satellite view from PMNM
E komo mai; welcome! Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge is surrounded by a lei of foam in the middle of the North Pacific; it's a beautiful, special place.

Not only are there albatross on Midway, but many other interesting kinds of wildlife, both on the land and in the sea. Please enjoy exploring FOAM, an educational blog actively done while on Midway from May through August 2010. Posts are added from off-Midway, as information becomes available. If you're interested in a particular topic, please use the search box or the alphabetical list of "labels" along the left side of the blog page.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Dr. Mimi Olry, Monk Seal Conservation Scientist

Interesting people come to Midway Atoll.  One of them is Dr. Mimi Olry, from the island of  Kaua`i in the state of Hawai`i.

For as long as she can remember, Mimi has loved animals.  When she was less than 2 years old, she often sat on the floor next to her cocker-springer pet dog during mealtimes.  At least once Mimi enjoyed sharing a bowl of kibble with her!

As Mimi grew older she learned more and more about all kinds of animals.  For example, she learned to-–
  • trim the claws and beaks of pet birds
  • put the correct dose of medicine into an aquarium of sick fish
  • understand the body language of her horse by sitting quietly on his back in a sunny field and watching other horses in the pasture.
From these experiences, Mimi decided that she’d like to work with animals when she grew up.  She wanted to be a conservation scientist, to help endangered animals, but her teachers advised her to become a veterinarian.  Vet school was haaaard!  Mimi’s area of interest was zoo animals, so guess where she went to work when she graduated?...

…AFRICA!  The African animals she worked with were serval cats, various antelope, and elephants; she also worked with the domestic cattle, goats and camels belonging to tribes people.  Mimi ended up spending a year and a half in various countries in Africa.  But when she began missing her family, she left Africa and returned to Kaua`i.   
Mimi now works for the state of Hawai`i  as the Kaua`i Marine Mammal Response Specialist and volunteer coordinator for the Hawaiian Monk Seal project.  And so, she has become what she always wanted to be…a conservation scientist helping a very rare and endangered seal!  (That's a skull of a Monk Seal to the left of her laptop in the top picture.) 

I wonder what you'd like to be when you grow up?!  You'll find something that fits you exactly right!

Monday, June 28, 2010

360-degree View from an Atoll Island

Midway Atoll is...well, about midway between Asia and North America in the North Pacific Ocean. Imagine you're standing on an old World War II runway in the center of Miday's Eastern Island and you turn slowly around in a circle.  You'll hear the wind and LOTS of Sooty Terns, `Ewa`ewa (Terna fuscata oahuensis.)

360-degree View from Midway Atoll's Eastern Island from Barb Mayer on Vimeo.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

What's a Bolus Burrito?

UPDATE, May 10, 2011:  
In response to a comment that accompanied this post last June, I gave a source for boluses for classroom dissections.  That source is no longer active.  The Fish and Wildlife Service currently has the bolus dissemination project on hold until further notice.  We all hope that one day FWS can start up the collection and dissemination of boluses again, after the Refuge has a chance to complete tsunami recovery projects and a Visitor Services position is filled for Midway Atoll.  Iʻll certainly add to this post as information becomes available.

In the meantime, as part of a collaborative education partnership, a non-profit organization Oikonos is distributing a limited number of boluses to school groups.  The Oikonos website has a wealth of educational activities!  Contact Michelle Hester who will connect you with the albatross bolus coordinator for more details.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________ wouldn't want to eat a bolus burrito!

As albatross grow up, they begin to be able to toss up out of their stomach any objects they can't digest.  (See FOAM's "Albatross Barf" video.)  These indigestible objects are tightly packed into what's called a bolus. You've probably heard of fur balls that cats make, and maybe you've known that owls get rid of mouse fur and bones in pellets; so a bolus is like a cat fur ball or owl pellet.

photo by Mike Neal
Albatross feed on flying fish eggs and squid. Squid are mostly digestible, except for their hard mouths, called beaks, that feel like your finger nail. Flying fish eggs are completely digestible, but they're often attached to natural objects -- like floating sticks or volcanic rocks called pumice -- which are definitely not digestible. So albatross come equipped to toss up boluses to get rid of these unwanted items.

Nowadays, many boluses have plastic in addition to squid beaks, sticks and pumice. The picture on the top left shows pieces of plastic, fishing line, a bottle cap, and even a toothbrush in a loosely packed bolus! The bolus on the right is much more tightly packed.

