Day Twelve (Jan. 29) – Albatross plots, marine debris, and more fun at the All Hands Club
by Cassandra Ornell -- January 29th, 2011
After a busy morning despite unfortunate weather, we had the afternoon to ourselves and a great evening of music and games.
Yesterday marked our third and final morning of working with Greg Shubert on various planting and invasive species management projects. We biked out to a spot that had been previously planted with native bunchgrass, a species that the albatrosses enjoy building their nests among. Our first task was to pull up all of the invasive verbesina plants in the area. Once we had cleared out the nuisance weed, we planted a few pots of morning glory and bunchgrass that had been previously growing in the greenhouse, to aid in the process of reclaiming the area for native species.
In the afternoon, a small group went on a spinner dolphin reconnaissance mission to see if any resting pods were in the area. Upon receiving confirmation that there was a sighting not far from the island, we all hurried to the boat to return to the lucky spot. Once there, we sighted perhaps 50-60 dolphins, and several of us practiced taking dorsal fin photos. Good pictures of particularly unique fins are candidates for entering into the Pacific Islands Photo ID Network database, so that individuals and pods can be tracked over time.
We wrapped up the day with an evening discussion of tips and protocols for taking dorsal fin ID photos while viewing a slideshow of pictures taken on our spotting trip. Photos are ranked on a three-tier scale for distinctiveness and quality. A few of the student photos were considered good enough for submission to the database!
Today was chilly and rainy, but that didn’t stop us from being outside all morning! The volunteers graciously offered us their time this morning to talk about albatross monitoring. First they taught us how to band an albatross, and they let a few students practice on an albatross leg bone – it was a lot harder than it looked! Then we divided up into three groups to visit albatross reproductive plots scattered around the island. Within each plot, all of the birds are banded. The volunteers would periodically count the number of nests, mark which bird of each nesting pair was currently sitting on the nest, and, once hatching season began, whether the egg had hatched. Some of the birds had sat on their egg for over a month while their partner foraged at sea! Once the chick has hatched, they monitor the young birds until they fledge to assess overall reproductive success within the plot. These data can then be extrapolated out to the entire nesting population on the island for a sense of the number of fledglings each year. This is a quite different scenario from what we experienced with Lindsay Young out on Ka’ena Point, Oahu, where the population of nesting albatrosses is only around 150 and so every bird is banded and monitored carefully!
After this informative introduction to albatross banding and monitoring, we braved the strong headwinds and rain out to Frigate Point for our final beach clean-up. Even though we had done a clean-up at this beach only a few days prior, it didn’t take long for us to fill our bags with trash and recyclables from the beach. Items we found included fishing ropes and floats, a multitude of small plastic fragments, and even an oven door. It’s amazing what you can find washed up on the beach here!
We had the afternoon free, so most of us used the time to catch up on laundry, sleep, or our video projects, or to just explore the island some more. Some of us went down to the fire station for a tour, while others worked on our tile. Each Marine Lab class that comes to Midway is given the opportunity to decorate a ceiling tile that will then be on display at the All Hands Club, and so Marianna, Amy, and Heather painted a beautiful tile featuring some of our favorite Midway creatures, that we all signed! A picture of this will be up in the gallery soon, so check back for that!
Tonight we were fortunate enough to be given an encore performance by the talented and fun Chugach band, which played several old favorites for us to sing and dance along to down at the All Hands Club. The band was even kind enough to invite anyone who was interested up on stage to take the mike for a song or two! We also had several intense matches of foosball, shuffleboard, pool, and ping pong going on tonight. We ended the night with a song of our own writing that encapsulated our trip – but you’ll have to wait for our final blog post to hear it, after we have recorded it on video!