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Pearl and Hermes is located in Pacific Ocean
Pearl and Hermes
Pearl and Hermes
Location of Pearl and Hermes Atoll in the Pacific Ocean
Map showing the location of Pearl and Hermes Atoll in the Hawaiian island chain

The Pearl and Hermes Atoll (Hawaiian: Holoikauaua), is part of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The atoll consists of a variable number of flat and sandy islets, typically between five and seven. More were noted in historical sources but have since been lost to erosion.

It is named after the Pearl and the Hermes, a pair of English whaleships that wrecked there in 1822. It has been the site of at least eight known shipwrecks, including the Japanese Wiji Maru, SS Quartette, and most recently the M/V Casitas, which ran aground on the reef in 2005.

The atoll is an important habitat for seabirds, marine life, and invertebrate species. Twenty-two bird species nest and breed on the island, including twenty percent of the world's population of black-footed albatrosses. The atoll has historically been included with the rest of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands in conservation efforts. It is included in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, created in 2006.

Geography[edit]

NASA picture of the Pearl and Hermes Atoll

Pearl and Hermes is the third northernmost atoll of Hawaii, behind Midway and Kure, approximately 2,090 km (1,299 mi) northwest of Honolulu and 140 km (87 mi) east-southeast of Midway Atoll.

The Pearl and Hermes Atoll is a large, low atoll consisting of several small islands which are periodically washed over when winter storms pass, along with several ephemeral sand spits.[1][2] As of 2012 according to the USGS there were five islands: Southeast (the largest),[1] North, Little North, Grass, and Seal-Kittery.[3]. Earlier sources note the presence of a Sand Island and a Bird Island.[4]

The islets are low and flat, and there are no sources of fresh water on any of them.[5]

In total there is about 80 acres (32 ha) of land and almost 200,000 acres (80,937 ha) of coral reef habitat.[6] The fringing reef is roughly 69 km (43 mi) in circumference and open to the west. The atoll adheres to the timezone of UTC−10:00.

Nomenclature[edit]

The Hawaiian-language name for the atoll, Holoikauaua, was developed in the late 1990s by the Hawaiian Lexicon Committee in an effort to restore traditional Hawaiian names which had been lost, misspelled, or replaced with foreign names.[7] Because its original Hawaiian name was not known, the Committee conferred the new name of Holoikauaua to the atoll, in reference to the Hawaiian monk seal which frequents the waters there.[8]

History[edit]

Initial discovery[edit]

The atoll was discovered on April 25, 1822 when the English whaleship Pearl ran aground on the surrounding reefs. Pearl's sister ship Hermes also ran aground when it approached to provide assistance. The 57 survivors were marooned on an unspecified island nearby for several months. 46 of the survivors were rescued by the passing Earl of Morby.[9]

James Robinson, a carpenter's mate, directed the construction of a small 30-ton vessel from the wreckage. Some accounts provide the name of the vessel as Drift, while others state it was called Deliverance.[9][10] The eleven remaining sailors managed to sail this small vessel back to the main Hawaiian islands without further loss of life.[10]

King Kamehameha III of Hawaii claimed the atoll in 1854. In 1857, it was finally surveyed by the crew of the Manuokawai. The United States took possession of the atoll in 1859 by way of Captain N.C. Brooks and his ship Gambia. Brooks reported that the atoll had eleven or twelve islets. In 1867, the crew of the Laconda produced the first reliable chart of the reef.[10]

Entrepreneurs from a rabbit canning business intentionally released rabbits on Southeast Island in 1894, where they almost immediately devoured all the island's vegetation.[11]

The Japanese schooner Wiji Maru crashed on the atoll in 1904, destroying the ship and losing its cargo of feathers. There was no loss of life, however.[10] In 1916, crew members from the Thetis reported that they had spotted rabbits and Japanese fishing huts on Southeast Island. In 1923, the vessels of the Tanager Expedition stopped at the atoll and killed "all but one rabbit on Southeast Island."[10]

Exploitation of oysters[edit]

A black-lip pearl oyster at the Aquarium Finisterrae in Galicia, Spain.

