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A research ship that will help scientists study, monitor and protect the region’s coral reefs will be commissioned into the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fleet today in Honolulu, Hawaii.
The NOAA ship Hi’ialakai will support NOAA’s National Ocean Service and the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program, including the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve and U.S. coral reef activities in the greater Pacific. NOAA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce..
“Hi’ialakai will help NOAA provide managers of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands’ three and a half million acres of coral reefs with the sound science they need to protect these precious resources,” said retired Navy Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator.
Mrs. Daniel Inouye, wife of Hawaii’s senior senator, and Isabella A. Abbott, Professor Emerita, University of Hawaii, are co-sponsors of the ship. Abbott, who proposed the name Hi’ialakai for the ship, will be a guest speaker.
Hi’ialakai is a Hawaiian name that means “embracing pathways to the sea” and holds a deeper meaning for Hawaiians of “guiding leaders of the seas.” The vessel is a former Navy T-AGOS ship (USNS Vindicator) launched in 1984. It was transferred first to the U.S. Coast Guard and then to NOAA in October 2001. NOAA converted it at a cost of $4 million to conduct coral reef research. The 224-foot ship carries up to 24 officers and crew and 21 scientists, and has a recompression chamber to support NOAA divers. Its homeport is Honolulu.
“Today’s commissioning is the latest example of NOAA’s commitment to modernize the fleet and better support our research programs at sea through improved technology and broader capabilities,” said Rear Admiral Samuel P. De Bow Jr., director of the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, one of the nation’s seven uniformed services. De Bow is also director of NOAA Marine and Aviation Operations, which operates and manages the NOAA fleet. Commander Scott Kuester, a NOAA Corps officer, is commanding officer of Hi’ialakai.
The Coral Reef Conservation Program is one of NOAA’s successful matrix programs, which manages NOAA’s coral reef ecosystem activities in coordination with the National Marine Sanctuary Program, Coastal Services Center, National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, Office of Coastal Resource Management, NOAA Research, NOAA Fisheries, and NOAA Satellites. In supporting the Coral Reef Conservation Program, Hi’ialakai will conduct coral reef mapping, monitoring, assessment and management in partnership with the University of Hawaii, State of Hawaii, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Coast Guard.
For the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve, Hi’ialakai will provide bathymetry associated with definition of reserve boundaries and preservation areas, assist in marine debris removal and detection, and provide an annual resource assessment and monitoring cruise that has allowed all of its partners to get a snapshot of NOAA’s vast reserve resource. Additionally, the ship will provide a platform to make science and research programs accessible to classrooms around the country.
On its first cruise, which begins Sept. 13, the ship will support assessment, monitoring and mapping operations at Nihoa Island, Mokumanamana (Necker Island), French Frigate Shoals, Gardner Pinnacles, Maro Reef, Laysan Island, Lisianski Island/Neva Shoals, Pearl and Hermes Atoll, Kure Atoll and Midway Atoll.
Hi’ialakai is the third NOAA vessel to be homeported in Honolulu. The others are Ka’imimoana (oceanographic research) and Oscar Elton Sette (fisheries research). All are operated, managed and maintained by NOAA Marine and Aviation Operations, which is composed of civilians and officers of the NOAA Corps. NOAA Corps officers have degrees in science, engineering or math, and operate the agency’s fleet of research ships and aircraft while supporting the research conducted on board.
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