutenant Talbot, drenched in his heavy clothing, briefly held onto the hull before he too lost hold and perished.

By sunrise the tiny craft had drifted down the northern Kaua‘i coast to Kalihiwai Bay, where crew member and coxswain William Halford made it to shore. James Muir, the other surviving crew member, was pulled to shore by Halford. Muir was exhausted and delirious, and he died on the beach.

Halford conveyed his tragic story to Kaua‘i Sheriff Samuel W. Wilcox, who assisted him in arranging transportation on a ship to Honolulu. There Halford informed the United States Consul about the stranded crew of the shipwrecked Saginaw on Kure Atoll.

King Kalākaua [David La‘amea Kalākaua] promptly dispatched the Kīlauea, which arrived at Kure Atoll on January 3, 1871 to rescue the remaining members of the Saginaw’s 93-person crew. William Halford was later given the Medal of Honor for his heroic efforts. The captain’s boat that the five men used to get help now is on display at Castle Museum in Saginaw, Michigan.

Another ship that met its demise on the reefs of Kure Atoll was the 258-foot (79-m) three-masted British sailing ship Dunnottar Castle, built in 1874 and home-ported in Scotland. The iron-hulled ship and its 28-member crew had sailed for Wilmington, California on June 9, 1886 from Sydney, Australia carrying a cargo of coal.

On July 15, 1886 the Dunnottar Castle sailed at full speed into the reefs at Kure Atoll due to a faulty chronometer. When the hold of the nearly 260-foot (79-m) ship began to fill with water, the crew set up camp on shore, finding just a few brackish pools of water along with evidence of the earlier shipwreck of the Saginaw.

On July 24, 1886, six of the Dunnottar Castle’s crew, including the boatswain, loaded 238 gallons (901 liters) of water and 28 days worth of food into a small, open lifeboat and set out to get help. About one month later they reached Mokumanamana (Necker Island) but couldn’t get near it, and then spotted Mokumanu (Nihoa Island), which appeared barren and waterlessthey continued on.

Finally, after sailing more than 1,200 miles (1,931 km) in 52 days at sea, they approached Kalihiwai on Kaua‘i’s north shore. Some Hawaiians on the shore sighted the distressed survivors and assisted them in reaching the land.

The survivors were first taken to Hanalei Bay, and from there the interisland steamer Makee took them to Wai‘anae, O‘ahu. On September 10, 1886 the survivors finally arrived in Honolulu and received assistance in organizing a rescue of the remaining Dunnottar Castle crew members at Kure Atoll.

The British commissioner in Honolulu commissioned the steamer Waialeale, and then the Hawaiian monarchy sought another charter in order to reach Kure first due to fears that the British intended to claim Kure. The British commissioner eventually deferred to the monarchy, agreeing to share the cost of the charter and allow the Hawaiian flag to be raised at Kure.

When the Waialeale arrived at Kure, the remaining survivors had already been rescued by the ship Birnam Wood, which was en route to Valparaiso from Hong Kong. The Birnam Wood left behind a barrel with some drinking water and a note in a bottle attached to a post. King Kalākaua’s Special Commissioner, Colonel James Harbottle-Boyd, raised the Hawaiian flag at Kure Atoll (Ocean Island).

The crew of the Waialeale planted various trees on Kure’s islets, including coconut palms, kukuis, monkeypods, and other trees. They also built a tin-roofed wooden shack and water catchment to aid the crews of future shipwrecks.

On February 20, 1936, President Franklin Roosevelt signed an executive order placing Kure Atoll under the control of the United States Navy. On November 17, 1952, an executive order was signed by President Harry Truman, placing Kure back under the jurisdiction of the Territory of Hawai‘i.

In 1955, the United States Navy constructed a tall radar reflector on Kure Atoll, and from 1960 to 1992, Kure was the site of a radio station operated by the Coast Guard. The steel Japanese vessel Houei Maru No. 5 became shipwrecked at Kure Atoll in 1976. Another modern wreck at Kure is the Paradise Queen II.

In 1992, the United States Coast Guard’s LORAN (navigational aid) station on Green Island was closed, and the runway became overgrown with vegetation. Kure Atoll State Wildlife Sanctuary was established in 1993.

While all of the other Northwestern Hawaiian Islands were under federal control, Kure remained under state control as a Wildlife Sanctuary. The whole region now falls under the purview of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. (See Overview of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.)

