Saturday, March 24, 2012

French Frigate Shoals (Kānemilohaʻi)

Is it just me, or can others see an eerie similarity between Lānaʻi and French Frigate Shoals?

Here's another interesting quirk between them - each is 18-miles long.  (Can you hear the Twilight Zone theme, too?)

French Frigate Shoals was my first experience in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) (now the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.)

After a 3½ plane ride, we landed on Tern Island (it looks like an aircraft carrier in the reef - it's just off to the left at the top of the image.)

French Frigate Shoals is the first atoll to the northwest of the main Hawaiian Islands and is also the midpoint of the archipelago (about 490-miles WNW of Oʻahu) and the largest coral reef area in Hawai‘i.

According to the Monument Management Plan, this low, flat area is called Kānemilohaʻi (flat, sand island) is where Pele is said to have left one of her older brothers, Kānemiloha‘i, as a guardian during her first journey to Hawai‘i from Kahiki (Tahiti.)

 Pele continued down the archipelago until finally settling in Kīlauea, Hawai‘i Island, where she is said to reside today.

"Shoal of the French Frigates" was rediscovered (and named by reference) on November 6, 1786 when two French frigates, the Astrolabe and the Boussole, narrowly averted running into the reef.

French Frigate Shoals is the largest atoll in the chain, taking the form of an 18-mile long crescent. It is estimated to be 12.3 million years old.

Tern Island (approximately 30-acres) in the atoll is the site of a Fish & Wildlife Service field station, which occupies a former U.S. Coast Guard Long-Range Aids to Navigation (LORAN) station that closed in 1979.

Within the NWHI, French Frigate Shoals is the center of diversity for corals (more than 41 species, including the genus Acropora, which is all but absent elsewhere in Hawai‘i) and reef fishes (178 species).

A relatively deep (80 to 100 feet) coral reef at this atoll has been recently discovered to function as a spawning site for Ulua (the giant trevally); a rare discovery of spawning sites for top predators.

The lagoon is also unusual in that it contains two exposed volcanic pinnacles representing the last vestiges of the high island from which the atoll was derived, as well as nine low, sandy islets.  The sand islets are small, shift position, and disappear and reappear.

The largest pinnacle, La Perouse Pinnacle, is a rock outcrop in the center of the atoll; it’s reportedly the oldest and most remote volcanic rock in the Hawaiian chain.

These islets provide important habitat for the world’s largest breeding colony of the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. 

The atoll’s sandy islets also provide nesting sites for 90 percent of the threatened green turtle population breeding in the Hawaiian Archipelago.

On a tour around Tern Island we saw monk seals and turtles resting on the sandy shore, as well markings in the sand of a turtle who laid her eggs the night before.

And lots of birds … mostly terns ---> Tern Island.

On that trip, we were unexpectedly greeted by Jean-Michel Cousteau; he was on the island during his filming of "Voyage to Kure."

I’ve included some additional images of French Frigate Shoals (Kānemilohaʻi) in a folder of like name in the Photos section of my Facebook page.

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