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Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Busy Time at Kānemilohaʻi

Shew, the past couple weeks have been busy!!!

CORAL:  FWS Volunteer Lindsey Kramer prodded us all out in the water at the crack of dawn, boating over to Shark Island (a couple miles from Tern Island) for early morning snorkels.  She wanted to be the first person to witness cauliflower coral spawning in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.  And guess what?  It took a snorkeling a couple mornings in the frigid waters of April, and then a couple mornings in the warmer waters of May -- but she did it!!!  We were able to be the very first witnesses of cauliflower coral spawning on May 18th, with more spawning occurring on May 19th.  Way to go, Lindsey!!!

Photos by Paula L. Hartzell
SEALS:  We've had some gains and losses in the ʻilio o ke kai world...  Some new pups, and some pups are gone. One nice event occurred when one of the seal crew, Ben Cook, was camping out on Gin Island last week.  (The seal crew guys take turns staying out on the islands to watch out for the pups.)  A first time seal mom give birth – and then as the mom and pup failed to bond.  The pup wandered off looking for the mom, who was fairly unresponsive.  The pup then got caught and battered in the surf.  Ben was able to rescue the pop, and reunite the pair for the first nursing, which is the critical bonding period for these seals.  The new mom accepted the pup, and it looks like they’re doing well. The pup likely would have died without intervention, so we’re really glad Ben was out there.  

A new first-time mom (above) had problems bonding with her pup.  The pup got 'lost', when NMFS staff Ben Cook intervened, reuniting the pair.  The new mom accepted the pup, and it looks like they're doing well (below).  The pup would likely have died without the intervention, so we're really glad Ben was out there.   

Pups at Kānemilohaʻi face enormous challenges to make it through the first two years.  Insufficient forage for the moms mean less milk and shorter time to weaning for the pups.  The seal pups here are smaller as a consequence, even at birth: the biggest seal pup born here weighs less than the smallest pup born in the Main Hawaiian Islands -- Can you even imagine?!  They're also subject to high rates of shark predation over the past decade or so -- It may be that the sharks are also facing changes in forage, or perhaps they are attracted by the growing turtle population.  For whatever reason, we've already lost 4 of 10 pups so far, and its only the first month of the birthing season.  The seal team literally has to fight for the species one pup at a time!

OUTREACH:  We have to send out a special thanks to our new Education and Outreach Coordinator, Barbara Mayer, who has been working on curriculum for teachers to use this Fall.  An established curriculum and lesson plans will help teachers -- who are already overworked -- have an easier time working information on the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and Kānemilohaʻi into their classrooms.  That should be great fun for the kids!  Barbara is also working with ʻIolani School for a Marine Debris class this summer -- so those of us on Tern are also busy collecting some marine debris, empty bird eggs, and the like to send back for the class.   She's also the one responsible for making the blog more organized and functional.  Mahalo nui e Barb!
This turtle had a ring of plastic -- waste from a boat -- caught around its neck.  The seal crew were able to catch the turtle, remove the ring, and release the turtle unharmed.  We saved the ring, which will be sent back to Honolulu on the next ship, for use in education and outreach.  Photo by Mark Sullivan.
TURTLES:  We counted 412 basking turtles on East Island this week!!!   This is fantastic -- and pretty amazing, considering the whole island is about 200 meters (650 feet) long!  

Honu on East Island.  We counted a remarkable 412 basking turtles at one time on East Island on Thursday this week.  Photo by Paula L. Hartzell.
Over 90% of the honu reproductive effort occurring at French Frigate Shoals.  The health of any species is dependent by many factors, and good management requires multi-faceted action.  The honu have benefited from very effective management in reducing fisheries-related mortality, some great luck (for the turtles anyway) in the increase in invasive algae species in Hawaiʻi, strong public support and wide emergency response in the Main Hawaiian Islands, along with the benefit of a totally protected nesting ground in the Monument – this threatened species’ population has been steadily increasing since 1973.  

We completed our first estimate of the ʻewaʻewa (sooty terns) on Tern Island.  There are about 133,000 adults and 32,500 eggs on island now -- That is one big bunch of ankle biters.

ʻEwaʻewa (sooty tern).   Now multiply this by 133,000 on an island a half mile long by a quarter mile wide.  Now imagine each and every one pecking your head and ankles.  :-)  Photo by Paula L. Hartzell.

How much effort do we spend monitoring birds on Tern Island?  We closely monitor about 1,500 individual nests each week!  That's in addition to all of the island-wide surveys, banding, entrapment walks, and special projects.

The last Tristram’s storm petrel fledged from artificial nest boxes this week!  FWS Volunteer Sarah Youngren has documented a strong relationship in patterns in weight gain and loss immediately prior to fledging, allowing us to accurately identify when a chick is ready to fledge.  We have made enormous strides in development of consistent, replicable, quantitative method for monitoring TRSP; we have vastly reduced the number of human-crushed burrows; and look forward to development of adult population monitoring next year, thanks to Sarah’s hard work over then last two years – and on into next year.  Good work, Sarah!

BUILDING NEWS:  FWS Volunteer has constructed a new shade-house on the back-porch, and is adding a roof to our front porch.  The shade-house will be used to grow native plants, which is sorely needed to give a boost to the shrubs on Tern Island.  Birds need the shrubs for nesting habitat, shade, and to consolidate soil around burrows.  Thanks, Curt, for getting all this built!

