Day 12 – Getting to Work

January 27, 2012


It turns out every morning is an early morning on Midway Atoll. This time, we were getting up to help the volunteers survey albatross plots. These plots were set up in order to sample a small part of the population of birds here to make generalizations for the whole population; this is a typical technique in science.

We were split into four groups so as not to stress out the birds with a dozen people tramping through their space. After arriving at the plot, the volunteer explained the procedure. One person writes down the information while the other person calls out the number assigned to the nest and then prods the bird on the nest to be able to read the band on the leg of the bird as well as whether the bird is sitting on an egg or if the egg has hatched. The quality of the egg is also recorded – whether the egg is fully intact, pipping (the chick is starting to hatch) or broken.

Unfortunately, there are times when birds continue to incubate the egg even though it is broken. There are also abandoned nests, which are recorded, and help to determine the survivorship of the population of albatross on the island. Midway’s nesting population is the largest in the world.

Typically, lunch is the same old same old of delicious food and small talk. Today, however, we spent lunch at Midway House, the main house on the island currently reserved for the refuge manager, presently Sue Schulmeister.

I went into lunch expecting to have time to ask Sue questions about the island’s management system – something we had already heard a good bit about but would still be interesting to hear her perspective. However, that is not what Sue had in mind. She started off letting us eat and answering simple questions and then moved on to a list our names. Going down the list she asked each of us a question.

Some questions were less involved – what was your favorite part of the trip? – while some questions were downright tough. Mine happened to be, “What do you think is the main issue facing the refuge and how do you propose we solve it?” Not an easy endeavor. My answer involved a discussion of the management issues – currently, Fish and Wildlife Service manage the island jointly with National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the State Department of Hawaii. At the ground level on Midway, these organizations work well together. However, at higher levels there is almost no cooperation and many people making decisions for the refuge have never even been to Midway!

Discussion followed, involving how best to communicate the main points of the atoll to visitors and how to get people who have not visited the atoll to fall in love with its inhabitants. Obviously, I suggested social media; allowing people and students to friend an albatross or monk seal on Facebook and post updates of where the animal is and what they are doing would be a great way to get users to interact with the refuge, in my opinion.

The afternoon followed with the typical ironwood eradication, this time in the rain. By now we were pros. Sawing the ironwood and spraying the leftover stumps took what seemed like no time at all. Today was easier to stop – enough rain and enough falling in petrel holes (burrowing birds) and having to get down in the wet sand to dig the holes out caused us to want nothing but a hot shower and dinner.

We ended the night with the Chugach band one last time. If I have not mentioned them before, they are a group of Thai guys that work on the island and play in a band. Their set list consists of about 10 songs, including: Leaving on a Jet Plane (not sure which version…it’s unique), La Bamba, Hotel California and Country Road; if you can, try and picture a group of Thai guys with varying degrees of mastery of the English language, all singing slightly off key. It is awesome. Then, every once in awhile they throw in Thai songs. All in all, it was a perfect last night.

For pictures and another perspective on the day, go here!