In 1927, Captain William Greig Anderson was fishing for tuna and in the process, discovered beds of black-lip pearl oysters. He reported that they were rich with pearls - the only pearl beds in the United States. Over the next three years, his trading company harvested some 20,000 pearls from the atoll, with the largest having a reported value of $5,000. Some 150 tons of oyster shells were harvested in the process and sold to button manufacturers.[10]

In 1929, oyster harvesting in the atoll was made illegal by the government of the Territory of Hawaii.[12][13] In 1930, the United States Bureau of Fisheries decided to make a thorough study of the atoll. The United States Navy loaned the minesweeper ship Whippoorwill for the five-week expedition, which covered the reef's geography, flora, and invertebrate and fish populations. A specific emphasis was placed on the pearl oyster population. Only 470 oysters were found, and only 47 of those had pearls. Based on those findings, the surveyors concluded that Captain Anderson must have harvested between 150,000-200,000 oysters to obtain his reported 20,000 pearls, which had significantly depleted the oyster beds.[10][13]

Later wrecks and site exploration[edit]

The M/V Casitas aground on Pearl and Hermes Atoll, August 4, 2005

On December 21, 1952, the SS Quartette struck the eastern reef, heavily damaging the forward bow and causing the ship to become trapped on the reef. The crew was evacuated by the SS Frontenac Victory the following day. The salvage tug Ono arrived on December 25, but stormy weather forced a delay of the rescue attempt. On January 3, the Quartette was blown onto the reef and deemed a total loss. Several weeks later, it snapped in half at the keel and the two pieces sank.[14] The wreck site serves as an artificial reef which provides a habitat for many fish species.[15]

In 2004, divers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) located wreckage believed to be from the Pearl during a debris removal dive.[6] The same dive team also located the wreck site of an unknown fishing vessel during the same trip. The site was nicknamed the "Oshima" site as some of the components located match the Japanese "Oshima" design.[16]

On July 2, 2005, the M/V Casitas ran aground on the north end of the atoll, causing significant scarring in the reef. Extraction efforts began immediately and the ship was fully removed on August 4, 2005. Although several people on board were forced to evacuate the ship, there was no loss of life.[17]

The Pearl wreck site was fully surveyed in 2006. A number of artifacts were found onsite, including anchors, two cannons, and large try pots for rendering whale blubber. Many smaller artifacts were found actually embedded into the coral of the reef.[6]

In 2008, the site of the Hermes was confirmed to be located nearby, to the west. The site contained similar artifacts to those found at the site of the Pearl, including anchors and four cannons. At least 33 cannonballs were found, stored in linear racks, as well as stores of musket balls. Finally, some 150 iron ballast pieces were found. The scattered state of the wreckage seems to confirm that the Hermes broke apart quickly and scattered with force across the sea floor.[9]

Flora and fauna[edit]

Plant life[edit]

The islets of the Pearl and Hermes Atoll support thirteen native plant species and seven introduced species, including coastal grasses, vines, and herbal plants.[15] Invasive plant species are considered a major conservation issue on the atoll, as they often out-compete and replace native species. As an example, the noxious Setaria verticillata has displaced the native Eragrostis variabilis on Southeast Island.[5]

An illegal landing by the military in the 1960s brought invasive field mustard seeds from Midway Atoll, which had to be removed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.[10]

The flowering plant Verbesina encelioides has been identified as a major invasive threat since at least 2001. Although it provides food and nesting space for small songbirds, it poses a significant threat of entanglement to native seabirds, so removal is considered a priority for conservation purposes.[18]

Avian life[edit]

Twenty percent of the world population of black-footed albatrosses breed on the Pearl and Hermes Atoll.

The Pearl and Hermes Atoll is an important nesting area for many seabirds. Approximately 160,000 birds from 22 different species are known to live and breed on the Atoll.[12] Tristram’s storm petrels and black-footed albatrosses are among the most prominent. In 2001, it was reported that twenty percent of the world's population of black-footed albatrosses nested on Pearl and Hermes.[10] Pearl and Hermes also hosts one of two recorded Hawaiian nest sites of little terns.[12] In addition, the endangered Laysan finch was introduced to the island in 1967 to provide a backup population of these birds, should a hurricane, disease, rat introduction, or other disaster wipe out the population on the island of Laysan.[19]

Invertebrates[edit]

The Pearl and Hermes Atoll provides an extensive and unique habitat for invertebrates, including various sponges and thirty-three species of stony corals.[15] Some invasive invertebrate species have been found on the reef, including the orange-striped sea anemone, which is native to Japan, and the Christmas tree hydroid, which competes with native invertebrates for space.[20]

The atoll was once heavily populated with black-lip pearl oysters, but overfishing from 1927-1930 caused the population to crash to only 470 in 1930.[10] An expedition in 1950 turned up only six live oysters, and another in 1969 only found one.[10] Surveys in 1994 and 2000 had similar results, and a full analysis by the NOAA in 2003 concluded that the population has never recovered to pre-harvesting levels.[13]

Other wildlife[edit]

A Hawaiian monk seal.

