About the Expedition

On January 21, 2010, scientists from the Coral Reef Ecosystem Division of the NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (CRED/PIFSC), along with visiting scientists from the Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, San Diego State University, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and local agencies in American Samoa, departed on a three month expedition to Johnston Atoll, Howland and Baker Islands, American Samoa, Jarvis Island, Palmyra Atoll, and Kingman Reef aboard the NOAA Ship Hi'ialakai. This is the fifth biennial Pacific Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program (Pacific RAMP) expedition to American Samoa and the seventh to the Pacific Remote Island Areas. The expedition is sponsored by NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP) and is divided into three segment sequentially led by Chief Scientists Benjamin Richards, Rusty Brainard and Jamison Gove.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Swain's Island

by Kerry Grimshaw
Swain's Atoll (Photograph by Kerry Grimshaw)
This morning we started work at the last of the islands in the Territory of American Samoa: Swains Island. Although Swains is part of American Samoa, geologically and geographically it is an atoll in the Tokelau Archipelago. Swains Island is the northernmost island in the Territory of American Samoa and lies about 350 km (220 mi) north-northwest of Tutuila.

It is thought that the first European to discover the island was Pedro Fernandez de Queiros in 1606 and named it Isla de la Gente Hermosa (“island of the beautiful people”). After that the island was unvisited by Europeans until 1840 when Capt. W.C. Swains of New Bedford, Massachusetts visited and thinking he was the first to land there, he named it Swain’s Island. The British Capt. Turnbull also claimed to have discovered the island and sold Swain's Island to the American Eli Hutchinson Jennings Sr. In 1856 Eli and his Samoan wife Malia moved to the island and claimed it with the US flag (as a semi-independent proprietary settlement of the Jennings family). Swain's Island was also claimed by the US Government under the Guano Islands Act in 1860. The ownership of the island was passed down to Eli Jr. who managed the copra plantation which was established by his father. Upon Eli Jr.’s death, the US government on March 4, 1925 granted the right of administration jointly to his children Ann (the estate) and Alexander (the island) while concurrently making it officially part of American Samoa by annexation. The island is currently inhabited by 4-30 people at any given time in order to retain private ownership by the Jennings family and as part of the Territory of American Samoa.

Swains Island as seen from space
Swains as an atoll is unusual due to its unbroken circular island which encloses a central “brackish” lagoon. Swains has a total area of 1.9 sq km (0.7 sq mi) and is approximately equivalent to 380 football fields. The ring-shaped island is still encircled with coconut trees although the copra plantation is no longer active. The outer edge of the atoll consists of coral reef flats that are awash at low tide. CRED multibeam mapping surveys in 2006 revealed that like Ta’u there are little or no shallow banks surrounding the island and the reef descends to abyssal depths less than 1 km off shore. After our 20 hour transit to Swains we’ll be spending the next 3 days working and monitoring the coral reefs here.

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