In August of 2003, 133 years after the Saginaw wrecked at Kure Atoll, marine archaeologists diving in a reef channel at Kure discovered the sunken wreck. The divers found a series of metal artifacts, including large iron anchors and heavily encrusted cannons, which helped to identify the vessel since the Saginaw was the only known shipwreck at Kure to have cannons on board.

The divers also found copper drift pins that once held the Saginaw’s timbers together, and bronze gudgeons that had attached the ship’s rudder to the stern. Most of the ship’s remains are near Kure’s reef crest, and some of the heavier artifacts—steam engines, paddlewheel shafts, and cannons—embedded in the coral substrate.

In June, 2004, the Hōkūle‘a voyaging canoe sailed from O‘ahu to Kaua‘i’s Hanalei Bay before continuing on to complete a 2,400-mile (3,862-km) round trip through the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to Kure Atoll and back.

In 2006, the wreck of the Dunnottar Castle was discovered by the head of Kure’s State Wildlife Refuge, Cynthia Vandelip. She was on a boat crossing the atoll’s lagoon on an unusually calm day, and the favorable conditions provided a clear view below the surface in an area normally battered by waves.[xxx]

Upon spotting the wreck, Vandelip radioed maritime archaeologist Hans Van Tilburg who was at Kure exploring the wrecks of the U.S.S. Saginaw and the British whale ship Parker.

Vandelip was working with a team from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on the research vessel Hi‘ialakai, which is equipped with multibeam sonar that produces detailed relief maps of the ocean floor.

Van Tilburg found the shipwreck of the Dunnottar Castle to be incredibly well preserved, including the ship’s masts, rigging, and wrought iron hull, which had fallen open onto the seafloor. He called it the best preserved 19th century shipwreck he had ever seen.

“Where else would you find a 120-year old ship on the bottom with so much intact that hasn’t been carried off?, commented Van Tilburg, adding, “We’ve dived on 19th century vessels before but we see only portions. Here we see the bowsprit, anchor, hawse, pipe, windless, capstan, ladders, hatch combing, rudder and 258 feet of hull.”[xxxi]

Also discovered at Kure was a large piece of a plane thought to be a Word War II era Corsair.

[Photograph: Kure Atoll]


The Banks

In the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands overall there are about 30 submerged seamounts and banks, primarily sand and algal beds, supporting various species of deep water corals including black, pink, and gold coral.

These submerged seamounts are known as “The Banks,” and they are extinct undersea volcanoes that serve as “bridges” or “stopping off points,” providing resting and feeding areas for various species of seabirds as well as ‘ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua (Monachus schauinslandi, Hawaiian monk seals) and other native Hawaiian species that travel between the region’s islets and atolls.

From south to north these banks include:

Ø Middle Bank

Ø Twin Banks

Ø Bank 66

Ø Brooks Bank—West of French Frigate Shoals.

Ø Middle Brooks Bank

Ø Baby Brooks Bank

Ø Baby Brooks Bank.

Ø St. Rogatien Bank—About 79 feet (24 m) beneath the surface.

Ø W. St. Rogatien Bank—Just west of St. Rogatien Bank, east of Gardner Pinnacles, and about 197 feet (60 m) beneath the surface.

Ø Raita Bank—Just northwest of Gardner Pinnacles and about 66 feet (20 m) beneath the ocean’s surface.

Ø North Hampton Seamounts—Southwest of Laysan Island).

Ø Pioneer Bank—Oval-shaped seamount about 25 miles (40 km) from Neva Shoals and about 112 feet (34 m) beneath the surface.

Ø Salmon Bank—Southwest of Pearl and Hermes Atoll).

Ø Ladd Seamount—Northeast of Midway Atoll).

Ø Banks #10 and #11—Northwest of Kure Atoll).

Ø Hesley Seamount—Northwest of Kure Atoll).

Ø Unnamed Seamount—North of Banks #10 and #11).

Ø Salmon Bank and Helsley Seamount—Just outside of the boundaries of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

[Photograph: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands]

[Caption:]

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands comprise just one-tenth of one percent of the total land area of the Hawaiian Islands.



[i] Based on account of epic of Pele and Hi‘iaka by N.B. Emerson. Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument: A Citizen’s Guide. Published by: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; U.S. fish and Wildlife Service; and the State of Hawai‘i, 2006.

