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).


Anonymous said...

Kristin! I enjoyed your first 2 posts immensely; keep 'em coming! Obviously, I'm not on Midway this summer (wish I were!), but I am helping with Tern Island education & outreach to schools here on the main Hawaiian Islands. How long will you be on MANWR? Say "hi" to everybody for me. Also: I especially loved the picture of the pipe used in the 1950ʻs (?) coring-to-the-basalt. Can you show us on a map of the atoll where that site is?
aloha, Barb

Kristin said...

Hi, Barb! Glad you like the blog. Sounds like fun helping with Tern Island stuff - I didn't know they did anything like that. We'll be here til September. As I answered your comment on the photo page, that pipe is actually at Reef Hotel, which I'm sure you went to - about the northern most point in the atoll!

Aloha, Kristin