While the bosses were away on the outer islands, the crew found a large rope mass floating in the water near the southeast end of Tern.  It took everyone working together to get it out.  (Apparently they all missed the memo that youʻre supposed to slack when the bosses are gone.)  From left to right:  Brendan Hurley (NMFS), James Macaulay (FWS), Kristina Dickson (FWS), Shawn Sullivan (NMFS), and Ben Cook (NMFS).  Photo by Sarah Youngren (FWS).
ʻĀ (red-footed booby) chick and its parent squash in for room on the nest.  Photo by Sarah Youngren.

Photo by Paula L. Hartzell.
Laughing kaʻupu.  (Black-footed albatross.)  The chicks have their  adult feathers on their bodies now, and getting some pretty funny hairstyles up top.  
Brown booby contemplates a fine day off of East Island.  Photo by Mark Sullivan.
Lindsey Kramer (top) and Mark Sullivan (bottom) waiting for coral to spawn.  
Sometimes you just have to step on your family..... An adult masked booby protects its chick.  Some might say masked boobies are a little overprotective -- A snowsuit in the tropics?!  Photo by Paula L. Hartzell.
THANKS to all of our readers, to the staff in Honolulu, and to our family and friends who support us.  We are very proud to be able to watch and protect these special resources, that belong to each and every one of us.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Tiger Sharks, Seaturtles, and Birds

Aloha kakahiaka kākou!

This has been an exciting week at Tern Island!  (And please forgive all the formatting errors in this post -- Its giving me fits, but takes hours to upload.)

We witnessed four tiger sharks eating a sea turtle in the lagoon behind the barracks one morning this week.  We do not know if the turtle was alive or dead when it was attacked, but the sharks showed no interest at all in healthy turtles swimming by, nor in albatross sitting on the water nearby -- even "Bob," a turtle with no front fins at all was fine nearby -- so we're guessing the turtle was probably dead to start off with.   Although it may seem cruel on the sharks' part, they have to eat too.... That's their job.

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Still, it was pretty exciting to see some big sharks so excited in the water nearby.  It was a bit of a relief to me see that the sharks really weren't interested in the live, healthy stuff -- and to know that they really must not be all that interested in us, or we would definitely be seeing more of them if they were.

Tiger sharks trying to break open a sea turtle carapace.  The turtle was probably dead when they found it (although we don't know for sure), as the sharks were completely uninterested in the live turtles swimming around -- One turtle swam by within 20m of the sharks milling around, fully within sight and smell, and the sharks were not the least bit interested.  They were definitely interested in the dead one, though!!!

The crew watched four tiger sharks (and a curious white-tipped reef shark) from the roof of the barracks.  We could have gotten better photos in the water, but strangely, no one offered to go diving that morning....  (The dark spot in the lower left is a turtle swimming by.  The four dark spots in the middle are the tiger sharks.)
Team Tern watches from the roof.  Its really nice to have compatriots to share these experiences with.  (And you can see all the hard work that Curt has gone to fixing our roof!!!)

Lindsey Kramer and Sarah Youngren team up to band a Black-footed Albatross chick.  A light cloth over the chick's eyes keeps it calmer.  The hearing protection is necessary because of the ʻewaʻewa (sooty terns).

Bird with an attitude.  ʻewaʻewa (sooty tern) are currently at about 2.5 birds per square meter on Tern -- very roughly about 115,000 ʻewaʻewa on island -- hence why hearing protection is needed.  Photo by Paula L. Hartzell.

 More on a turtle rescue....when the internet allows!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Seals and Birds

ʻIlio o ke kai (Hawaiian monk seal).  Photo taken by FWS Volunteer Kristina Dickson while snorkeling.

NMFS seal staff Shawn Farry pushes the boat off from a small outer island in the atoll.  Photo by Kristina Dickson.
FWS Volunteers band their 100th albatross chick today -- KZ00 (ʻCuzcoʻ)!  From left to right:  Kristina Dickson, Sarah Youngren, Lindsey Kramer, James Macaulay, and Dan Rapp.  Photo by Curt Youngren.

FWS volunteers gather about 750 lbs of marine debris from East Island.  Clockwise from left:  Dan Rapp, Paula Hartzell, Jimmy Macaulay, Kristina Dickson and Lindsey Kramer.  Photo by Sarah Youngren.

Kristina Dickson dives through the La Perouse cave.  Photo by Mark Sullivan.
Runway chick:  One of several chicks who have made their home in the runway.  We don't have flights in the summer because of so many sooty terns, or we'd have to move these guys out of the way.
cloud of sooty terns
Exercising around the sooty terns can be a bit of a Curt Youngren demonstrates.

James Macaulay and Kristina Dickson band a red-tailed tropicbird.
Dan really DOES have birds on his brain.  Sarah shaves a bird in Dan Rapp's hair.  (Ah, social life on a remote island...)
NMFS staff Mark Sullivan prepares for tagging a seal -- Those are seal tags on the rim of his hat, while he prepares antiseptic and gloves.  Photo by Kristina Dickson.
Let's play the stick game!  This young ʻiwa would buzz me ceaselessly until I offered him my camera as sacrifice.  Photo by Paula Hartzell.
A love tern brings some edible affection for its chick.  Photo by Mark Sullivan.
Quiet time on Tern... Dan Rapp enjoys some moments of solitude during the daily entrapment walk around the island.  Photo by Sarah Youngren.

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