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You are here: /main/research/NOWRAMP 2002/interviews/the real world

NOWRAMP 2002

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The Real World
Interviewers and posted by: Scott Kikiloi and Ann Bell

Turn off the MTV, and lets take a look at the "real world." Six people picked to live on an atoll, each making important contributions to protecting and managing our wildlife and ecosystems in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Welcome to Tern Island.The location - Tern Island, French Frigate Shoals is located 500 miles from Honolulu. This island is one of nine low sandy islets that make up French Frigate Shoals and is the home of the only U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service year-round remote field station in the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge.

Once a LORAN Coast Guard Station, Tern Island Field Station has a very comfortable living situation, utilizing the natural rain to supply water to showers, toilet, and laundry. Each person has their own room in the barracks, and the kitchen has all the appliances needed to cook and refrigerate food, and the living quarters have a T.V. and VCR in a combination recreational, dining and social room. It has the all the qualities of comfort and home. "I have made amazing friendships here…When you live in such close quarters with people, you create very special bonds. Everyone here becomes your family," comments, Jen Palmer, one of the National Marine Fisheries Service employees.

Jen, Shawn, Suzanne, Chris, Matt, and Cari are the real life models who are tasked with protecting this fragile ecosystem. Their workdays are long and hard, as they are busy monitoring sea bird populations, saving lost baby turtles, and protecting the critically endangered monk seals. The rewards of working outdoors with these special animals are apparent.

Meet the cast and characters that exemplify passion and commitment to 'malama' (to care for) our wildlife in Hawaii:


Suzanne CanjaSuzanne Canja
38 years old
Gained her knowledge and skills through job experience

What was your most memorable moment?

"Being able to be present soon after the birth of monk seal twins on East Island this past June. I sat in awe and fascination. We observed them off and on during our visits to the island. We occasionally intervened to help one of the twins find its mother."

Why are you studying monk seals?


"By the time I graduated from High School I had fallen in love with Dolphins. So I got a job working at Sea World and while working in the gift shop I would peer out the window to watch the Dolphins. I realized then I did not want to work with mammals in captivity, it didn't feel right. I then became a river guide for a non-profit rafting organization that brought together Russian and American teenagers in team building exercises. I then headed to Maui where my mother was living and that is where I met Hannah Bernard. Ever since then I have been working on behalf of marine mammals and hawksbill sea turtles in the wild."

Chris EgglestonChris Eggleston
27 years old
Degree in Biology

Tell me about the sea wall project?

"It's suppose to start in March or April and we are going to start replacing the walls, there are still a lot of plans in the making, a lot of construction is going to happen. We are going to have about 20 construction workers in the island for two years so everything is going to change quite a bit. The goal is to rebuild the island, because right now it is washing away."

So the sea walls are meant to stop the erosion?


"Yeah. Stop the erosion. Tern Island has turned out to be such a valuable spot. That is why they (the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) are deciding not to let it wash away,. . .there are now so many critters out here (depending upon this place for food and nesting habitat) that have lost habitat elsewhere. That is why we are going to rebuild. The ultimate goal is to get the island all fixed up, cleaned up, and then re-vegetate it, remove all the invasive species, and put back the natives."

Jen PalmerJen Palmer
28 years old
Degree in Biology

What is your most memorable moment here?

" I would have to say a combination of watching all the animals grow and change throughout the season. Whether it's the birds, the turtles, or the seals, seeing them from an egg, and then watching them fledge or hatch and watching them crawl out into the ocean. Also seeing the monk seals being born, and eventually watching them get larger and larger, until their mom leaves, and then they are on their own. Hopefully next year they will continue to grow."

Shawn FarryShawn Farry
36 years old
Masters degree in Wildlife Biology

What kind of things do you do around here?


"Our main responsibility is to evaluate the French Frigate Shoals monk seek population. Most of the population is tagged, so we retag to see who is still alive. It's basically population dynamics with the seals. We tag all the marine pups, and then try and do different projects to increase survivability of pups. This year we did a lot of work with critter cams, putting cameras on seals. (Placing cameras on seals allows one to see what seals eat and where they go to find their food. See for yourself the underwater world from a monk seal perspective. Check out the National Marine Fisheries Service Critter Cam website at www.

What is your most memorable moment here?


"It's hard to narrow it down. If you took one day and stuck it into your regular life, every day would be the most interesting day you had, but out here its blurred because you have like twenty memorable moments a day. You just move on to the next one."

Cari BlemkerCari Blemker
23 years old
Degree in Biology and minor in Environmental Studies

What do you do here?

"I work with the bird colonies, such as counting eggs and chicks, determining reproductive success, banding, and maintenance of the facility."

What's your favorite animal here?


"I like the masked boobies, because they are in my plots. You get to know them a little bit better when you go through the colonies every other day. They become good friends."

What's your most memorable moment?


"My most memorable moment was landing on Tern Island, coming from the dark blue ocean to the atoll, where the blues were just unreal. . .then landing. . .didn't know really what to expect and there were birds everywhere just engulfing the plane. It was just awesome."

Mathew ToomeyMathew Toomey
Volunteer 22 years old
Degree in Biology

What kind of stuff do you do around here?


"We do all the sea bird monitoring so we are checking for nests, eggs, and chicks. Also, we are banding the chicks and trying to keep track of the breeding populations of the birds on the island."

How long do you guys work?


"About 8 hours a day, six days a week.

When you were a kid what were you interested in?


"Well my mom is a high school biology teacher and she always pushed me in that direction, and kind of sparked my interest in biology."

What's your most memorable moment here?
"I don't know, it's hard to pick one. The overall experience is just really impressive. To be able to look our your window and see a monk seal and a sea turtle.. . . . Also seeing the green flash at sunset a few days ago made me a believer."

Talk About It!

Asked by Maureen from late of Project RAFT on Aug 31, 2003.
Could you please have Suzanne Canja contact me via email if possible. I want to say hi and see how she's doing and I have a couple of questions I need to ask her. She HAS to remember me from the Katun and the Colorado because I was the best and funniest person in the group. Thank you very much.

Maureen Donohue

Answered by Andy from NOAA on Oct 14, 2003.


Click here to ask question about the topic of this page!Ask About It!


Scott Kikiloi
Kekuewa "Scott" Kikiloi


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