It is educational to see what a real bolus looks like; it helps people understand why they need to be more careful how they get rid of their trash. Many teachers ask Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge for boluses for their students to dissect, or take apart. Take a look at bolus dissection activities on the Oikonos website, or a recent dissection on FOAM's post "Marine Debris: Aunty Moana's Little, Green, Square Things.

photo by Mike Neal
That's why Marty and I are making "bolus burritos."  We put a bolus on a piece of scrap paper that's being reused as a paper tortilla. Then we roll up the bolus in the paper and fold in the paper ends --> a bolus burrito!  Now we label the burrito with the date when the bolus was collected and from which island of the Atoll it came.  How many bolus burritos are in the picture, not even counting the boluses in the plastic bag by my right foot?! Lots! -- all for teachers and their students!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Monk Seal Molt

Patches of Hawaiian Monk Seal skin, showing how furry they are!
Two wildlife scientists have arrived on Midway to continue the Hawaiian Monk Seal work. Earlier this week Brenda and Mimi gave a very interesting talk, explaining a lot of different things about the seals. Wow; there was lots to learn!

I learned something about the skin of Monk Seals. They are mammals like us: we have hair growing out of our skin, and they have fur. I had forgotten about this because when you see a Monk Seal from the proper 150 feet distance, their skin looks slippery, not furry. But they really do have fur; it's short, as you can see in the picture.

Once a year, beginning when they're one year old, Hawaiian Monk Seals molt. This means that new skin replaces the old skin. Brenda & Mimi collected some of the molted skin (see picture, with my sunglasses to give size) and showed it to us during their presentation. The fur on the right was colored greenish by marine algae! I wanted to see how the molt felt, so I rubbed it gently on my cheek. It felt like a natural-bristle hair brush!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Marine Debris: Little, Green, Square Things -- ANSWER!

In an earlier post from June 20, I told you I'd make a new post if I found out what the little, green tubes are that I was finding as marine debris and in a bolus.  Well, here's the new post!

Researchers and concerned citizens in Japan and Hawai`i have emailed us explaining that the little (~1.5 cm, or ~half-inch) tubes are used as "spacers" in the Japanese oyster aquaculture industry.  The tubes are placed between empty scallops, as you can see from my sketch on the left, and then lines of the shells are hung in seawater.  Baby oysters attach to the scallop shells and grow.

Sometimes these spacers must come loose and float out to sea.  Then, once in awhile, an albatross swallows a spacer as they fish for food in the North Pacific.  Spacers are carried to Midway Atoll both when albatross throw up their boluses while standing in fields on Midway and when lone spacers float ashore on Midway's beaches.

photo by Y. Ohkura
But let's not forget that sometimes U.S.-made plastic pellets*, incorrectly called "nurdles" (pictured on the right,) often wash up on beaches in Japan.  Trash from one part of the world becomes marine debris in another part of the world.  By sharing information, we can work together to solve the marine debris problem! 

(*Plastic pellets are small, plastic spheres that are melted and used to make all sorts of plastic products.)

Laysan Duck Trans-location to Midway

Laysan Atoll; aerial photo by Andy Collins
Hundreds of years ago we Laysan Ducks probably lived on all the Hawaiian Islands. After people came, we ended up living only on Laysan Atoll, 800 miles northwest of Honolulu. Notice the lake in the middle of the island; it's super-salty!

It's not good for a duck -- or any species -- to live in only one area! A tsunami or hurricane could wipe us Ducks out; we'd go EXTINCT!! To try and save us from extinction, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service brought some of us to Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Having Laysan Ducks in two places helps us survive.

But before the trans-location could take place, in 2004 and '05 USFWS removed the alien-invasive plant Verbesina from some areas on Midway. They used a big vehicle called a backhoe to dig about a dozen large holes in these areas. Freshwater from the surrounding sandy soil slowly seeped into the holes, so we now call these freshwater-filled holes "seeps." Many people helped to plant native Bunch Grass (Kawelu in Hawaiian, Eragrostis variabilis) around the seeps. The document "Examples of Successful Habitat Restoration (pdf)" has lots of pictures showing the creation of Monument Seep on Eastern island.

