By Allen Golden, Tuesday, August 17, 2005
This morning we grabbed our gear and left the NOAA Ship Hi`ialakai to spend a day on Tern Island. As we approached the island in our small motor boat, we quickly realized how thrilling the ride was. One could see large pieces of coral jutting out of the water in many different areas. In addition, the water became quite rough as spray whipped into our faces and soaked all on the boat. Fortunately, our boat captain had done this operation many times before, and we made it to the island safe and sound.
Upon our arrival at Tern Island, we quickly realized that we had wandered into an animal environment that very few of us had ever experienced. Thousands upon thousands of birds occupied each conceivable piece of land on Tern Island. And unlike in the main Hawaiian Islands, these birds reigned supreme. We carefully walked around each bird and generally kept ourselves to the runway that ran through the middle of the island. Even while we were on this "human-right-of-way" runway, some birds would squawk if we came too close to the edge of the runway. In other instances, some birds would take their fight into the air and aggressively swoop down at us or float a few feet from our faces. For those of us who were unlucky (or lucky depending on your outlook), a bird or two would give a sharp peck on the top of our heads or better yet, leave us with a wet token of appreciation on our shirts or hats. Even Representative Ed Case was not immune to these birds, as he received a direct hit on the front of his white shirt.
The types of birds that were nesting or resting on Tern Island included the Sooty Tern, Red-Footed Boobies, Brown Boobies, Masked Boobies, Brown Noddies, Black Noddies, White Terns, Great Frigate Birds, and two Laysan Albatross chicks that for one reason or another had not left the island just yet.
As we made our way down the runway through thousands of birds, we were able to take a glimpse of the surrounding beaches. Most of the sand beaches around Tern Island had pits where baby Green Sea Turtles made mad dashes to the ocean at one time or another. In other places, one could see turtle tracks where fresh batches of eggs had been laid. The personnel at Tern Island do their best to locate baby turtles and help them to the sea; however, some turtles get through the safety net and head towards the dry hot runway. Unfortunately, we came across some of these ill-fated baby turtles and for lack of better explanation, they looked like dried crisps.
As we approached the far end of the runway at Tern Island, we could see Hawaiian Monk Seals basking in the sun. The beautiful creatures were utilizing the white sand beach to its fullest. And while most of the Hawaiian Monk Seals were enjoying life, we were able to observe two Hawaiian Monk Seals that were barking at each other and within moments, were fighting with each other. Make no mistake; these Hawaiian Monk Seals are the jewels of NWHI.
By the end of the day, most of us had used up our film or digital camera memory cards. We had seen an unbelievable array of life – from the myriad of birds, to the Green Sea Turtle, to the Hawaiian Monk Seals. And as we left Tern Island one thought came to this author's mind – if Tern Island had this much life and splendor on land, can you imagine what its marine life would be like? That would have to wait until the next day.
Young Albatross tests wings