Wednesday, February 7, 2001
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Posted on: Wednesday, February 7, 2001

Ballard project tags Kaua'i albatrosses

By Chris Oliver
Advertiser Staff Writer

The albatross stretched, puffing up from its nest to reveal beneath its broad, white swathe an egg the size of a grapefruit. Dawn had brought an unusual day for the nesting birds at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge on Kauai.

On Albatross Hill, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Kathleen Viernes was helping a team of young scientists carefully band the leg of a juvenile albatross, a painless procedure that keeps tally of how many birds return to Kilauea Point each year.

As albatross beaks clacked, the nearby video camera rolled, and the delicate interaction between bird and human went live to hundreds of thousands of school children in classrooms and auditoriums across the Mainland, Mexico, the Caribbean and United Kingdom.

Behind the camera, explorer Robert Ballard was orchestrating "JASON XII, Hawaii, A Living Laboratory," the latest in the JASON series of science programs using satellite and Internet technology to reach middle school students worldwide.

The JASON Project takes a small number of students (known as "Argonauts," a reference to the mythical Greek hero and the crew that sailed on the vessel Argo), teachers and scientists to challenging environments "where we can touch all sciences," Ballard said.

Ballard founded the JASON Project in 1989 after receiving thousands of e-mails and letters from schoolchildren wanting to know how he’d found the wreck of the RMS Titanic on the Atlantic Ocean floor in 1985.

With support from the Electronic Data Systems company, Ballard developed "telepresence," which enables hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren to follow him electronically on expeditions to the Sea of Cortez, the Galapagos Islands, the Great Lakes and the Mediterranean Sea. Argonauts have traveled to the Peruvian rain forests, to Iceland, to Yellowstone National Park and Florida’s coral reefs. JASON XIII, taking place in 2001-2, explores the ice sheets in Alaska and Antarctica.

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