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‘Message in a Bottle’ Collects Climate Data

Area students deploy global ocean buoy for NOAA’s Adopt a Drifter Program. “… we hope to inspire the next generation of ocean stewards and scientists.”

May 3, 2012
Trisha Smith , The Maui Weekly

A magnificent rainbow painted the Maui sky early last Monday morning, April 23, just as a lucky group of bright-eyed high school students gathered to participate in an important scientific study about to set sail from Lahaina Harbor.

In commemoration of Earth Day celebrations in April, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) gave over a dozen local teenagers the opportunity to participate in its exciting ocean research program, Adopt a Drifter.

This educational excursion included schools in six U.S. locations that "co-adopted" a drifting buoy with partnering schools in other countries. Monday's deployment off the coast of Lahaina is the second of its kind in Hawai'i. The first took place last November off O'ahu.

Article Photos

Science in motion. Baldwin High School senior Cameron Aquino (left, in life jacket) and Kihei Charter School senior Jeanna Thomas (center) acted as “lead scientists” during NOAA’s Adopt a Drifter Program on Monday, April 23, when they launched a buoy into Maui’s coastal waters from a Trilogy Excursions vessel. This scientific data collector enables students to learn about the essential role the ocean plays in the Earth’s climate, weather, and our own living conditions. Follow Maui’s drifter online via
Photo: Ed Lyman, Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary

Maui's buoy was partnered with students from the International Partner Republic of Marshall Islands. It will help teachers from participating schools compile lesson plans using scientific data collected from the floating study.

NOAA's mission extends its passion of our oceans' environments by understanding and predicting changes in the Earth's environment, from the seafloor to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage coastal and marine resources. Working with representatives from the whale sanctuary on Maui and benevolent marine professionals from Trilogy Excursions, NOAA invited area students and teachers from Baldwin High School and Kihei Charter School to take part in the buoy deployment program.

"Trilogy Excursions was proud to support this effort that contributes to learning more about the ocean, both locally and globally," said Jim Coon, owner of Trilogy Excursions. "The future of our ocean is in the hands of today's youth, and it's fantastic to see students take part in sophisticated science such this buoy program."

These special "21st century message in bottle" drifters, which are a Surface Velocity Program devices that live for nearly 400 days before ceasing transmission, help collect data via satellite, providing climate and other environmental data essential to tracking hurricanes, ocean pollutants, species migration and marine debris.

"The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary is excited to be a part of this important program that involves students in real-world science aimed at better understanding the ocean," said Malia Chow, sanctuary superintendent. "With these continued efforts to get students involved, we hope to inspire the next generation of ocean stewards and scientists."

Jennifer Faught of NOAA's climate planning and programming office outside of Washington, D.C., was thrilled to help facilitate the Adopt a Drifter Program during her trip to paradise and looks forward to seeing how schools utilize the buoy's data in the classroom.

"This is hands-on education, and real-life problem-solving these kids can use in the future," said Faught. "I believe it also gives them a new respect for nature, and NOAA's happy to share the wealth of knowledge with schools via this program."

"We're extremely proud of our students," said Lisa Davis, a science facilitator at KCS. "One student from each selected class won a prize in NOAA's Adopt A Drifter contest, which gives students across the country and the world the chance to learn about our environment right in their classrooms, and with the same near real-time data that ocean and climate scientists use."

Seniors Cameron Aquino of Baldwin High and Jeanna Thomas of Kihei Charter School were the "lead scientists" for the day, representing their respective schools as they launched the drifter together off Maui's West Side waters, within the "washing machine" area of the ocean, as Coon referred to it.

Aquino earned this honor thanks to his inspirational essay on the ocean and its importance to him. "The ocean is my culture, and I feel like it's a part of me," said Aquino.

An aspiring young artist and photographer, Thomas scored her spot as a leader after her compelling essay and photo submissions wowed her teachers. "I've done several projects on climate change in school, and I'm interested in what this buoy can tell us about temperature change and how it affects sea life and more," she said, extending her gratitude for being part of the buoy program, calling it "an awesome, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Thomas captured a series of incredible moments of some hawksbill sea turtles hatchlings along Big Beach. The senior had just received her camera the night before and hustled down to capture the special honu'ea memories. "Hopefully, we can also learn more about ocean pollutants and their effect on the turtles, and better ways to keep them safe," she said.

According to NOAA, these innovative, leash-less drifters help forecast the path of approaching hurricanes, predict the movement of ocean pollutants, and track the migration of many species. Although satellite technology can collect sea surface temperatures from space, these crafty drifters are vital to ensure accurate measurements, and avoid any problems collecting data due to dust and other atmospheric elements.

During Monday's deployment adventure, Faught relayed her excitement of the Adopt a Drifter Program, and loves how students become ocean scientists as they follow the data online and track their buoy via Students and teachers are able to use the data in the classroom and extend their knowledge within this new scientific experimentation.

"It's important that we learn from the ocean and listen to it, so we can protect the future," said Aquino. "This program helps us do that."

For further information, visit NOAA's Earth Day link above, or contact NOAA's climate operations program director in charge of the global Adopt a Drifter Program at



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