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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 4, 2005

It's oceanography, up close

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau

LAHAINA, Maui — Shavonn Matsuda didn't know exactly what to expect yesterday on her field trip aboard a NOAA research vessel, but she knew it would be better than going to class.

Baldwin High School sophomore Alyssa McGuire, left, helped plot the course of yesterday's voyage of the NOAA research ship Hi'ialakai with assistance from her biology teacher, Kassia Percell.

Timothy Hurley • The Honolulu Advertiser

She was right. Not only was it fun, but the Kamehameha Schools Maui junior may have even found the inspiration for her future.

"I was interested in a career in natural sciences, but I wasn't sure," she said during a break on the deck. "After taking this trip, I'm more interested in marine biology. I'd like to be a conservationist of the marine animals of Hawai'i."

Matsuda was one of 30 students from five Maui high schools who sailed out of Lahaina Harbor yesterday as part of a first-of-its-kind series of educational cruises being offered this week aboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research ship Hi'ialakai. Thirty students from the Big Island sailed on Monday, while a group from Moloka'i is scheduled to go out today. Thirty students from Lana'i will sail tomorrow.

As part of the cruises, students are being guided by scientists to help conduct marine research projects, and are discovering what oceanographers and marine scientists do in the field. It's also an opportunity to look at careers at sea, both as scientists and as NOAA ship personnel.

Students yesterday got close-up views of microscopic plankton scooped from the channel off West Maui. They examined the equally tiny critters that live in the sediment at the bottom of the ocean, and also learned about water quality and fish-monitoring techniques.

"This is a great opportunity for the kids," said Ron Pisciotte, a teacher at King Kekaulike High School. "I can explain this in class, I can show them movies, but it's not quite the same. There is no substitute for seeing how the research is being done."

Joe Burns, a King Kekaulike High School junior, examines plankton that was scooped up from the channel off West Maui.

Timothy Hurley • The Honolulu Advertiser

The Hi'ialakai is one of three NOAA research ships in Hawai'i. It is the newest ship in the agency's research fleet, a former military vessel acquired for the agency with the help of U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye, D-Hawai'i. The ship's primary mission is to gather scientific data from the ocean surrounding the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, which has been proposed as a national marine sanctuary.

Officials said it was the first time a NOAA research vessel had been diverted from its research duties. The credit for that goes to the ship's captain, Scott Kuester, and Patty Miller, Maui programs coordinator for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

Kuester, a former sanctuary programs employee, knew the ship would have some down time before its next voyage to the northwestern islands on May 14, and Miller, the former state Department of Education KidScience program teacher seen on television, pushed hard for the educational cruises.

Margo Jackson, a senior policy adviser for the National Marine Sanctuary Program, was on board yesterday. She said she was excited by what was happening.

"We'd like to try to make it a more regular occurrence," she said.

Marvin Murao, a King Kekaulike junior, said he was among the lucky few biology students whose names were picked from a hat by his teacher.

After a fish-monitoring demonstration by John Mitchell, a state Division of Aquatic Resources coral reef technician, Murao said he'd love to turn his interest in free diving into a marine career.

"I wasn't so sure about the boat, though. I thought I might get seasick. But this isn't bad," he said.

Reach Timothy Hurley at (808) 244-4880 or thurley@honoluluadvertiser.com.