Uncle Merv’s Travels
Local ambassador shares highlights of visit to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
By Jennifer Smith
Molokai’s own Uncle Mervin Dudoit recently shared the honor of being one of only three individuals from the state of Hawaii to share their local expertise with researchers during a trip to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI).
“I’m really glad I went,” Uncle Merv said. “It’s a once in a lifetime experience.” While only allowed to bring back memories and pictures from his travels, he said he wants to share the experience with others to help explain the importance of protecting Molokai.
Preparing for the Journey
Uncle Merv joined participants from the Cook Islands, Fiji, Samoa, Australia, Palau, and the Marshall Islands on his 12 day expedition.
In order to prepare for their visits to Nihoa, Mokumanamana, and the French Frigate Shoals, the group spent a few days on Oahu before heading out on one of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) 224 ft. ships.
A hike to the Makapu`u Lighthouse was meant to prepare them to walk on Nihoa, as well as allow them to collect salt for ho`okupu.
The group then made a visit to the Honolulu Aquarium and Hanauma Bay to learn about the fish they might encounter and receive a snorkeling lesson. A well-known diver, Uncle Merv didn’t tell the instructor he had been diving for nearly 50 years.
The participants were also treated to new clothes and gear that had been prepared by freezing them for 48 hours, to ensure no insects traveled with them to the islands.
Touring the Islands
Ready and raring to go, the travelers left at sunup arriving in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands the next morning.
Waking up in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere; Uncle Merv said he couldn’t believe how the Hawaiians found the islands with a canoe. “That place is so unreal.”
At their first stop on Nihoa, the group was careful to follow proper protocol with chants and ho`okupu. “We did everything in the right way,” Uncle Merv said. Having had rough waters for most of the trip, he said when the group did the protocols “the ocean went mellow.”
Once on Nihoa the group took a hike. “I was the oldest guy on the ship (and) I made it right to the top,” Uncle Merv said.
The group also enjoyed some snorkeling. “I saw things I’ve never seen in my life,” Uncle Merv said. “The fan corral is huge (and) the ulua come up and look at you.”
Nearing the French Frigate Shoals “it’s like the island is moving,” he said. With thousands of birds flying through the sky, the island appears as if a can of white paint has been dumped over it.
Uncle Merv came back with only one misgiving; he couldn’t taste the fish.
While “the scientists were happy they had Hawaiians on the boat,” he said they didn’t allow them to practice traditional fishing methods. When asked to tell the difference in the fish, he responded, “If we can’t eat the fish, we can’t tell the difference.” He said it is part of the Hawaiian culture to fish.
To test the fish the scientist currently take only small samples from the fish before letting them go on their way. But according to Uncle Merv this method can tell very little about the overall health of the fish.
He also expressed a concern with not seeing any moi, aholehole, mullet, or eel. “I think a lot of it has to do with fresh water,” he said explaining that the islands provide very little fresh water run off.
Sharing His Mana`o
While Uncle Merv said he does not enjoy public speaking, he did give a presentation to his fellow travelers about the fishponds on Molokai. A seasoned fisherman, he has spent the last four years volunteering his time to help caretake Ali`i fishpond for Ka Honua Momona.
After watching others present about their homes, and learning about the issues facing the NWHI, he said he came back passionate about the need to teach the younger generations.
“We need to convince them to really take care of this place,” Uncle Merv said. Looking at the clear waters in the NWHI and the abundance of fish, “I kept thinking how over here can look.”
He said the biggest challenge will be changing the mentality of over-fishing. Admitting that he didn’t always take just what he needed, he now knows that in order to ensure future generations can fish; people will need to take care of the resources still available.
“You’ve got to think of the future,” Uncle Merv said. “I think on Molokai we really can” get these resources back.