The Pearl and Hermes Atoll supports breeding populations of endangered Hawaiian monk seals and sea turtles. Spinner dolphins are known to mate in the area.[12] According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, "the atoll has the highest standing stock of fish and the highest number of fish species in the NWHI", including sabre squirrelfish, various eels, Galapagos sharks, Sandbar sharks, giant trevally or ulua, angelfish, āweoweo or Hawaiian bigeyes, parrotfish, and various types of lobsters.[12] In particular, masked angelfish and Japanese angelfish are common in the Pearl and Hermes Atoll despite being considered rare in the rest of the Hawaiian archipelago.[15]

In 2016, scientists from the Bishop Museum, working with the NOAA, described a new species of butterflyfish found off the Pearl and Hermes Atoll, at a depth of 180 feet. It was named Prognathodes basabei in honor of diver Pete Basabe, who provided support to the dives that first discovered the species.[21]

Conservation efforts[edit]

Because of its small size, Pearl and Hermes Atoll has typically not been singled out for individual environmental protection; historically, it has been bundled with the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as a protected region. The region was first protected in 1909 when U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt created the Hawaiian Islands Bird Reservation through Executive Order 1019, which included Pearl and Hermes Atoll.[22] Over the next century, protection of the region increased incrementally, culminating in President George W. Bush signing Proclamation 8031 in 2006, designating the waters of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands a national monument under the 1906 Antiquities Act.[23]

Threats[edit]

This monster net found at Pearl and Hermes in 2014 weighed 11.5 tons.

Derelict fishing gear (ghost nets) and other types of marine debris have had a major impact on the reefs and associated fauna of the atoll. Efforts have been undertaken to lessen the threat of this growing problem, including attempts at prevention as well as recurring debris removal projects. In 2000, the joint NOAA and NMFS Derelict Fishing Net Removal Project was launched, with the objective of removing fishing debris from the atoll and identifying any non-native species.[24] In 2003, 90 tons of marine debris was removed from the Pearl and Hermes reefs.[15] In 2014, a net tangle weighing 11.5 tons was located in the atoll. It was 28 feet long, 7 feet wide, and 16 feet deep, and took three days to dismantle and remove.[25]

Sea level rise is also a major concern for the atoll due to the extremely low elevation of most of the islands. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency projects that sea level will rise 13–16 inches (33–41 cm) by 2100. Southeast Island is only 3 feet (1 m) above sea level, and would be almost entirely submerged if sea levels rise that much. The other islets would also lose significant amounts of land area.[5]

Climate[edit]

Data chart below has been taken from Midway Atoll due to a lack of any weather stations present on Pearl and Hermes Atoll.

Despite being located at 27°48'N, which is above the Tropic of Cancer, Pearl and Hermes Atoll features a tropical savanna climate (Köppen Aw) with very pleasant year-round temperatures. Rainfall is evenly distributed throughout the year, with only two months being able to be classified as dry season months (May and June).

