Under the sea off Maui ... WWII reminders lie

By Ilima Loomis - The Maui News

Maui's sunken history, including the wrecks of World War II-era planes and landing craft, will be explored in a presentation Thursday.

University of Hawaii students learning underwater archaeology have spent the past two weeks diving, surveying and drawing the sites off South Maui, several of which have not been closely studied before.

Their work could be used to monitor the condition of the sites, and to help local divers learn more about the wrecks and understand why they need to be preserved, said Hans VanTilburg, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration maritime archaeologist who has been leading the project.

"These are great sites, and I'm glad Maui has these kinds of historical resources," he said. "You guys are lucky."

VanTilburg will give a lecture on "History Below the Waves" at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, located at 726 S. Kihei Road. He will present the results of the students' work as well as photos of the project and sites.

Through the project, NOAA and UH staff, along with six students from the UH Marine Option Program, have dived to wrecks off South Maui that date to the 1940s. While all of the wrecks are previously known sites, "they haven't really been drawn in detail before," VanTilburg said.

The drawings and surveys of the sites will be used to establish a "baseline," documenting how the sites' condition changes over time, and how they deteriorate either due to natural causes or human looting.

"The maps they're doing are a record of the site, a snapshot," he said.

The students, including two from University of Hawaii Maui College, one from the Big Island and three from Oahu, are studying maritime archaeology field techniques. Before getting to work on the historic sites, they went to a sunken sailboat off Maalaea to practice their underwater drawing skills, VanTilburg said.

"The rest of the sites are all World War II era," he said.

They include two sunken aircraft, a Hellcat and a Helldiver, and two amphibious landing craft.

Because of Hawaii's role as a training site for the U.S. military during World War II, the islands' have a wealth of sunken ships, landing craft and planes, many of which have still not been discovered, VanTilburg said.

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