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All Sponsor Team Member slots have been filled. Thanks to all!

Sponsor Team Members have been an essential and successful part of TIGHAR’s many expeditions to Nikumaroro. Funding for the Niku VI expeditions in May/June 2010 will come, in part, from a limited number of Sponsor Team Members.

What is a Sponsor Team Member?

Sponsor Team Members participate in the expedition as members of the TIGHAR archaeological team in consideration of a $50,000 contribution to help fund the project. The contribution covers all expenses Los Angeles to Los Angeles.

Is the $50,000 tax deductible?

TIGHAR is a 501(c)(3) public charity. If you are a U.S. citizen your contribution is tax deductible to the full extent of the law minus an amount equal to your pro rata share of the actual cost of the trip.

How long would I be away?

The entire Niku VI expedition will run from May 18 to June 14, 2010 but you don’t have to be away for that long. Halfway through the trip there will be an opportunity for team members to leave or join the expedition so you can participate in the first segment (May 18 to 31) or the second segment (June 1 to 14) or participate in the entire expedition. Your choice, but the sponsorship requirement is the same.

Samoa to NikumaroroWhat would it be like?

You’d fly from Los Angeles to Apia, Samoa where you would board the expedition ship Nai’a for the two and half day voyage to Nikumaroro (“Niku” for short). During the expedition you would share a cabin aboard Nai’a with another team member – perhaps another Sponsor Team Member, perhaps a regular Project Team Member. Once you’re on the team, you’re on the team. No special privileges. All team members sign liability releases, model releases (giving TIGHAR permission to use your photograph), and assignments. (There is no souvenir hunting. Anything we find is held in trust by TIGHAR for the Republic of Kiribati which owns Nikumaroro.) Nikumaroro is part of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), the world’s largest marine preserve. TIGHAR expeditions require the permission of the PIPA administrators and a Republic of Kiribati representative accompanies us to verify that we follow the protocols and precautions necessary to preserve the pristine beauty of this incredible island.

The TIGHAR approach to expeditions.

In twenty-five years of conducting aviation archaeological operations all over the world (this will be our tenth trip to Niku), we’ve developed a style that is best expressed in a few bumper-sticker style aphorisms.

  • We take the work seriously, but not ourselves.
  • Leave your ego on the dock.
  • The team functions as a family. We look out for each other.
  • We don’t take unnecessary chances. It’s not worth hurting live people to look for dead ones.
  • We’re out there to get the work done, not have an adventure. Adventure is what happens when things go wrong. There’s always plenty of adventure.

A typical day at Niku

Breakfast at 0600

We live aboard the ship and commute to work ashore. Nai’a is not a big ship but she’s a comfortable ship. Each cabin is individually air-conditioned and has a private head (toilet) and shower. We dine together in the main salon and the food is first class.

Skiff in LagoonFirst skiff ashore at 0730

Nai’a uses hard-bottomed inflatables known, coincidentally, as Naiads. Boarding and disembarking the skiffs from the ship’s aft dive platform in a choppy sea requires timing, core strength, and agility. A misstep can mean getting crushed between the skiff and the hull. The Black Tips (reef sharks) are always on hand to help should anyone fall overboard.

We land on the island via a narrow channel that was blasted through the fringing reef. Climbing in and out of the skiff and transferring bulky gear on slippery footing while standing in the surf is not for the clumsy of body or the faint of heart.

Getting to the archaeological site.

Once ashore, we carry the gear, water and food we’ll need for the day’s work along a trail through the coconut jungle to the lagoon shore where we load aboard another skiff for the twenty-minute boat ride down the lagoon to the Seven Site, the area at the remote southeast end of the atoll we believe to be the place where the castaway campsite was discovered in 1940.

Work at the Seven Site

Although a relatively pleasant open forest in 1937, the site is now overgrown with scaevola, dense tropical vegetation that must be cleared before the ground can be archaeologically searched for features and artifacts. Clearing operations are complicated by the need to avoid dragging cut brush over ground we don’t want to disturb.

CrabsCutting, carrying, and piling the scaevola is hard physical work. Once an area has been cleared, the exposed surface is a thin layer of dead leaves and other detritus on a base of “coral rubble,” roughly finger-sized chunks of loose coral. Searching for artifacts is hands and knees work, carefully removing the leaf layer and using a trowel to scrape away the coral rubble down to a predetermined level. The removed material is then put through a ¼ inch screen to reveal any objects that were missed during troweling. All of this is done in temperatures that regularly exceed 110°F. (Indiana Jones leather jackets not recommended.) The work requires constant vigilance and attention to detail in conditions that are, frankly, brutal. We take breaks as needed but if you lie still for too long the crabs come to check on you.

Late in the afternoon we secure the site, travel back up the lagoon, cross to the ocean side, board the skiff and are usually back aboard Nai’a by about 17:30. Showers, writing up field notes, uploading digital photos to a central archive, and dinner are followed by a team meeting during which we discuss the events of the day and make any needed adjustments to the plan for the next day.

How to apply to become a Sponsor Team Member

All sponsor team member slots for Niku VI have been filled. Please get in touch with Ric Gillespie for information about participation and sponsorship in other ways.

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