Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Contributing Editor
A new NOAA exhibit commemorating the rich maritime heritage of Papahanaumokukuakea Marine National Monument opened Friday (Feb 5) at Mokupapapa Discovery Center in Hilo.
“Lost on a Reef” focuses on shipwreck sites discovered over the last the decade that represent 200 years of maritime history in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
It also highlights the work conducted by NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries maritime archaeologists to interpret and protect these sites.
“The exhibit will give visitors an opportunity to experience these fascinating maritime heritage sites and their stories up close and in a more personal way,” said Kelly Gleason, Monument maritime archaeologist, NOAA Maritime Heritage Program. “Interpretation of these shipwreck sites helps us understand the importance of remaining connected to this place, and why it is vital to protect Papahanaumokuakea’s natural and cultural resources for years to come.”
Centerpieces of the new exhibit include long-submerged artifacts scooped from sites around Kure Atoll and a 15-minute film that tracks the 2008 expedition to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
Included are two ship bells recovered during the research expedition to Kure Atoll. One was recovered from the whaler Parker, which wrecked in 1842, and the other from USS Saginaw, a paddle wheel steam sailing sloop that ran aground on the reef at Kure Atoll in 1870.
Both bells were restored at the Heritage Resources Conservation Laboratory at California State University at Chico.
The exhibit also includes an 1800′s hard hat dive helmet on loan from the History of Diving Museum in Islamorada, Fla. A whaling harpoon and sextant were provided by Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut.
The exhibit was unveiled at a reception Friday morning that included the world premiere of the film by Stephani Gordon.
Dr. Randy Kosaki, research coordinator for the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve, said many people associate the monument with marine science and conservation, but the area really encompasses 2,000 years of seafaring history.
“This is the first exhibit that showcases the maritime heritage,” he said. “This is a great example of what monuments and sanctuaries can do.”
Exploring the ones that didn’t make it – the wrecks and sunken vessels that one researcher described as non-renewable resources – gives today’s marine archaeologists an opportunity to tell the stories of the thousands of ships that did reach their destinations.
Dan Basta, director of the National Marine Sanctuary System, said telling the tales of long-lost seafarers helps connect history with the present and can help show the way into the future.
From his Washington, D.C. office, Basta said it can be difficult to convince leaders to support such conservation and research efforts.
“It’s not about the economy or how many jobs it creates. You can’t put a dollar sign on something like this,” he said. “Marine sanctuaries are fantastic treasures.”
The Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument is the single largest conservation area under the U.S. flag, and one of the largest marine conservation areas in the world.
It encompasses 139,797 square miles of the Pacific Ocean (105,564 square nautical miles) – an area larger than all the country’s national parks combined.
The extensive coral reefs found in Papahanaumokuakea – truly the rainforests of the sea – are home to more than 7,000 marine species, one quarter of which are found only in the Hawaiian Archipelago.
Many of the islands and shallow water environments are important habitats for rare species such as the threatened green sea turtle and the endangered Hawaiian monk seal.
It is managed by three trustees – the Department of Commerce, Department of Interior and the state of Hawaii – with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. It is being considered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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