Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Going Home

I will be on my way home in about 2 1/2 hours. I'm all packed and ready and about 30 minutes before the flight arrives we start to scare the birds off the runway. We all hope for no bird strikes coming in or departing. The plane flights are controversial because there have been flights that killed large numbers of birds. We all hope that is not the case today. I'm off!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Four Months on Tern Island

This has been quite an odyssey! I've been thinking for several days how I could sum up these last 4 months and here is that effort. I worked very hard to get myself and the house and my responsibilities at home in order before I came, but a lot happened while I was gone that was beyond my control. Who can prepare for the death of your Mom while you're away. Another death in the extended family who had been a friend and mentor for 40 years added to that sense of loss. Then to cap it all off our home was burglarized in broad daylight and Jan had to deal with those feelings of fear and violation without me there. I wonder if any other 4 month period in my life had quite this many such events come together at one time. Then to have it all happen while I was living off the edge of the planet was difficult some days. I am lucky to be part of a family that dealt with it all and told me to stay where I was and complete my duties.

It is hard to think of Tern Island without the previous events being first in my mind but my time here has been the experience of a lifetime. So many events come to mind that it is hard to single out ones that were special, but here are a few that stand out. Living on a small island in the mid North Pacific Ocean. Sharing that Island with a handful of people and 200,000 seabirds. Traveling by small boat across the atoll with no land in view except La Perouse Pinnacle. Swimming and snorkeling at La Perouse felt like you were swimming in mid Pacific with nothing but the horizon in view. Watching many sunsets that showed the green flash as the sun dipped below the horizon. Dozens and dozens of colorful new fish to be observed. Common jobs, like at home, such as raking, shoveling, sweeping, or washing but with dozens of curious albatross chicks looking on. Banding 100 plus albatross chicks in a day. Catching and holding more than a hundred albatross chicks the next day while your partner banded. Seeing a Bristle-thighed Curlew. Watching turtle hatchlings emerge from the sand. Eating my breakfast every morning sitting on a bucket on the front porch in the midst of thousands of seabirds. Having Sooty Terns perch on my head almost every day I worked in the colonies. Monitoring, and banding, 6 different species of seabirds. Watching highly endangered Hawaiian Monk Seals out my bedroom window. Never being away from the sound of the surf or the sounds of 200,000 seabirds.

The whole experience will take months to process in my own mind. There will be lots of organizing of pictures and talking to Jan and other family members to help put it all in perspective. It has been the experience of a lifetime and one of which dreams are made.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Turtle Hatch

Last night about 9:30 p.m. 6 of us went out to watch the hatchlings emerge from a turtle nest. Tammy had marked 2 nests that were close to the barracks and were ready to emerge. One of the nests had 2 hatchlings on the surface and the other had 3 or 4 little turtle heads sticking up out of the sand. We sat for about 15 minutes and saw little movement. Tammy then gently moved one of the hatchlings an inch or 2 and the movement underground increased. Within 2-3 minutes the ground in an area about 12 inches in diameter looked like a bucket of worms. There were turtle hatchlings everywhere. They crawled over each other and continued to boil out of the sand for about 5 minutes. When a good portion of them were out of the ground there was a slight pause in the movement and it seemed like they were getting their bearings. When the movement resumed almost all of them were headed toward the water. They crawl quickly and within 10 minutes all 100 plus hatchlings had disappeared into the small surf about 25 feet away. The action at the second nest was very similar. I'm happy to still be experiencing new things after 4 months here on Tern.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Coral Spawn

For the second time in my 4 month stay there has been a coral spawn. I know very little about it but it shows on the surface of the ocean as black globules about the size of a pea. This is all floating in what looks like an oil slick. The eggs and sperm are released directly into the water in huge quantities. There is enough of this material floating that you can smell it over much of the island. It only lasts a day or 2 and then is gone.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Snorkel trip

Sunday afternoon we had a memorable snorkel trip. The seal researchers had some work they needed to accomplish on the Ginns so several of us tagged along. We worked for about an hour on Little Ginn and then snorkeled for a short time on Ginn Spit. We then left that area and motored toward Trig and Whale-Skate. Much of this area is covered with breakers and coral heads so it was slow going threading our way through small channels between the coral outcroppings. We anchored in an area about 20 feet deep with a sand bottom and numerous coral outcroppings. The snorkeling was very good. These areas are seldom, if ever, visited and the coral is pristine. There were many fish and other organisms to look at and we all had a good swim. It is late enough in my stay here I'm beginning to wonder which of these small boat trips across the atoll will be my last.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Turtle Reproductive Success

Several days this week I have worked with Tammy the turtle tech digging up turtle nests in which hatching is complete. Tammy walks the beach in the morning looking for the small depression and tracks from the hatchlings of a nest that has hatched during the night. Then in the afternoon each of these nests is carefully dug. Most of the digging is with hands and live hatchlings are sometimes found stuck under a rock or a piece of coral. The live ones are put into an ice chest for release in the evening. When the egg chamber is found all of the eggs hatched and unhatched are lifted out of the chamber. The eggs are a little larger than a ping pong ball and leathery, not hard like a chicken egg. All of the eggs that are removed are categorized into hatched or still containing an embryo. The ones with embryo are opened and the developmental stage of the egg is noted. My job has been some digging, categorizing the eggs and filling out the data sheet. Yesterday afternoon we did 6 nests and found nearly 100 live hatchlings which we released last night after dark.It is hot, stinky work but watching the hatchlings swim away from the beach last night made it all worthwhile.

Friday, August 1, 2008

A Day on Tern

The work here on Tern is slowing down but there are still interesting experiences to keep the days active. I had the entrapment walk this morning at 7 a.m. The purpose of the walk is to look for animals that get trapped in broken down parts of the old sea wall or for turtle hatchlings that get headed in the wrong direction after they emerge from their nest in the sand. This morning I found 3 turtle hatchlings in one spot and 1 more in another location. I released them all on South Beach. They were all swimming strongly when I last saw them. This afternoon I had another opportunity to go with the seal researchers to Shark Island and Trig Island. On Trig I took part in an exchange of pups. For various reasons pups end up with females that are not their birth mother and the pups survival chances go down when this happens. For the most part I observed as Shawn distracted one female while Derek and Mark kidnapped that pup. They brought it to where Monica and I were waiting in a turtle pit and we baby sat the pup. It was still wrapped in the net that was used in it's capture. Derek, Shawn and Mark then repeated the pup capture with the other pair and carried it directly to it's birth mother. To complete the switch, Shawn, Monica and I carried the pup we were baby sitting back to its own mother. After a few minutes of observation the switch seemed to be a success. After 4 months here I'm still gaining knowledge and having new experiences.