Watch: Two UH Hilo alumni featured for their undergraduate internships on oceanic research vessel

Two videos produced by the Ocean Exploration Trust feature students from UH Hilo who participated in Pacific research voyages while completing their degrees at the university.

By Susan Enright.

The Ocean Explorer Trust, a nonprofit that conducts Pacific expeditions aboard the exploration vessel Nautilus, a 68-meter research vessel equipped with remotely-operated vehicles, has recently released two videos featuring students from the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo who participated in voyages while completing their degrees at the university.

68-meter research vessel at sea.
The exploration vessel Nautilus. (Courtesy photo Nautilus Ocean Explorer Trust)

The trust states in its description of the two videos that as part of its ongoing efforts “to build an equitable and ethical relationship with the Papahānaumokuākea [Marine National Monument] Native Hawaiian Cultural Working Group to appropriately weave Hawaiian culture into deep sea exploration expeditions and connect with curious minds across Hawaiʻi and around the world, we’re featuring voices of featured Kānaka ʻŌiwi (Native Hawaiians) explorers who are part of our expedition team.”

Kukui Gavagan

Kukui Gavagan pictured.
Lily Kukui Gavagan

Lily Kukui Gavagan (Bachelor of Science in Marine Science, Minor in Hawaiian Studies, Certificate in the Marine Option Program, also a cross country runner with Vulcan Athletics) was a science manager in training for the expedition Ala ʻAumoana Kai Uli in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (2023), where Ocean Exploration Trust and partners explored unseen deep-sea habitats aboard the exploration vessel Nautilus with remotely-operated vehicles and seafloor mapping operations focused on the largely unexplored northwestern section of the monument.

Gavagan was a data logger for the expedition Deep Sea Biodiversity and Ancient Volcanoes near Johnston Atoll (2022), where the research team used remotely-operated vehicles to investigate and expand on understanding of prime deep sea coral and sponge habitat near the atoll.

Gavagan offers some advice to young kānaka who are coming into the world of research.

“Stick with your naʻau, your roots, what you know is right, stick with what you know you’ve been taught, and just follow that,” she says. “And when a new opportunity comes up, seize it, you don’t have anything to lose at all.” See her full remarks in video at top of this post.

Kainalu Steward

Kainalu Steward pictured.
Kainalu Steward

Kainalu Steward (Bachelor of Arts in Hawaiian Studies, Certificate in the Marine Option Program, Master of Science in Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science) was an intern on two expeditions.

Luʻuaeaahikiikawawāapalaoa: Dual-Technology Seafloor Mapping (2022) expedition focused on high-resolution mapping areas of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument currently lacking data. On this research trip, Steward was a data logger and ocean science intern.

Luʻuaeaahikiikapapakū: Ancient Volcanoes in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (2021) was dedicated to conducting surveys on a chain of seamounts. Steward was a seafloor mapping intern and cultural liaison.

Map of boundaries proclaimed by three U.S. presidents.
Map shows boundaries of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. (NOAA)

“Seeing everyone very passionate about what they do, and seeing it all come together was really awesome for me to be a part of,” says Steward about being on the expeditions. “Those experiences have also given me courage to continue on in this path of science and academia because it’s not an easy path, it can be very daunting and discouraging at times. Having this opportunity to be on board, especially within Papahānaumokuākea was empowering for me. It allowed me to step out of my comfort zone and step into positions I never imagined I would be capable of.”

Steward is now a doctoral candidate based at the UH Hilo Multi-Scale Environmental Graphical Analysis Laboratory, commonly called MEGA Lab. See video below featuring Steward.

Other UH Hilo alumni who participated in the trust’s expeditions as graduate or undergraduate students are:

Story by Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.

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