Marine Conservation Biology in Hawaii

Day One (Jan. 18) – Diamond Head, Albatross Conservation & Yogurtland
by -- January 18th, 2011

We spent the morning hiking Diamond Head to survey Oahu, before learning about albatross conservation with Dr. David Hyrenbach and ending the day at Yogurtland

Ken Norris, one of the most celebrated natural historians of the last century, used to start every field trip by exclaiming that he was embarking on the greatest adventure of his life.  Our trip to Midway will certainly be just such an adventure, so we started to build the excitement this morning by clambering up Diamond Head to look down on Waikiki.

The class celebrates its successful sprint to the top

The class celebrates its successful sprint to the top

Diamond Head is a volcanic caldera, formed only 300,000 years ago, testament to the young geological age of the Main Hawaiian Islands.

Paradise lost...

Paradise lost…

Standing at the summit, surrounded by throngs of tourists, we marveled at the juxtaposition of urban and natural landscapes.  We searched, mostly in vain, for any native species of bird in this beautiful but highly modified habitat.  Red-headed cardinals from Brazil.  Mynas from India.  White-eyes from Japan.  And just when I was getting on a professorial roll, waxing poetically about something or other, Meagan spotted a couple of humpback whales and our attention was diverted back to the sea.

After lunch we drove up to the Hawaii Pacific University campus in Kaneohe to spend the afternoon with Dr. David Hyrenbach, an Assistant Professor of Oceanography and expert in albatross conservation.  David is an old colleague, good friend and wonderful teacher – every time we visit with him we learn something new.  Did you know that drift nets are still used illegally on the high seas in the North Pacific?  We didn’t either.  David reviewed the primary threat to albatross populations: by-catch in longline fisheries and discussed some of the methods that can prevent the unintended capture of these magnificent birds (we’ll learn more about this topic later in the week).

Anthony and David examine a Laysan albatross

Anthony and David examine a Laysan albatross

David also highlighted the problem of plastic ingestion by foraging albatrosses – something we will return to first-hand on Midway.  He challenged us to think about ways to determine how much of a threat plastics posed to populations of albatrosses and other long-lived seabirds.  Is this a serious conservation problem or merely a sad reflection of the way with which we treat our natural world.  Or both?

Finally, David and his graduate student Shannon took us to their laboratory and dissected two wedge-tailed shearwaters, showing us how to take morphometric measurements, assess plumage and look for plastic in their digestive tracts.

And speaking of digestive tracts, no day on Oahu would be complete without a trip to Yogurtland, which we visited after dinner.

Yum. Yum. Yum.

Yum. Yum. Yum.

Tomorrow we are off to Kaena Point to examine the only albatross colony on Oahu and to search for monk seals and more whales…

8 Comments

  1. Jen Weaver
    Jan 18, 2011

    Sounds like an exciting day! Since you brought it up, I remember talking about the population level impacts of plastic ingestion during the 2009 course but can’t remember if the actual modeling had been done or if we were just broadly discussing the topic. Is there any new research on this topic/anyone currently working on the population dynamics? Wish I was there instead of in cold, rainy Beaufort.
    Jen

    • Andy Read
      Jan 19, 2011

      Jen:
      David told us that several research groups are working on the problem – but so far nothing conclusive. We’ll see if we find out anything more on Midway…

  2. Lindsey Peavey
    Jan 18, 2011

    Sounds like you’re off to a great start, and the sky is blue! Let us know if Kaena Point is as muddy as predicted, and hug a monk seal for me (j/k).

  3. Erika Z.
    Jan 18, 2011

    Sounds like an amazing opportunity. I hope all your students approach it as one of the greatest adventures of their lives! Have a safe journey!

  4. Nick
    Jan 19, 2011

    wishing you all a great time, but most of all to learn a lot.this will be such adventure for you to study and learn.take lots of notes and loads of pictures. the weather here is great, wet, cold,and snow.i so hate it here.

  5. Nick
    Jan 20, 2011

    is this study near that big trash island floating in the ocean.saw it on tv with all the tons of plastic and trash. it was horrible that all the fish and birds have to deal with it.what affects will it have on the hawaii islands?? best of luck in all you studies and work.

    • Cassandra Ornell
      Jan 26, 2011

      Hi Nick,
      Thanks for your question. The Hawaiian islands are close to trash island you referred to out in the Pacific, and it’s also known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. However, a garbage “patch” or “island” is a bit of a misnomer, because it does not look so much like a solid mat of trash, but is more like a circulating stew of mostly tiny plastic pieces. This makes the garbage patch impossible to see in satellite photos and even more challenging to clean up. When the garbage patch moves close enough to the Hawaiian archipelago, or when a storm stirs it up, a significant amount of plastic debris gets washed ashore here on Midway and on other islands. While we’ve been here, we’ve seen fishing ropes and lines, plastic fishing floats, plastic and glass bottles, even strange things such as flip flops and toys along the beaches.

      The fishing ropes and lines in particular could entangle Hawaiian monk seals, which are endangered and use Midway’s beaches for resting. Also, the albatrosses that live here forage within the garbage patch, and oftentimes accidentally eat plastic that they think is food. The adult albatrosses then regurgitate this plastic to their chicks, who could die from puncture wounds or a lack of space in their stomachs for real food. While it’s unknown whether marine debris is causing a population-level effect on monk seals and albatrosses, these are definitely threats that we need to be aware of and monitor closely.

      To see where the garbage patch is located in relation to the Hawaiian islands, I recommend you check out the picture included in my blog entry, “Marine debris and Midway.”

  6. Tom McMurray
    Jan 20, 2011

    So what ever happened to the culling project from last year? And what if anything has changed with NOAA’s approach to managing the monk seals? thx Tom

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