By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
If you have ever wondered just how much a land mass can change, take a look at the island chains in the Pacific. These were often formed by repeated submarine volcanic eruptions that created islands as large of the Big Island of Hawaii or ones so small they are only a few acres in size and barely above sea-level. One of these smaller islands has repeatedly appeared in the field books cataloged by the Field Book Project. At only 22 acres in size, Sand Island is probably not a location known by many people. But it is a regular destination for pelagic birds, and thus has attracted years worth of ornithological field work. It later became part of the Johnston Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and since 2009 has been part of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
This little island has had a pretty eventful history over the last century. Until the mid-twentieth century it had never been consistently occupied by people. However, the location proved useful to the US Navy and US Coast Guard for several decades. During this time there were as many of 300 personnel on Sand island, and its size was increased from 10 to 22 acres.
Many small islands have been documented in field notes cataloged by the Field Book Project, specifically in the collection RU000245 Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program, but this island’s documentation proved additionally interesting because of the presence of a LORAN station established in 1959 by the US Coast Guard.
LORAN is an abbreviation for Long Range Navigation. LORAN and later LORAN-C was a ground-based navigation system operated by the U.S. Coast Guard for the use of maritime and aviation traffic. Modern GPS navigation systems rendered the LORAN system obsolete and, in 2009, the structure on Sand Island was dismantled.
RU000245 has several years of field books and field photography of Sand Island documenting the pelagic birds that come annually to breed. What is so striking is that some of the visual documentation was taken from atop the LORAN tower.
Until you see pictures of the area, it may be a challenge to imagine just how small and flat the island is. The pictures in RU000245 impart of sense of proportion and distance but also an interesting sense of perspective. Vantage point can play an important part in field work imagery. We have seen numerous examples in the field photography of how distance and detail affects the information imparted.
These photographs not only provide information about the landscape but also a personal sense of the photographer’s efforts to acquire the images. Observing the photographer’s shoes in the shot brings a sense of perspective to the imagery that reminds me of the effort and time expended to make field photography possible--the miles sailed, planes flown, or in this case, the rungs climbed.
Interested in learning more? Check out some of these links from Time and Navigation Exhibit at National Air and Space Museum.