The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (Midway Atoll part 7)

NOAA, Ship, Hi'ialakai, Midway, Atoll, Island, Maine, Debris, Cruise

After two unforgettable weeks on Midway Atoll, our ship had arrived.  My excitement for the journey ahead was filled with mixed emotions.  I was anxious at the idea of spending a couple weeks at sea on a ship, as I had never even spent the night on a boat.  However, a tremendous since of achievement was also developing inside of me, seeing that I would finally get to see all the islands in the archipelago.

Midway, Atoll, Albatross, Chicks, Nests, Ground, lots, plenty, many, abundant, birds, numerous, as far as the eye can see

After we gathered our gear and packed everything on the ship, I biked around the island one last time in an attempt to fill my mind with lasting images and memories of this extraordinary place.  Despite having seen these albatrosses on a daily basis for two weeks straight, I was still flabbergasted  by their abundance in this small sanctuary.

Midway, Atoll, Island, Albatross, Chick, entangled, plastic, risk, danger

As I was heading back to the ship, I came across an unfortunate Albatross.  The chick had gathered debris (some organic, some rubbish) around itself to form a sort of nest, and had gotten a piece of plastic stuck on its beak.  Who knows, perhaps this swag accessory could have been a source of interest for other albatrosses and this could have helped it find a mate.  More than likely though, the bird would have grown up with a deformed  beak, from this piece or garbage pinching it, and the albatross would have had a very difficult life.

Midway, Atoll, Island, Albatross, Chick, entangled, plastic, risk, danger

I decided to remove it.  The young chick was quite protective of its bling, but eventually gave it up.  Even though I knew I did the right thing, I still found the experience a bit disconcerting.  We had just removed over 15,000 lbs of debris from the three islands of Midway Atoll but animals were still getting entangled.  Marine debris removal is invaluable to restoring these wilderness areas, but in the big picture it almost seems like putting a band-aid on a tumor.  If we want to see pristine ecosystems, a paradigm shift in our attitude towards discarding waste and the disposal of synthetic compounds is required. Remember the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

Laysan duck, endangered, pair, rare, bird, most endangered duck, Midway, Atoll, Island, Laysan

As I turned around, I was blessed with the opportunity to observe a couple of Laysan Ducks walking by. I had heard that they were around the island, but had not yet seen any.  These guys are critically endangered and are actually the most endangered species of duck in the world. It is estimated that 800-1000 individuals are left.  They used to occur across the  entire Hawaiian Archipelago, but their abundance and distribution were reduced to just 11 individuals on Laysan Island.  Wildlife managers thought it would be prudent to relocate some of the ducks to Midway Atoll (where they could be closely monitored).  This would hopefully protect the species from any unforeseen cataclysm that could wipe out the Laysan population (storms, tsunami, disease…).  The population is rebounding but still vulnerable.

NOAA, Ship, Hi'ialakai, Midway, Atoll, Island, Maine, Debris, Cruise

I’m not sure if it was the anxiety, but as I approached the ship to embark, a feeling of uneasiness came over me.  Did I mention that I’m super prone to seasickness…  My biggest fear, for this leg of the trip, was getting motion sickness.  I had heard of people getting their sea legs within just a few days of getting on a ship, but I had also heard stories of people being a sea for months and just being continuously sick.  Maybe I was just siking myself out, but I prayed for calm waters incessantly.

Our time on Midway came to a close, but we were finally going to explore the rest of the island chain.  A part of me felt like I had been waiting my whole life for this trip!

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