NOAA ship evacuates biologists from Papahanaumokuakea ahead of Hurricane Walaka
  • Wednesday, March 20, 2019
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NOAA ship evacuates biologists from Papahanaumokuakea ahead of Hurricane Walaka

  • COURTESY NOAA

    This file photo from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows green sea turtles basking on French Frigate Shoals in Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. A NOAA ship has evacuated seven biologists from the area as Category 4 Hurricane Walaka approaches.

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s research ship Hi‘ialakai has taken seven NOAA field biologists away from French Frigate Shoals ahead of Hurricane Walaka, which is approaching Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument today.

The field crew of three green sea turtle biologists and four monk seal biologists was not scheduled to leave French Frigate Shoals until mid-October, said Megan Nagel, spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — Pacific Region.

Instead, Nagel said in an email, they were “recovered ahead of their scheduled mid-October departure date by the NOAA ship Hi‘ialakai.”

On Monday, a U.S. Coast Guard crew flew a HC-130 Hercules from Air Station Barbers Point to Johnston Atoll and evacuated four U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biology field workers from the wildlife refuge.

Hurricane Walaka was a Category 4 storm with sustained winds of 130 mph when it passed the tiny four-island atoll Tuesday.

At 11 a.m. today, Walaka was about 220 miles southwest of French Frigate Shoals in Papahanaumokuakea, with maximum sustained winds of 140 mph while moving north-northeast at 22 mph, according to the Central Pacific Hurricane Center. A hurricane warning remains in effect for the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument from Nihoa to French Frigate Shoals.

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