Written By Carlos Eyles
Photography by Jim Watt
October 2, 2002
of storm clouds blitz the Rapture early this morning.
Wind and rain drive the heartier Team members who were sleeping
on the upper deck to their rooms. Where they, like the rest
of us tossed and turned through the remainder of the morning.
I slept in late, chiefly because it was the only sleep I
could get and, with apologies, missed the sunrise, only
to discover there wasn't any. That is to say I am quite
positive the sun rose, because it wasn't dark any longer,
it was gray. Uniformly gray, as in the game-face attitude
of an outside linebacker. The wind was blowing out of WSW
at a healthy clip of eighteen knots, pushing the smudged
storm front like a horde of charging defensive lineman with
third and long and nothing but foul intentions on their
mind. It was due. Overdue, but I resisted bringing it up
for fear of jinxing the good weather. So here we are, on
the last leg and seas before us; dues to be paid, sleep
to be missed, food to be spilled, bruises to be acquired.
I only hope I can stare at this laptop long enough without
Today the Documentation Team will go ashore. Getting from
the Rapture into the zode in ten foot seas is something
special. One of those "my life passed before me"
experiences. One's timing must be impeccable, never mind
loading it up with gear. Watt missed a frontal lobotomy
by less than an inch, even he was a bit shook up, something
I never thought I'd see in this lifetime. We pounded over
to the island, and I was let off to spend time with Beth
Flint, while the others went to the north side of the island
for photo ops.
and Alex Wegmann, Moani Pai, and Ethan Shiinoki who have
spent the last three days here meet Kaliko Amona and me
at the shore line. They are going inland today on this island
of 400 acres and 3.25 miles in circumference to run a quadrat,
similar to a transect line, that is fifty meters long and
three meters wide. Wherein they record the vegetation and
the number of burrow openings and contents of the burrow.
This is a major burrowing island for birds, specifically
Bonin Petrels, Wedge Tailed Shearwaters, Christmas Shearwaters,
Tristram's Storm Petrels, and Bulwer's Petrel. In actual
fact this island is in pretty good shape, despite what it
has endured over the centuries. At one time the Laysan Duck
resided here, and was last seen in 1805 when captured by
a shore party and eaten. Our old friend Max Schlemmer was
here at the turn of the last century leasing the area to
the Japanese who took out 284,000 birds in 1904 and another
100,000 five years later. Rabbits were also introduced that
finished the job on the vegetation, which the birds need
to nest and provide protection from the elements. These
days there are eighteen different species of seabirds that
nest on the island.
We are heading to the middle of the island where grows a
rather unique tree, Pisonia grandis, there is not
another for a thousand miles. The going is slow. The walk
is done in a gingerly fashion to avoid stepping on burrows
of the birds. Not unlike walking in a mine field. Each misstep
that causes a cave in has to be dug out and checked for
chicks and made proper for any bird that may be residing
there. After a dozen such incidents we arrive at virtually
the middle of the island and its lone tree. The Pisonia
grandis is generally found in a wet tropical area, and
grows upwards to a hundred feet in height, many are found
in the Marshall Islands, anywhere there is substantial rainfall.
Here the tree is no more than ten feet high and spread out,
the wind and elements keep it low to the ground. Red Footed
boobies, Black Noddies, Great Frigate Birds nest in it and
supply the much needed guano required to keep it healthy.
There could only be one way this volunteer tree came to
reside here and that was through the birds themselves. The
seeds of the tree are quite sticky and in adhering to the
birds they managed to prevail over their constant preening,
a rather remarkable journey for seeds. All part of the ever
astounding marvel of an island overcoming great obstacles
to achieve balance and harmony in this day and age.
are to meet our boat on the other side of the island and
follow Beth, stepping in her tracks to avoid caving in burrows,
still we can not avoid them all and when they break open
Beth lovingly cleans out the soil, feels for any chicks
then makes sure their home is livable once again. There
is tenderness in each reconstruction, there is joy in her
voice when she speaks of the birds, and there is this boundless
forgiveness for those who have brought terrible harm to
that which she so loves. I am in the presence of a very
unique individual, one who has devoted her life to sea birds.
Often those so dedicated live in an obscure world that renders
them out of touch with humans and their foibles. However
her humanity glows in direct eye contact, ready, warm smiles
and lively conversation. Her protégé Alex
Wegmann speaks in glowing terms, saying, "She is a
true conservationist, and displays a depth of humanity that
is rare in people. Her knowledge and integrity is an inspiration
to me to continue to do this very difficult work."
In many ways she exemplifies all in this boat, this village
of caring humans who have dedicated their lives to the nurturing
and protection of the natural world. It is an honor to be
in such company.
Reference: Isles of Refuge by Mark J. Rauzon