Oahu (Sun., 1/17/10) – Day One
by Andy Read -- January 18th, 2010
Coffee, Football, Diamond Head and the Coast Guard – A Full First Day
We started our Sunday with coffee and pastries at Coffee Talk, a Honolulu café, while Matt Bowers kept a close eye on the Vikings trouncing the Cowboys (it’s a little strange watching football at 8:00 in the morning but that’s part of life in Hawaii). Our first class activity was to hike up Diamond Head, the iconic landmark volcano cone overlooking Waikiki. It was a beautiful clear, calm day and we had a great view of the city to the west, the Pacific to the south and Koko Head to the east. We saw several humpback whales and a group of spinner dolphins swimming past a small fleet of outrigger canoes.
The hike gave us a chance to see how development has modified the landscape on the south shore of Oahu. Both major estuaries have been channeled and diverted, eliminating their role as important nursery areas for many marine fish species. We also experienced firsthand the incredible pressure placed on the environment here by the huge number of tourists that visit each year. Hundreds of tourists scrambled up and down the trail, some in highly inappropriate footwear; really, fur boots in Honolulu? And not a native bird or plant species to be seen.
After a lunch of burritos and fish tacos we drove to the Federal Building for a tour of the District 14 Command Center of the U.S. Coast Guard. Rhianna Strickland, one of our students, is also a Coast Guard officer who was been stationed in Honolulu for six years. Rhianna’s colleague, Jennifer Conklin, the Assistant Supervisor for the Command Center welcomed us and showed us their Situation Room. For security reasons, we weren’t able to bring cameras, so no pictures, but we can reveal that in addition to monitoring most of the Pacific Ocean, the Coast Guard was also following the Jets-Chargers game.
Jennifer described the amazing variety of missions undertaken by the Coast Guard, from search and rescue, to enforcement of fisheries regulations (‘The Fight for Fish’), to pollution control and abatement, and homeland security. We were able to look at the Vessel Monitoring System that allows the Coast Guard to determine the position of pelagic longline vessels throughout the Pacific. District 14 is responsible for more than 12 million nautical miles of ocean, so it is perhaps no surprise that their resources are stretched. (In addition, one of their four C-130 planes is currently on a humanitarian mission in Haiti). Our regard for the Coast Guard was only enhanced by this visit; it’s reassuring to know that there are such dedicated and capable professionals to help enforce the laws that protect our oceans and to come to our rescue in times of need.