Seabird Translocation Projects in the Hawaiian Islands
On February 16, 2019, a group of kaʻupu (black-footed albatross) chicks made the 1,300 mile journey from Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument to Oʻahu.

The small, fluffy chicks are part of a pioneering effort to establish new seabird colonies in the main Hawaiian Islands, but they are not the first to make this journey. Last year fifty-three Bonin petrel and twenty-five Tristam’s storm-petrel chicks arrived at their new home at the James Campbell Wildlife Refuge after a six day boat ride, traveling from Tern Island and Midway Atoll, and in 2017 a cohort of twenty-two Black-footed albatross chicks were brought from Midway Atoll to their new home inside the predator-proof fence. All this is part of a long-term partnership effort to create new albatross colonies in the main Hawaiian islands that will be safe from predators, future sea-level rise, and to help perpetuate our relationships with these culturally significant bird species.

Culturally, kaʻupu and other albatross species are kinolau (body form) of the Hawaiian deity Lono. The birds’ return to land for mating coincides with the beginning of the makahiki season, occurring between October and November, and an important aspect to some practitioners’ ceremonies and practices during that time. Currently, 90% of the world’s kaʻupu population nests and breeds on Midway Atoll, Laysan Island, and Tern Island. All three of these locations have very low elevations and are predicted to be highly susceptible to storm surges and sea-level rise in the coming century. Kaʻupu are particularly at risk because they tend to nest along the shoreline where there is no protection from coastal vegetation. Approximately 95% of the Bonin petrel and 75% Tristram’s storm-petrel in the world nest on low-lying islands in Papahānaumokuākea and currently, a significant portion of both species’ population nests within six feet of the ocean’s edge.

“Sea level rise and surge from storms and tsunamis put these nests at risk of flooding and chicks drowning,” said Lindsay Young, Pacific Rim Conservation Executive Director.

“Midway Atoll is home to one of the largest black-footed albatross populations in the world. As conservation managers, it is important we use good science to evaluate other options that might protect these seabirds into the future,” said Midway Atoll Refuge and Memorial Project Leader Bob Peyton. “Refuges like Midway Atoll and James Campbell provide the healthy habitat that black-footed albatross, and other seabirds, needs to thrive.”

Bonin petrels and Tristram’s Storm-petrels nest in underground burrows where the chicks reside until early May when they will emerge from their burrows and imprint on the nesting site. Kaʻupu chicks imprint on their birth colony at about one month of age and they will return to breed at the same colony as adults. By moving the chicks before this critical imprinting stage, these chicks will imprint on the site within the predator proof fence at James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge. They should then return as adults to breed and nest at this safe site, free of invasive mammalian predators. Until they fledge, a team of biologists will care for the chicks and hand feed them a daily slurry of fish, squid and vitamins.

“We are thrilled that the Refuge can provide a safe place and a new home for this species on Oʻahu,” said Glenn Klingler, Refuge Manager, James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge. “This translocation is another step toward creating a new colony of albatross in the main Hawaiian Islands and ensuring the albatross will be protected for future generations.”

This innovative conservation effort is an on-going partnership involving Pacific Rim Conservation, the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and the American Bird Conservancy.
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