After the Kawelu had grown and when everything was ready for us, the Service trans-located some of us Ducks from Laysan to Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. I, Kahiko Ladu, wasn't one of the original 2004 or '05 ducks, but my friend was. She came to Midway in 2005, and she now goes by the name "WT," since that's the bird band the biologists put on her right leg. "W" stands for the color of the band, white, and it has a black "T" on it. Barb surveyed Monument Seep today and took this picture of WT. It's a little hard to see, but WT's bill is pinkish; male ducks' bills are darker with a bluish color. (That's a Laysan Albatross chick in the background, and an albatross wing coming in on the right-side of the picture.)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

PA`A -- E Ala E!

The extraordinary group of educators and community leaders -- PA`A 2010 -- has departed.  They came to Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, this "window" of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, and have joined a growing network of people around the world who love this special place.  The participants have now left the Refuge, returning to their corners of the world to carry out the mission of educating people, young and old, to become stewards of the Monument, as well as of their own home environment.  E ala e!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Goofy Gooney "Hair Cuts"

Albatross are sometimes called Goonies, or Gooney Birds.  What a silly-sounding name!  Perhaps they have that funny name because they sometimes make a funny landing, or perhaps it's because their faces look funny.

At this time of year, when the albatross are losing their down and getting their regular feathers, they really look funny.  It looks as if they have silly hair cuts.  Which one do you think is the funniest?!  (If you like these pictures, definitely visit the FOAM post entitled "Goofy Gooney Hair Cuts -- Hana Hou!")


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Marine Debris -- Little, Green, Square Things

Auntie Moana's little, green squarish things?  Hhhhmmm; before I talk about them, have a look at these 3 pictures. They show all the debris we got from the area called BM03 (Beach Monitoring area #3) when we surveyed it this past Friday.

There are 4 Beach Monitoring sites on Midway's Sand Island -- BM02, BM03, BM05 and BM07.  Check out the "Midway Map" tab at the top of this page.  The 4 blue numbers will show you the sites.  (There's an additional Beach Monitoring site on Eastern Island.)

Each site is visited once every month, and every single piece of marine debris bigger than an inch is picked up and tallied in the official data table.  The data table is also at the top menu bar, it's the page called "Midway's Marine Debris Data Table."  After collection the total sample, as well as all the plastic pieces bigger than an inch, are weighed and recorded.  Then we take as much of the stuff as possible to the recycling center; the rest is put into the trash.  The details of the results are in the completed data table for BM03.

But remember that little, green, square thing in the bolus that Auntie Moana talked about in the last post?  We found 3 gray ones during the Friday BM03 survey!  You'll see them toward the top left in the first picture above.  Here's a close-up:

You can see they're little plastic tubes about a half-inch long and a half-inch in diameter.  I don't know what they are, or what they're used for.

But plastic lasts a long time, and if they're washing around in the ocean being swallowed by albatross, which then accidentally feed them to their young chicks...those little tubes are a problem.  The video "306 Punches" shows how much plastic can be in a chick's stomach.  Be warned: the video shows the insides of a dead Laysan Albatross!

I'm going to try and find out more about these little tubes.  If I'm successful, I'll tell you in a new post.

Marine Debris: Auntie Moana's Little, Green, Square Thing

Kden, there's been FOAM posts about marine debris from Uncle Ulua, Barb and Kahiko Ladu.  Now listen to me.  We albatross have plenny problems with marine debris.

fresh bolus from a Laysan Albatross
In fact, my own family had a near-death because of the rubbish.  My brother's granddaughter's cousin's son, Junya (Junior) Kai, almost died of dehydration because of marine debris!  His dad Kawika (my cousin's...oh neva mind) didn't know how to tell the difference between da kine food and floating plastic.  So, Kawika brought back marine debris, instead of squid and fish eggs, to feed Junya.  Well, me and his wife, Mōlī, gave him a talking to.  Now Kawika knows, and everything's OK.  You can read about the family's story in "Auntie Moana (yup: dat's me!) Saves The Day", a readers theater script that Barb wrote.

dissected Laysan Albatross bolus
Anyway, guess what?  Today my neighbor coughed up a bolus.  (A bolus is sorta like what those birds, owls, cough up -- a pellet, which has lotsa mouse dem bones.  We albatross cough up a bolus that normally has squid beaks and maybe some pumice, floating volcanic rocks, in it.)  These 2 pictures show what the bolus our neighbor coughed up looked like, both fresh when it first came up, and den after Barb opened it up, what you call "dissected" it.  Notice any marine debris?  Duh, yeah!  But the good news is that our neighbor coughed it all up; no more in his stomach!

