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Partnership with Hawaiʻi researchers helps expand access to critical ocean data in Palau

Andreia Queima
Researchers from the Pacific Islands Ocean Observing System at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa recently helped to deploy a Waverider buoy in the Republic of Palau.

Researchers in Hawaiʻi are helping Indigenous communities across the Pacific region gain more access to important ocean data.

The Pacific Islands Ocean Observing System at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa is partnering with the Palau National Weather Service and other organizations in the region. They deployed a Waverider buoy, the only buoy of its kind in Palau, in April.

These buoys provide real-time data and information on ocean conditions, including wave height, current direction and sea temperature. That is critical information, particularly for local fishermen, mariners and ocean users to gauge if it’s safe to go out, said Melissa Iwamoto, director of the Pacific Islands Ocean Observing System. The group is based in UH Mānoa’s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.

“There are a lot of larger weather and wave buoys around that NOAA puts out. And those are essential … and provide really important information," she said. "But a lot of times, local communities need more hyperlocal information … so having one buoy far offshore, hundreds of miles, for example, doesn’t help some of those smaller-scale needs and efforts. That's what we're trying to do with that, is fill that gap…”

As part of the partnership, Iwamoto said they provided technical assistance and support, which includes training staff in Palau to deploy, use and maintain the buoy long term. She said officials in Palau will use data from the buoy for weather forecasting. It will also be publicly available for local divers, fishermen and other ocean users to use.

Iwamoto added that they are also working on other projects to deploy smaller wave buoys to remote coastal communities in American Samoa and the Marshall Islands. Lessons learned from these efforts will help them expand the use of wave buoys in more communities in Hawaiʻi, she said.

Iwamoto called the projects they are working on “a labor of love for all of us.”

“It's been hard, but it's been really valuable, and I think something that everyone involved is super passionate about,” she said. “I think it's based on really strong partnerships … built upon decades, in some cases, that we're able to really have these open conversations and learning with each other on how to move forward.”

Jayna Omaye is the culture and arts reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Contact her at
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