Marine Conservation Biology in Hawaii

Day 5 – Disneyland for Nicholas School CEM students
by -- January 22nd, 2012

Our first full day at Midway Atoll.

When our plane landed yesterday on Sand Island, one the three islands contained in Midway Atoll, the sun had already set.  Despite the darkness, we could see an abundance of albatross lining the roads.  With the light of the new day, however, we saw that albatross cover nearly the entire island.  The sight of such a dense population of albatross is truly awe inspiring.  Many of the birds sit still on small mounds of earth, protecting their eggs.  Others amble about, sometimes engaging in a bizarre dance with the other birds, craning their necks forward and rapidly clapping their becks together, then shooting their necks straight up toward the sky.  So enchanted by the albatross and the island itself, we must have taken hundreds of photos in addition to a multitude of videos.  Of particular amusement were the comically ungraceful attempts of the albatross to land.

Laysan Albatross on Sand Island

Laysan Albatross on Sand Island

Albatross everywhere

Albatross everywhere

Albatross stands briefly and shows off her egg

Albatross stands briefly and shows off her egg

First on our agenda for the day, Ann Bell of the National Fish and Wildlife Service provided us some background information on Midway Atoll, the Battle of Midway, and the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.  President George W. Bush established the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument on June 15, 2006 through presidential proclamation.  The Monument encompasses an area northwest of the main Hawaiian Islands and includes Midway Atoll near its northern-most extent.  Covering roughly 140,000 square miles, the Monument constitutes one of the largest fully protected marine managed areas in the world.  It is larger than all U.S. National Parks combined.

Ms. Bell also described the Midway Atoll volunteer program.  Only three National Fish and Wildlife Service members are stationed on Sand Island.  Thus, volunteers provide much needed assistance and substantially aid in the maintenance of Midway Atoll.  I am glad that as part of our trip we can give back to the people who have so graciously welcomed us here by volunteering.  For some of our volunteer work, we will assist Greg Schubert of the National Fish and Wildlife Service, who we also met today.  Mr. Schubert described to us his efforts to revegetate the island with native species.  He also showed us his garden containing solely native plants, in which he has placed the skeleton of a whale.  The beauty of the whalebones among the plants captivated us.

Greg Schubert of the National Fish and Wildlife Service showing us his greenhouse of native plants

Greg Schubert of the National Fish and Wildlife Service showing us his greenhouse of native plants

Greg Schubert shows Greg Baron and Noah Chesnin his garden of plants native to Sand Island

Greg Schubert shows Greg Baron and Noah Chesnin his garden of plants native to Sand Island

Albatross sit among whalebones in the Native Plants garden

Albatross sit among whalebones in the Native Plants garden

Fortunate to have gorgeous, sunny weather for our first full day at Midway Atoll, we went snorkeling in the afternoon.  On the ride out to the reef, we noticed a group of spinner dolphins swimming alongside the boat.  When the dolphins jumped out of the water, we squealed with delight.  The water was too choppy to get a good picture of the dolphins, but our professor, Andy, assures me that we will have other photo ops.  We also saw fish of magnificent colors as we snorkeled along the reef.  We observed a monk seal while swimming and some of us saw a green turtle.  The snorkeling excursion was without a doubt the highlight of the day.  Andy had difficulty convincing some of us to get out of the water and back onto the boat.  We returned to Sand Island giddy from our experience.

For a Coastal Environmental Management student, Midway is the equivalent of an amusement park.  I look forward to the rest of our stay here.  Many of us are so enchanted by Sand Island that we have begun plotting ways to stay past our departure date.  Current schemes include eating so much food that we exceed the weight limit of the plane and mysteriously losing our passports.

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