Monday, June 27, 2011

Midway in the News

As we continue our own work here, we also hear and see a lot more about a few events that have had Midway in the international news the last few months.

Photo Credit: USFWS
First, a Short-Tailed Albatross (“golden gooney”) juvenile (photo left) was tagged and fledged last week. This was the first of its endangered species confirmed to hatch and fledge outside Japan in modern history. It fledged just before we arrived and was living on Eastern Island (the other island), so we never saw it. Everyone is very glad it survived two major storms and the March tsunami though! FWS has conducted an ongoing effort to attract Short-Tailed Albatrosses for years, using decoys and a calling station on Eastern Island, and we’ve seen adults before, but having a chick was truly amazing. It will be interesting to see if its parents continue to nest here and whether it returns here to nest itself.

Photo Credit: USFWS
Second, the world’s oldest known Laysan Albatross, Wisdom, and her chick survived the storms and tsunami. She may be the oldest confirmed wild bird in the world. She was first banded at Midway in 1956 and is at least 60 years old. FWS banded her chick in May (photo right).

Photo Credit: KHON2/USFWS
Third, a Delta 747 flying from Honolulu to Japan executed an emergency landing here last week due to a cracked windshield at altitude. Unfortunately, while landing, the plane hit several seabirds and was damaged more. 359 passengers stayed on the plane for nearly 8 hours before another 747 arrived and carried them to Japan without their luggage. Midway carpenters had to build stairs tall enough to reach the plane, because we normally only deal with smaller planes. Once fixed, the plane finally departed about 18 hours before we arrived. To thank the Midway personnel who worked hard to deal with this emergency, the refuge manager, Sue Schulmeister, and deputy manager, John Klavitter, organized and contributed to a barbecue and party Saturday night, which we also enjoyed!

Fourth, over 22% of Midway’s Laysan and blackfoot albatross chicks were lost this year due to the March tsunami and two earlier severe winter storms. That’s 110,000 chicks, plus about 2,000 adults. The tsunami washed over all of Spit Island, 60% of Eastern Island, and 20% of Sand Island. We haven’t been over to Spit or Eastern Island yet, but the area at the eastern end of the runway definitely contains much less vegetation and almost no albatross compared to previous years and other areas of the island (photo right). Apparently it was a standing pond of salt water for a while. The southern edge of the runway also contains many fewer albatross than we would expect. Apparently, biologists and volunteers were finding turtles, fish, urchins, and other marine organisms all over Eastern Island after the tsunami. Fortunately, all personnel were safe on the third floor of the Charlie Hotel (where we live) and all mobile machinery was moved to the highest point on Sand Island. The main damage to infrastructure, as far as I know, is the total loss of the boat dock we’ve always used, next to the boat ramp and boathouse where we base operations (photo below).

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Beginning 2011 Field Season

We’re finally here!  After a few days of diving and errands on Oahu and a very short, luxurious flight to Midway (2.5 hrs, compared to previously 5 hours!), Anne and I are happy to see familiar faces and places at Midway. 

Many, many albatross chicks are all over the island, including in the roads, which makes riding our bikes and driving our golf cart challenging.  They also like to rest in the shade, so we have to be careful to check under our cart before driving away.  It’s just the beginning of fledging season, so we see the first birds out on the reef and on the beaches.  However, we still see the parents feeding their chicks by regurgitating (throwing up) squid, fish eggs, and often lots of plastic.

During our first two days on the water, Anne and I have checked out many of our main sites and begun working on two of our ongoing projects, temperature loggers and pearl oyster recruitment. 

We have temperature loggers recording water temperature every 15 minutes near the seafloor at 1-4 m deep scattered throughout the backreef and patch reefs of the atoll.  At the beginning and end of every field season, we collect, download, and re-deploy them, which is what Anne and I have been doing the past two days (photo at left). 

We also began examining recruitment (settling out of larvae) of pearl oysters to spat collectors (photo at right) today.  We’re reducing the number of sites we’re examining to save time, so we moved some around today to replace spat collectors that were lost during the winter.

We’ve been happy to already see lots of spinner dolphins, turtles, monk seals, reef sharks, and uluas (giant trevallies), as well as a variety of reef fishes, corals, algae, urchins, and other invertebrates.  Check out our photo page for many more photos!

Tomorrow, we’ll talk a bit more about the events that have had Midway in the international news lately: the March 2011 tsunami, short-tailed albatrosses, and an emergency 747 landing last week.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Presenting Dr. Wendy Cover!!

