Without Inouye, some programs could lose support

Published On: Dec 18 2012 10:59:00 PM HST

As Hawaii mourns the death of Sen. Daniel Inouye, there is uncertainty in Congress, not just over who will take his place, but also if the projects he championed will continue to be funded.

There is a new world of discovery, just beyond Hawaii's shores.

"The ocean covers 71 percent of the planet and it's the part of the planet we really don't know what is going on," said John Wiltshire, Ph.D., the Director of the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory.

Since the 1980s, scientists have been diving to the depths with the HURL's two submersibles. Those explorations have led to some incredible underwater finds.

"We've recently been working in the Northwest Hawaiian islands, where we discovered 80 new species that had never been seen before," said Wiltshire.

New species that thrive in temperatures over 700 degrees and at bone crushing pressures.

"We've recorded some absolutely astonishing deep water coral beds at more than 6,000 feet," said HURL Program Biologist Christopher Kelley.

Underwater discoveries that keep the laboratories on-land busy with specimens and science. This research Hawaii is used to is rare elsewhere in the world.

"We are two of eight deep-diving submersibles in the world.  If we go away the kind of information we get will not be available," said Wiltshire.

While HURL finds many new underwater creatures, it has had a hard time finding permanent funding. Over the years, Senator Inouye's support kept the program afloat.

"He protected us and put us back in the budget when NOAA or other groups took us out of the budget. He also indicated he would do the same in the coming year," said Wiltshire.

Even though land-based analysis and research continues on the new found species, there are no upcoming dives scheduled. The 20 scientists and staff members wait for what will happen in the new year.

"It is a tremendously nerve wracking time for all of us," said Wiltshire.

They have dropped into the unknown, darkened abyss of the ocean, but the uncertainty over their future is what has this unique group of scientists on edge now.

In addition to research dives, HURL's two submersibles are also used for engineering work to check underwater pipes, cables and to do surveys.

Those jobs only make up about 25 percent of the program's funding and it will need additional resources to keep on exploring the depths.


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