Two women in hard hats and life vests on board a ship

Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology doctoral candidate Nyssa Silbiger and graduate student Maya Walton participated in the recent NOAA expedition to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. (Photo courtesy of Carlie Wiener)

Students from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo and Windward Community College participated in a 24-day research trip led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to explore coral reefs at Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Five undergraduate students from the three campuses and three graduate students from UH Mānoa’s Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology joined UH scientists and others from NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, National Marine Fisheries Service, and The Scripps Research Institute.

The team visited French Frigate Shoals, Lisianski Island, Pearl and Hermes Reef, and Kure Atoll, and conducted ecological assessments of reef fish, corals, invertebrates and algae, and other activities.

A ‘life-changing’ experience for UH students

UH Mānoa doctoral students Johnathan Burns and Nyssa Silbiger were able to participate on the expedition to conduct their own graduate research.

“You get to go to environments that are so unique, it is pretty amazing to see the different reef structures first-hand,” said Burns.

Silbiger, who was on her third expedition, had a successful trip collecting 75 calcium carbonate blocks that she distributed on several coral reefs in the monument during an expedition last year. These blocks will help her determine the rates of natural erosion of the coral reefs both in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and the main Hawaiian Islands.

“I feel really lucky to have had the chance to go up to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands,” said Silbiger.

Raised on Lanaʻi, Windward Community College student and COSEE Island Earth employee Megan Onuma, who experienced the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands for the first time, said, “It has been very cool to be able to go out with so many scientists and learn what they monitor and do. This is a life-changing experience.”

Educating the next generation

Efforts to expand the experience to other educational institutions were made through the COSEE Island Earth program in conjunction with the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

COSEE Island Earth is a new program designed to make scientists and their research more accessible to educators and the community. It is based in the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology at UH Mānoa.

Ten public and charter schools statewide were treated to ship-to-classroom “ask a scientist” sessions via email, and will receive follow-up classroom visits with researchers for more hands-on experiences.

“We hope that the students get an opportunity to understand what a special place the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is, and that the students understand what an honor it is to have this large marine protected area in their own backyard,” said COSEE Island Earth Program Manager Carlie Wiener.

Visit the expedition blog, or read the Honolulu Star-Advertiser (subscription required) or KHON articles for more about the expedition.

This Post Has 4 Comments
    1. Hi Umialiloa,

      Visit the COSEE-Island Earth website at to learn more about the program. According to the website, UH Maui College is a project partner. There are contacts listed on the website who might be able to assist you further. Good luck!

  1. i am just a regular islander but i am curious as to whether or not it is possible for the public to gain access to an expedition such as this.

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