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Hawai'i drawing waves of ocean researchers


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Hawai'i drawing waves of ocean researchers

Researchers are trying to figure out how to bring the Hawaiian monk seal's declining population back from the brink of extinction.


An endangered Hawaiian monk seal lazes on a sunny beach. A World War II-era Japanese mini-sub lies on the ocean floor off Pearl Harbor. A strange bacterium uses a light-absorbing protein as its own solar panel, directly producing energy.

These are subjects of ocean research in Hawai'i, a huge and growing part of the state's reputation.

The field now supports a fleet of research vessels and hundreds of scientists. In 2002, federal, university and private ocean research was worth $142 million to the economy, according to the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism's Ocean Resources Branch.

More and more scientists are coming to Hawai'i to do marine research, because "we're an ocean state, we have research vessels available, we have universities with ocean programs" and a unique location in the central Pacific, said Robert Smith, coordinator of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve.

"This is an exciting place to do research," said David Karl, a professor of oceanography at the University of Hawai'i's School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.

And that bodes well for the future of ocean science as an industry.

"We expect continued growth because we have tremendous assets that have not yet been tapped," said Liz Corbin, the state's ocean resource development manager.

Corbin cited the Islands' "powerful combination of natural, physical and human resources" and credited them with an active Hawai'i role in virtually every possible field of ocean research. She lists them as aquaculture, biotechnology, ecology, energy, engineering, fisheries, minerals, geophysics, oceanography, safety and surveying.

The range of research work being done is broad.

Small teams of researchers spend each summer in rustic field camps on several of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Their job: to study seals, protect seals and to try to figure out how to bring the population back from the brink of extinction.

A few years ago, a UH Pisces deep submersible was scanning a debris field off O'ahu's southern coast and solved a mystery

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