The NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette will deploy researchers to set up camps in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands for 4 months. Field researchers from NOAA and six partner organizations will conduct research and conservation activities at French Frigate Shoals, Laysan Island, Lisianski Island, Pearl and Hermes Reef, and Kure Atoll. They will also take day trips to survey Niʻihau Island, Nihoa Island, Mokumanamana Island, and Midway Atoll.
Over the next 4 months, these field teams will measure and tag all weaned seal pups, identify all individuals, conduct beach counts of seals, remove marine debris, and conduct additional scientific and recovery efforts to protect the Hawaiian monk seal population. A team of biologists at French Frigate Shoals will also monitor sea turtle nesting activities, assess nesting and hatching success, and measure and tag basking and nesting turtles.
The science party prepares to disembark from Ford Island in Honolulu. The team consists of field camp researchers, members of partner organizations, and scientists from the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center. Such a large effort requires help from many hands and every team member is essential.
It Takes an Army
It takes an army of people and 5-gallon buckets to establish monk seal and sea turtle camps on the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. This is just a small sample of the hundreds of buckets of food, supplies, water, and medical equipment that we need for the 4-month-long summer field camps.
Jenny Crawford from NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries looks toward the ancient cinder cone island of Lehua, which is part of the extinct Niʻihau volcano. Teams survey Niʻihau and Lehua Islands for monk seals before transiting into the Papahānaumokuākea National Marine Monument.
Endangered Species Day
The Hawaiian monk seal was listed as Endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 1976 after a prolonged decline in abundance of seals. Research initiatives are vital to identifying obstacles to the survival of the species and to respond with appropriate science-based conservation measures. Yesterday, the team completed a successful survey at Niʻihau and Lehua, with assistance from the local community. They counted 52 Hawaiian monk seals, including 1 mom and pup pair and 1 weaned pup. These valuable data will be used for the conservation of this rare and endangered species.
Searching for Cenchrus
Dr. Kekuewa Kikiloi (far right) leads a team to the interior of Nihoa Island to survey for Cenchrus echinatus, an invasive grass that researchers have been trying to eradicate for decades. As with most invasive species, the grass out-competes native plants and can drastically alter the habitat, which can have lasting impacts on other organisms living there. The team was pleased to find no evidence of the plant during their survey.
The team also visited some of the many cultural sites on the island, including this ancient house site. Native Hawaiians lived and worked this land for hundreds of years. There are over 88 known ceremonial, residential, and agricultural sites on Nihoa Island. Understanding and respecting the cultural importance of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands is one of the pillars of our mission.