Published: October 2005


Eel Algae

Hawaii's Outer Kingdom

Wildlife as beautiful as art splashes across the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Text and Photographs by David Liittschwager and Susan Middleton

Beyond the Hawai'i of human domain, the island chain stretches another 1,200 miles (1,900 kilometers) into an older world. Here wildlife reigns: vibrant, sensuous, abundant, and vulnerable. To truly see these creatures, like a young moray eel entwined in red algae (above), we photographed them against a white background in aquariums and field studios on location, then returned them unharmed to reef or shore.

One by one, the islands of Hawai'i were born from the volcanic hot spot that still fires eruptions on the Big Island. And one by one, the relentlessly moving Pacific plate has carried the islands to the northwest. The plate travels on average less than four inches a year, so it’s taken nearly 30 million years for Kure Atoll to reach its spot as the most distant of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Along the way the forces of time and sea reshape and level the islands into volcanic remnants, atolls, and shoals—all destined to keep moving and sink and join the chain of seamounts that stretches submerged beyond Kure.

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