In the 2nd picture, all the plastic da kine is on the left, and all the squid beaks and natural stuff is on the right.  Plenny junk, huh?  But look at that little, greenish, square t'ing in the upper left corner.  Anybody know what that is? ............

Friday, June 18, 2010

Midway's Night Sky -- First Quarter Moon

The Moon was so bright that I didn't need a flashlight as I bicycled home from Mark's night sky program.  

Earlier in the evening I stood behind the native beach shrub Naupaka Kahakai (Scaevola sericea) and looked toward the west and the setting sun.  I could see the bright quarter moon*.  I even saw the planet Venus!  Look at the bottom, right corner of the picture.  See the Naupaka branch sticking up?  Venus is the little, white speck slightly above and a bit to the left of the leaves. 

As the night got darker, the Moon seemed to get brighter.  Its light is actually sunlight bouncing off the Moon and shining down on us.  The Moon is like a giant reflecting mirror in the sky.  If that's so, then as I look at the Moon, and you look at the Moon...maybe our thoughts are reflected to each other.  Aloha, my friend...and good night!
[*According to my calendar, the moon is actually in its first quarter stage not tonight, but rather tomorrow night, June 19; oh well!  Also: it doesn't look like a quarter moon in my snapshot because I have a very simple camera; oh well!]

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Just Rolling Along

My friend Marty and I helped take out heavy-duty black plastic liner from an old fuel tank area.  After a chunk of the liner was cut, we rolled it up, tied it, and then put it in storage.

Not all the work in maintaining a wildlife refuge is with wildlife.  Sometimes the work means removing something that no longer belongs in a refuge.

Before Midway became the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, it was a military post.  The military needed huge tanks to store their jet fuel; you can see part of a tank in the upper left corner of this early morning picture.  The area around the tank, as well as the cement wall, were lined in a thick, black plastic; you can see some of the plastic in the picture.  The purpose of the enclosed area was to keep any accidentally spilled fuel in a contained area.

But the military is no longer here, the fuel tank is empty, and the plastic is not good for the wildlife.  Folds in the plastic trap Laysan Ducks, and the albatross chicks can't walk very well on the shiny, slippery plastic. 

So, Marty and I helped remove some of the plastic.  In the future, the whole cement wall will come down and be used as part of the seawall to protect the island, and the fuel tanks will be taken apart and shipped away.  The island is becoming a better and better refuge for wildlife!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

PA`A -- The Teachers Are Here!

There are 12 educators on Midway participating in a week-long program called PA`A = Papahānaumokuākea `Ahahui Alaka`i  They come from all over the world: from Hawai`i to England, from New York to Florida.  These teachers are busy!  They are participating in a variety of activities using traditional Hawaiian knowledge, science methodology, island conservation and wildlife conservation.  Each teacher has a plan to achieve their own care of natural and cultural resources back in their own home communities & schools.  Visit the PA`A blog to see what they're doing!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Death of a Laysan Duck

In the post right before this one I explained that last week a Laysan Duck had been seen swimming with a plastic ring around its neck in Monument Seep on Eastern Island.  I am sorry to have to tell you that the duck was found dead this morning.  The picture on the left shows the ring...but notice that the right-hand close-up shows the band is actually cut open.  Therefore, before you throw a plastic ring away in your trash, please cut it COMPLETELY in half, meaning: into 2 pieces.  We've learned from this duck's death that even a ring which has been cut open can still kill wildlife!

But let me tell you some good news: ever since some of us Laysan Ducks were moved from Laysan Atoll to Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in 2004 and again in '05, most of us have been doing very, very well.  Each sunrise brings the promise of positive changes for wildlife.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Marine Freshwater

I spotted this Laysan Duck at Monument Seep on Eastern Island last week.  It has a plastic ring going around the back of its neck and through its mouth.  The ring could make it impossible for the duck to eat.  How did the ring get onto the duck? 

The ring was probably a piece of marine debris.  Marine debris is trash put into the ocean, either accidentally or on purpose, by people.  The `ōpala can be carried to Midway either by ocean currents or in the stomach of an albatross.  If the bird is lucky, it'll cough up the marine debris in a bolus.  (More about boluses later!)  Sometimes, if the bird is not so lucky, the albatross dies, and then the marine debris that the bird swallowed while alive is left on the ground after the bird rots.

