NOAA Researchers Evacuated amid Hurricane Threat
Sailors and Marines from the US Navy’s Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group and 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) conducted an emergent recovery of 11 researchers with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument Aug. 8.
The purpose of the operation was to assist the researchers in retreating from imminent danger of Hurricane Iselle that is expected to impact Lisianski Island, Laysan Island, and the Pearl and Hermes Atoll.
“We work with NOAA, and we’re out here almost every summer in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands working with Hawaiian Monk Seal pups doing mostly population assessment,” said Carrie McAttee, a NOAA researcher. “We’ve been here since June, and we were supposed to be here until September.”
The recovery was prompted by the threat of Hurricane Iselle, the first hurricane to strike the Hawaii islands in more than two decades, which threatened the safety of the researchers, who were not equipped to withstand the extreme conditions of the looming storm.
USS Makin Island (LHD 8), USS Comstock (LSD 45), USS San Diego (LPD 22) each deployed rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIB) that traveled more than four miles and endured challenging seas but safely reached their destination. Once the boats reached the coastline, they carefully maneuvered to receive the researchers and their gear without affecting the endangered marine life below.
“It was important to us to ensure this was a safe evolution for all involved,” said Capt. Vic Cooper, commodore, Amphibious Squadron Five.
The researchers were then flown to Midway Island later in the afternoon. Although remote, Midway provides shelter for the displaced personnel and access to runway if further evacuations are needed.
Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is the single largest conservation area under the U.S. flag and one of the largest marine conservation areas in the world. It encompasses 139,797 square miles of the Pacific Ocean.
Press Release, August 11, 2014; Image: US Navy