[ii] Additional acres of coral reef are also found in other areas within the Monument.

[iii] hawaii reef.noaa.gov/visit/lishtml

[iv] p. 12, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument: A Citizen’s Guide. Published by: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; U.S. fish and Wildlife Service; and the State of Hawai‘i, 2006.

[v] p. 1, Establishment of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands National Monument: A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America. http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2006/06/20060615-18.html, 8/24/2006.

[vi] Name comes from four separate words. The Honolulu Advertiser, 3/03/2007.

[vii] Pukui, Mary Kawena, and Elbert, Samuel H. Hawaiian Dictionary: Revised and Enlarged Edition. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1986.

[viii] Pukui, Mary Kawena, and Elbert, Samuel H. Hawaiian Dictionary: Revised and Enlarged Edition. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1986.

[ix] Pukui, Mary Kawena, and Elbert, Samuel H. Hawaiian Dictionary: Revised and Enlarged Edition. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1986.

[x] Name comes from four separate words. The Honolulu Advertiser, 3/03/2007.

[xi] Hawaii’s Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy. October 1, 2005.

[xii] Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument: A Citizen’s Guide. Published by: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; U.S. fish and Wildlife Service; and the State of Hawai‘i, 2006.

[xiii] Pukui, Mary Kawena, Elbert, Samuel H., and Mookini, Esther T. Mookini. Place Names of Hawaii: Revised & Expanded Edition. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1974.

[xiv] Pukui, Mary Kawena, Elbert, Samuel H., and Mookini, Esther T. Mookini. Place Names of Hawaii: Revised & Expanded Edition. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1974.

[xv] Pukui, Mary Kawena, Elbert, Samuel H., and Mookini, Esther T. Mookini. Place Names of Hawaii: Revised & Expanded Edition. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1974.

[xvi] p. 165, Pukui, Mary Kawena, Elbert, Samuel H., and Mookini, Esther T. Mookini. Place Names of Hawaii: Revised & Expanded Edition. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1974.

[xvii] p. 252, Pukui, Mary Kawena. ‘Ōlelo No‘eau: Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1983. Proverb 2311.

[xviii] Ke ala nui polohiwa a Kāne (“The black shining road of Kāne”) p. 10, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument: A Citizen’s Guide. Published by: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; U.S. fish and Wildlife Service; and the State of Hawai‘i, 2006.

[xix] Pukui, Mary Kawena, Elbert, Samuel H., and Mookini, Esther T. Mookini. Place Names of Hawaii: Revised & Expanded Edition. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1974.

[xx] Note: This name and meaning remain controversial.

[xxi] TenBruggencate, Jan. The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands: Work to protect precious archipelago spans a century; stroke of a pen will preserve it for centuries more. The Honolulu Advertiser, 6/15/2006; citing information from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

[xxii] Pukui, Mary Kawena, and Elbert, Samuel H. Hawaiian Dictionary: Revised and Enlarged Edition. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1986.

[xxiii] Pukui, Mary Kawena, and Elbert, Samuel H. Hawaiian Dictionary: Revised and Enlarged Edition. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1986.

[xxiv] Pukui, Mary Kawena, and Elbert, Samuel H. Hawaiian Dictionary: Revised and Enlarged Edition. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1986.

[xxv] TenBruggencate, Jan. The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands: Work to protect precious archipelago spans a century; stroke of a pen will preserve it for centuries more. The Honolulu Advertiser, 6/15/2006; citing information from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

[xxvi] TenBruggencate, Jan. The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands: Work to protect precious archipelago spans a century; stroke of a pen will preserve it for centuries more. The Honolulu Advertiser, 6/15/2006; citing information from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

[xxvii] hawaiireef.noaa.gov/visit/lishtml.

[xxviii] TenBruggencate, Jan. The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands: Work to protect precious archipelago spans a century; stroke of a pen will preserve it for centuries more. The Honolulu Advertiser, 6/15/2006; citing information from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

[xxix] Pukui, Mary Kawena, and Elbert, Samuel H. Hawaiian Dictionary: Revised and Enlarged Edition. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1986.

[xxx] Krauss, Bob. Our Honolulu: Wreck’s discovery revives unusual survival tale. The Honolulu Advertiser, 8/20/2006.

[xxxi] Krauss, Bob. Our Honolulu: Wreck’s discovery revives unusual survival tale. The Honolulu Advertiser, 8/20/2006.