Day Twelve (1/24/08) – Chicks Gone Wild: Spring Break on Midway Atoll
by Andy Read -- January 25th, 2008
Albatross chicks are everywhere as the weather breaks and we work to remove invasive ironwood trees with our friends from the USFWS Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.
Albatross chicks are hatching all over Midway. Many black-footed and Laysan albatross parents are now proudly sitting on little gray balls of fluff. Moli, the chick whose progress we have been following over the past few days, is doing well and we have great hopes for a long and productive life for him/her.
It was windy today, but the rain stopped as the front that has been sitting over us finally lifted to the northeast; we were very happy to see the sun and some blue sky. We started our day by helping Greg and Peter from the USFWS Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge remove ironwood trees from a field near Turtle Beach. The trees were introduced to Midway to provide shelter and a wind break many decades ago, but they have spread over much of the island, crowding out native plants and reducing the available habitat for breeding albatross. The ironwood trees are also prone to toppling over in wind storms, as one did yesterday, killing several adult albatross. Duke foresters past and present would have been proud to see the class wielding saws, pruning shears and loppers to fell the ironwoods. We managed to clear the entire field before lunch and watched with considerable satisfaction as albatross parents soared over the newly open habitat on their way to or from nests.
We reconvened after lunch at Turtle Beach to talk about sea turtle conservation in Hawaii, focusing on the threatened green turtle, which has staged a remarkable recovery here. Since the harvest of turtles was banned and their nesting beaches were protected, the numbers of green turtles nesting on French Frigate Shoals, several hundred miles to the southeast of us in the Monument, have increased exponentially over the past 30 years. We watched two green turtles swimming below the sea wall as we pondered whether Hawaiian green turtles should be removed from the list of threatened and endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act. As we discussed their status, one of the turtles ate a small Portuguese man-of-war jellyfish, without any apparent discomfort (green turtles, known as honu in Hawaii, primarily eat a species of seaweed known as limu). We concluded that the history of these turtles is another conservation success and that it would indeed be appropriate to delist this population, but that other protective measures would need to be enacted to ensure that their recovery continued.
After our outdoor class concluded, we went our separate ways to explore Sand Island, go for runs, visit our favorite albatross chick, and purchase t-shirts from our friends at the Midway Atoll Fire Department. Tomorrow is our last day in this extraordinary place; the weather looks good and we are hoping to get back into the water for one last snorkel before we leave. Aloha.