The amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island. Navy photo
The amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island. Navy photo

Sailors and Marines from the San Diego-based Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group evacuated 11 researchers from the remote Papahnaumokukea Marine National Monument ahead of Hurricane Iselle, the Navy said Saturday.

The USS Makin Island, USS Comstock, USS San Diego on Friday deployed rigid hull inflatable boats that traveled more than four miles and endured challenging seas but safely reached their destination northwest of Hawaii. 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 quite impressive how quickly it all happened,” said Kristine Meise, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researcher. She said the sailors and Marines “were really efficient in getting here and getting us on board. We definitely want to thank everybody that we’ve met on the ship.”

The researchers were then flown to Midway Island later in the afternoon. Although remote, Midway provides shelter for the displaced personnel and access to a runway if further evacuations are needed.

The Papahnaumokukea 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 numerous small islands and 139,797 square miles of the Pacific Ocean.

“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.”

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.