However the plastic ring got here, once it was on Midway, it probably was blown or washed by rain into one of our freshwater ponds, called seeps (more about seeps later, too!)  Perhaps the ring floated over the duck's head as the bird surfaced from an underwater swim.

You probably have noticed that when you unscrew the cap from a plastic gallon milk jug, a ring is left around the neck of the jug.  That's the kind of ring I think this Laysan Duck has around his neck.

Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge is surveying the marine debris problem (that's ANOTHER topic that we'll do a FOAM post on later!) 

But can you please help, too?  Next time you open a container with a cap like that,  please cut the ring open! That way, if the ring does get in the ocean somehow, it won't wind up around a Laysan Duck's neck in far away Midway Atoll.  Mahalo for taking care of us!

Albatross "Baby" Pictures

photo by Solar Navigator
I really enjoyed the albatross chick pictures that Auntie Moana and Edward have posted.  Soooo: I decided to find more pictures that would show albatross at younger stages -- "baby" pictures!  To begin with, here's a picture of an albatross egg.  I guess if I were really scientific, I'd have a metric ruler in this picture to show how big it is...but it was more fun to put my sunglasses in the picture.  The egg is A LOT bigger than a chicken egg, as you can see in this picture with the can of Coke!

Laysan Albatross chick photo (c) Roseanne Tackaberry
My friend Rosanne from Canada took these pictures of baby albatross in March 2009; aren't they wonderful?!  The photo on the left shows a Laysan Albatross (LAAL) chick sitting in its nest.  I think it might be waiting to be fed by either its mom or dad.  They're probably both out fishing in the North Pacific Ocean.

Black-footed Albatross chick photo (c) Roseanne Tackaberry

This picture on the right shows a Black-footed Albatross chick that is being fed.  It doesn't look very different from the LAAL chick, does it?

Isn't it funny how it looks as if both chicks have had their down frosted?!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Monk Seal Morning

Sleep late on a Sunday morning?  Not me; even on Sundays I like to wake up on the early side.  A little after sunrise I was on North Beach walking along the lagoon's edge.  I looked down; there were more crab holes than I've ever seen on any seashore.  This tells me what an undisturbed beach this is; no dogs to bite the crabs!

I looked up and...RIGHT THERE in front of me was a Hawaiian Monk Seal!  It must have come ashore while I was paying attention to the crab holes.  Oh no!  The Refuge -- or anywhere: O`ahu, Maui, Moloka`i...ANYwhere -- requires that we stay 150 feet away from these rare and endangered animals.  Hawaiian Monk Seals are VERY sensitive to disturbance.

I definitely agree with that rule, so I immediately turned around and walked quietly but steadily inland.  When I was far enough away, I slowly sat down and watched through my binoculars.The seal seemed a bit unsettled.  
He (or she) looked around, and then humped further up the slope, dug its nose into the beach and tossed sand over its back.  When it had quite a pile, he settled down. Perhaps the sand will keep bothersome flies away while he snoozes late on a Sunday morning.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Marine Debris Pickup on Midway's Turtle Beach

Petra (holding her data table) has been surveying Midway's Hawaiian Monk Seals and monitoring the births of their babies, called "pups."  Pups is a good name, especially since the seal's Hawaiian name is `Ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua, which means "dog that runs in rough water."  (scientific name -- Monachus schauinslandi)   

Because the pups sometimes like to play with objects washed up on beaches where the seals come to nurse with their mothers, Petra organized a specialized beach cleanup.  Our goal was to pick up anything that might entangle a playful Monk Seal, as well as other marine animals for that matter.  We worked on Turtle Beach, a favorite haul-out site for the seals.  (Check the "Midway Map" tab at the top of the page; Turtle Beach is along the north shore of Sand Island, to the east of the Old Seaplane Ramp.)  There certainly was a lot of marine debris! You can see Ray and Adam collecting bunches of it.  We piled it high in the vehicle, and Petra drove it away... the marine debris center, where Adam helped her sort it.    Here's a close-up of one of the bins.

It was a lot of work, but we were happy to help, since we all love the Monk Seals, and want to do our best to help them survive!  The nets in the bin will most likely be transported to Honolulu, where they will be cut into smaller pieces.  Then they will be taken to Hawaiian Electric Company's H-Power plant, where they will be burned for energy.