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Meridian Passages, Volume XIII, Number 42

Central Pacific Edition

Visit to Howland Island

Mermaid Crew Views Land from 3-Mile Limit

Recently while transiting between areas the expedition team got a glimpse of the island that Amelia and Fred never saw. Lit by a brilliant afternoon sun, a thin strip of beach bordering a scrubby patch of land appeared on the horizon. The island is featureless except for the Amelia Earhart Beacon, a “Keep Out” sign, and some mysterious mounds that even Elgen could not identify. Something to do with Easter Island? Equatorial beaver dwellings? Yet another mystery to ponder as we floated near the tiny island. We could approach no closer than 3 miles due to Fish & Wildlife rules. For a closer look, Bill launched his camera-equipped drone and flew to within 2 miles at 1,000 feet, capturing the image on this page.

As we approached the island and cruised over the rising seamount that is its foundation, an abundance of sea life emerged. Besides our regular booby companion perched on the yardarm, we saw ahead a frenzy of birds feeding on a swarm of small fish. A lucky camera shot caught one of the tuna that were pursuing the little fish from below, herding them against the surface. As the small prey tried to escape the feeding predators, they became lunch for the hungry seabirds. Clouds of birds were seen in the distance blanketing the island, a remote stopover in their migratory meanderings.

Sallie took the opportunity to fly her kite provided by the NASA Aerokat program and collect some atmospheric data. A gaggle of onlookers gathered on the roof of the bridge deck for the best views. We imagined the thoughts of the handful of colonists arriving to this tiny scrap of land, barely the size of the Washington D.C. Mall, mere inches above sea level, where they were expected to take up residence and eke out an existence.

Soon the little drone buzzed back, eyeballed the spectators, and settled onto the back deck. Sallie recovered her kite. Time to move on and get back to work, mapping the seafloor miles below. We left Howland with thoughts of Amelia and Fred, and the island they never found.

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