Climate data for Pearl and Hermes Atoll
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 80
(27)
81
(27)
81
(27)
82
(28)
87
(31)
89
(32)
92
(33)
92
(33)
92
(33)
89
(32)
88
(31)
82
(28)
92
(33)
Average high °F (°C) 70
(21)
70
(21)
71
(22)
72
(22)
76
(24)
81
(27)
83
(28)
84
(29)
84
(29)
80
(27)
76
(24)
73
(23)
77
(25)
Daily mean °F (°C) 66
(19)
66
(19)
67
(19)
69
(21)
72
(22)
77
(25)
79
(26)
80
(27)
80
(27)
77
(25)
73
(23)
69
(21)
73
(23)
Average low °F (°C) 62
(17)
62
(17)
63
(17)
64
(18)
68
(20)
73
(23)
75
(24)
75
(24)
75
(24)
72
(22)
69
(21)
65
(18)
69
(20)
Record low °F (°C) 49
(9)
50
(10)
51
(11)
53
(12)
55
(13)
61
(16)
63
(17)
64
(18)
64
(18)
59
(15)
55
(13)
51
(11)
49
(9)
Average precipitation inches (mm) 5.0
(127)
3.8
(97)
3.0
(76)
2.5
(64)
2.3
(58)
2.2
(56)
3.3
(84)
4.3
(109)
3.5
(89)
3.5
(89)
3.8
(97)
4.1
(104)
41.3
(1,050)
Average precipitation days 16 14 12 11 9 9 15 15 15 14 14 16 160
Source: Weatherbase[26]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "NWHI - Pearl and Hermes Atoll". National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science. Retrieved November 21, 2017. 
  2. ^ Pearl & Hermes Atoll Reserve Preservation Area (PDF), Office of National Marine Sanctuaries 
  3. ^ Predicting Sea-Level Rise Vulnerability of Terrestrial Habitat and Wildlife of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (PDF), U.S. Geological Survey, 2012 
  4. ^ Hance Smith & Adalberto Vallega, eds. (1991). The Development of Integrated Sea Use Management. Routledge. 
  5. ^ a b c "Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Passerines" (PDF). Hawaii's Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy: 2. October 1, 2005 – via Department of Land and Natural Resources of Hawaii. 
  6. ^ a b c "Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument: Pearl". Papahanaumokuakea.gov. Retrieved December 26, 2017. 
  7. ^ Geography, University of Hawaii at Hilo Dept of (1998). Atlas of Hawai'i. University of Hawaii Press. p. 27. ISBN 9780824821258. 
  8. ^ Rauzon, p. 34.
  9. ^ a b c "Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument: Hermes". Papahanaumokuakea.gov. Retrieved December 26, 2017. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Rauzon, Mark J. (2001). Isles of refuge : wildlife and history of the northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. pp. 143–144. ISBN 0824823303. OCLC 43672509. 
  11. ^ "Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Log July 13, 2006". Sanctuaries.noaa.gov. Retrieved December 26, 2017. 
  12. ^ a b c d e "Pearl and Hermes Atoll - Hawaiian Islands - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service". Fws.gov. Retrieved December 21, 2017. 
  13. ^ a b c Keenan, Elizabeth E.; Brainard, Russel E.; Basch, Larry V. (February 2006). "Historical and present status of the pearl oyster, pinctada margaritifera, at Pearl and Hermes Atoll, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands" (PDF). Atoll Research Bulletin. 543: 333-334. Retrieved December 25, 2017. 
  14. ^ "Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument: Liberty Ship SS Quartette". Papahanaumokuakea.gov. Retrieved December 26, 2017. 
  15. ^ a b c d e "Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument: Pearl and Hermes Atoll". Papahanaumokuakea.gov. Retrieved December 26, 2017. 
  16. ^ "Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument: Oshima". Papahanaumokuakea.gov. Retrieved December 26, 2017. 
  17. ^ "Final damage assessment and restoration plan and environmental assessment for the July 2, 2005, M/V Casitas grounding at Pearl and Hermes Atoll, Northwest Hawaiian Islands, Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument" (PDF). US Department of the Interior. March 2011. pp. 3–4. Retrieved December 25, 2017. 
  18. ^ "Telespiza cantans (Laysan Finch)". Iucnredlist.org. Retrieved December 26, 2017. 
  19. ^ Rauzon, p. 145.
  20. ^ See, Kevin; Godwin, Scott; Menza, Charles (May 2009). "Nonindigenous and Invasive Species". A Marine Biogeographic Assessment of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands: 276. 
  21. ^ "Scientists discover a new deep-reef Butterflyfish species in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument". Papahanaumokuakea.gov. Retrieved December 26, 2017. 
  22. ^ "Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument: A Citizen's Guide" (PDF). NOAA, USFWS, DLNR. 2005. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 10, 2008. Retrieved August 26, 2008. 
  23. ^ Revkin, Andrew C. (June 15, 2006). "Bush Plans Vast Protected Sea Area in Hawaii". Environment. The New York Times. Retrieved August 28, 2008. 
  24. ^ See, Godwin & Menza, p. 278.
  25. ^ "Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument: Monster net". Papahanaumokuakea.gov. Retrieved December 26, 2017. 
  26. ^ "Midway Island, Midway Islands Travel Weather Averages (Weatherbase)". Weatherbase. Retrieved January 14, 2018. 

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