Day 2 – Could it get any prettier?

January 17, 2012

Today was a relaxing day. Woke up, grabbed coffee (unfortunately we tried to support local business and it took way too long and was so overpriced), and took a nice long drive to the northern shore of Oahu.

We were aiming for Ka’ena Point. A newly created predator-free reserve for albatross, other sea birds and monk seals. It literally looks like the point of the island on the northwest shore when viewed on a map. It is thought to be the jumping off point for the native Hawaiian spirits (remember this, it will pop up later…) and is a gorgeous merging of mountains and sea.

The area was originally invaded with rats, mongoose and pets such as cats and dogs. These animals caused the albatross and other nesting birds to leave the island in search of areas without predators. You might not think a tiny rat or mouse can eat an egg or albatross chick but they tend to gang up and can suffocate and take down a chick.

Biologists on the island decided to take the area back from the predators and give it to the native organisms. A predator fence, as first seen in New Zealand, was designed and built, closing in the point of the island and keeping it free of rats, mongoose, mice, cats and dogs. Visitors are still allowed inside the reserve, however pets are not.

Remember the bit about the spirits jumping off? Well this is where it gets interesting. Native Hawaiians were worried that the fence would block the spirits from the point and keep them from jumping. Area managers had to work with natives to design the fence in such a way that the spirits could still pass through; the fence now has extra entrances for this purpose. It is an interesting example of issues environmental managers often have to deal with that are not the usual sort we prepare for.

After the three-mile hike out, Ka’ena Point was lovely. Lindsay Young, a bird biologist with Fish and Wildlife, met us at the gate. Lindsay is famous for discovering the unusual female-female pairs within this nesting colony. It is thought that when the sex ratio becomes skewed (most likely towards females seeing as they are more successful at immigrating to new nesting locations) females pair up to raise an egg. Lindsay and other biologists think these birds show this behavior because they are more successful raising a chick together than on their own.

Then we saw our first albatross – we all jumped and pointed, only too soon we’d know how commonplace this event would be – nested in the distance as Great Frigate birds flew in masses overhead. Never has that many Frigate birds been seen like that! The reserve is also equipped with Black-footed albatross decoys in the hopes to draw those birds to nest. Solar panels power a sound system that plays bird calls, again, hoping to attract other birds to the point.

Walking further out to the point we momentarily ignored the crystal blue of the crashing waves and focused in on the first monk seal sighting! These guys are my absolute favorite and are the most critically endangered animal residing completely in US territory (you would think this makes things easier…it doesn’t). He (or she) was hauled further out than usual and therefore gave us a great look.

Then the water beckoned. Rocks overpowered the landscape creating tidal pools in the low tide. Naturally, we all hopped from rock to rock, looking in the pools, taking pictures of more hauled out seals and exploring the area. Fish played tag in the larger pools while a sea snake slithered his way through the nooks and crannies of the smaller ones. I could have stayed there for hours.

Unfortunately, it was time to leave. Lindsay and her colleagues had to continue on working – currently working to eradicate the few rodents that had slipped past the gate at low tide – and our stomachs were growling.

After returning to the van we hopped in towards lunch. The rest of the day consisted of shaved ice (an island tradition), a nice 6 mile run into Waikiki, and resting before eating dinner at a Pho (a type of noodle) restaurant. All in all, a great day.

For more pictures and a different perspective on the day, visit the class’ blog!