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Maritime History

Following Polynesian settlement, advanced aquaculture techniques flourished in the Hawaiian Islands, where there may have been between 400 and 500 stone fish ponds, producing something around two million pounds of fish annually.  Today only a handful of ponds are in condition to produce some fish.  Such stone remains can sometimes endure hundreds of years in relatively good shape.  Marine Option Program maritime archaeology students from the University of Hawai`i mapped a stone fish trap at Koloko Honokahau National Park on the Island of Hawai`i during the field school in 1997.  The Sanctuary has also supported efforts to rebuild a fish pond adjacent to its Maui headquarters. 

Shell fishing hooks, as well as scattered basalt artifacts such as octopus lure weights, fish trap weights, and canoe anchors are abundant on specific near shore reefs, even in the developed areas near Honolulu on the Island of O`ahu.  A 1996 University of Hawai`i survey focused on one such site, a scattered collection of stone artifacts, sinkers and octopus lures, directly off the Waikiki shoreline, within the sanctuary.  Distribution patterns were recorded, though the artifacts themselves had been weathered by hundreds of years in the near surf zone.    

The wreck site of the brig Cleopatra's Barge highlights the interactions between Native Hawaiians and foreign cultures in the decades following Western contact.  The luxurious vessel, built by George Crowninshield of New England in 1816, was sold to King Kamehameha II (Liholiho) in 1820 and renamed Ha`aheo o Hawai`i (Pride of Hawaii), to serve as the royal yacht.  Lost in 1824 in Hanalei Bay, the remains of Ha`aheo o Hawai`i were excavated by Dr. Paul Johnston of the Smithsonian Institute.  A great variety of Native Hawaiian, Asian, and Western artifacts currently await return to proper curatorial facilities in Hawai`i, telling the story of social and economic change among the Islands.  

The historic importance of the Hawaiian Islands to Western whaling ships has been well documented.  Soon after the Balaena and the Equator harpooned the first whale off Kealakekua Bay in 1819, Hawai`i won its place on the maps of the whalers.  As Pacific whaling grounds became dominated by American vessels in the mid 19th-century, whale oil became a major economic component of economic expansion in both New England and the Hawaiian Islands.  Some residents in Hawai`i today can trace their lineage to the frequent deserter from a whaling ship.  There are at least 18 documented wrecks of whalers in and around the Hawaiian island chain, five of these being located within the sanctuary.  The whalers Drymo (1845), Paulina (1860), and Young Hero (1858) lost near Maui, the Jefferson (1842) in Hanalei Bay on Kaua`i, and the Helvetius (1834) near O`ahu, testify to the once active American involvement in Pacific whale hunting.  Fortunately, the remains of this brutal activity now lie within the sanctuary which now features conservation rather than exploitation.    

The sanctuary’s boundaries also include “Shipwreck Beach” on the north shore of Lana`i Island. During the 19th and early 20th centuries the U.S. Navy and inter island navigation companies used Shipwreck Beach as an area for the intentional abandonment of vessels, a “rotten row” of old ships.  Many vessels were also lost on the coast's treacherous reefs by accident.  Several of these now historic sites have been surveyed, such as the Pearl Harbor survivor YO-21, the schooner Mary Alice, and the Hawaiian steamship SS Hornet, but many other wrecks along the eight mile stretch have yet to be identified.  Shipwreck beach is also a location of a Hawaiian battleground.  Seeking to strike against the political satellite of Maui, Kalaniopu`u, a war chief from the Island of Hawai`i, landed his warriors along the north shore and raided Lana`i in 1778.    

Unprecedented naval activity took place among the Hawaiian Islands during World War II, in the skies as well as on and under the sea.  Hundreds of navy fighter aircraft and pilots took part in intensive training activities in preparation for combat operations in the Pacific.  There are over 1500 naval aircraft sunk in the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands, and of these some 39 are known to have been lost in sanctuary waters.  Some of these submerged aircraft crash sites are war graves.  These protected resources, property of the federal government, bear witness to our nation's commitment and sacrifice during the war, a period which changed the shape of the entire Pacific region.  

Shipwreck and aircraft sites within the sanctuary also function as sport diving destinations, wreck sites enjoyed by local and visiting divers.  The steamship SS Maui lost on the Island of Hawai`i, the F4U-1 Corsair in O`ahu's Maunalua Bay, the PB4Y-1 Liberator near Maui, numerous U.S. Navy landing craft lost during training operations on beaches throughout the main Hawaiian Islands, and now the Carthaginian II, the replica whaling supply brig which once welcomed Lahaina visitors to tour on board, now entice divers to share in a bit of the maritime past.  The sport diving industry plays an important role in sharing Hawai`i's connection to the sea. You can read more about Maui's World War II Legacy.

Heritage resources within the sanctuary reflect the broad historic phases of past maritime activity: Native Hawaiian aquaculture and fishing, Pacific whaling, inter island sail and steam navigation, and naval activity among the islands.  Many of the maritime heritage resources within the sanctuary fall within State waters.   The State agency for preservation management of these heritage resources is the State Historic Preservation Office under the Department of Land and Natural Resources.


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Revised February 14, 2017 by HIHWNMS Webmaster
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