We’re on our way to Midway!  Actually, we should be there by 9 pm tonight Midway time (4 hours behind CA, 1 hour behind Honolulu), thanks to a new jet G-2 that gets us there in 2.5 hours!  It’s so much better than our old G-1 that took 5 hours and supposedly much quieter, but I’ll still miss the G-1 a bit – it has lots of memories and you get to know the other 10 people or so on the plane quite well after being in that tiny space with them for 5 hours!!

Our plans for the first few days include: unpacking and re-organizing everything we’ve left there and are bringing with us, checking our coral transplants, downloading and re-deploying temperature loggers, and basically checking our various projects.  We’ll try to maintain the blog with posts once or twice per week.

Until then, however, we have a few exciting announcements.

First, we’d like to present Dr. Wendy Cover!!  Wendy triumphantly gave her final Ph.D. dissertation seminar on Monday 6/6.  It was titled “Species interactions affecting corals and recruitment on a protected, high-latitude reef.”  Afterwards, many of her family and friends joined us for a barbecue, which featured a “roast” Powerpoint presentation showing embarrassing photos and stories of Wendy (Midway featured prominently, of course!), a champagne toast to Dr. Wendy by her advisor and our lead investigator Don Potts, and a yummy carrot cake decorated by Nemo and Dory (closest I could find to coral reef theme!!).  We are all very, very proud of Wendy and wish her the best in her future endeavors!  We will definitely announce when Wendy determines her next steps and/or comes to Midway!

Second, Anne and I enjoyed two warm-up dives off Oahu yesterday.  The first was to an artificial reef created by sinking a yard oiler from Pearl Harbor, YO-257.  We reached 106 feet, so it was a pretty short dive.  We loved the eels, turtles (resting on the smoke stack!), and variety of fishes we saw.  The second dive was to a reef just off Waikiki harbor.  Although we weren’t too impressed with the fishes and corals we saw, we were happy to see two white-tipped reef sharks resting under ledges, a huge variety of sea urchins, and one very, very fat monk seal!  Turtles, sharks, and monk seals aren’t particularly exciting to us because we’re spoiled by Midway, but even our dive instructor, who’d been diving in Hawaii for 11 years, had never seen a monk seal while diving before and everyone else was very excited too!

More news coming soon from Midway!

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Returning to Midway!!

Anne and I will be returning to Midway on June 20, so we're busy getting everything ready.  I'm moving out of my house, finding a student to sublet, and helping my housemates find a new house because we have to move before I return in September!  Plus, I'm writing a paper for my education class, finishing up some genetic work (more later on that!), and participating in SCWIBLES workshops 9-5 all next week (more on that too later).  I still find time to take my housemate's Australian shepherd, Hula (left), and my parents' Shetland sheepdog, Bailey, to the dog beach!

Our other big news is that Wendy Cover is becoming Dr. Wendy Cover on Monday!!  She's giving her dissertation seminar (Monday at 4:30 pm at the La Feliz Room at Long Marine Lab, if anyone wants to come by!), which is the final step towards finishing her dissertation.  She's working hard on her presentation, but also looking forward to the barbecue with her family and friends afterward and the "roast" presentation of funny photos and stories about her that we're all contributing to!  Then her graduation ceremony is on Friday, which will be very exciting for her, her family, and Don.

I feel like I should put up a photo or two on what we've been up to since last September.  A big one for me was going to French Polynesia (Tahiti and neighboring islands) with my family over Christmas.  Many of the fish and inverts are very similar to what we see at Midway, so my family was very impressed with me!  I learned a lot about pearl oysters and pearl farms because we visited about 4 pearl farms that are using black-lipped pearl oysters just like I study at Midway.  Here's a photo of me with a lot of pearl oyster shells, but I also snorkeled at a pearl farm!  Also, here are photos of my brother Kevin and I enjoying the sunshine and a fish we never see in Hawaii - anemonefish (similar to Nemo!) on an anemone! 

Funny story: The other day, I was buying GPS bags at West Marine and happened to ask if they had desiccant to put in our underwater camera cases.  The manager was extremely nice and helped me look thru all their shoeboxes to find it for free - I ended up collecting about 30!  That should last us a year or two! 

I will definitely put up some photos from Wendy's presentation and more info on our travels to Midway soon, so keep your eyes on this space!  I'll probably start doing once or twice weekly blogs once we get to Midway in a few weeks.