Groups cooperate, albatrosses get home

KO‘OLAU — Once an albatross finds an island home for breeding it will return each season to nest for its entire life. With the collaborative work of three government agencies and Falko Partners, the endangered species that spends 90 percent of its time in the air, has found a home.

According to wikipedia, “Of the 21 species of albatrosses recognized by the IUCN, 19 are threatened with extinction. Numbers of albatrosses have declined in the past due to harvesting for feathers, but today the albatrosses are threatened by introduced species such as rats and feral cats that attack eggs, chicks and nesting adults; by pollution; by a serious decline in fish stocks in many regions largely due to overfishing; and by long-line fishing.”

On Kaua‘i, albatrosses and Navy pilots at The Pacific Missile Range Facility compete for land and air space. The conflict between bird and man has been an on-going project for John Burger of PMRF, Jayme Patrick of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health inspection service, and Brenda Zaun of the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge.

John Burger, coordinator for the PMRF’s role in the conservation project said, “The 2004 executive order from President Bush basically said, all our government agencies better start working together to solve problems that concern the community. We needed to find a way to cooperate. This conservation program with the albatross is basically three huge government agencies — the departments of Interior, Agriculture and Navy — represented by three individual people, trying to help the birds.”

In the first year of the conservation program, the agencies would transport the birds and their chicks once a day from the South Side to Kilauea. “In 2004, when Brenda Zaun came to our rescue, and we worked together to give 27 eggs to other nesting birds on the North Shore, every chick survived except one. This is when we realized that because the albatross is location-specific but not necessarily sensitive to who’s egg they are sitting on, we bought an incubator to try and keep chicks alive before their transport to the north,” Burger said.

The following season they implemented an incubation of the eggs before transferring in hopes to save the chicks during the crucial stage.

“We transport all of the adult birds, but it was the eggs that we needed to deal with and time was a huge factor in being able to carry-out this work.” Burger explained. With the long driving time between the two locales, and the Kilauea refuge closing at 4 p.m. everyday, “I knew we had to find another piece of property that we could take the second round of eggs and birds to after Kilauea is closed for the day.”

Falko Partners, known for their stewardship of the land and community outreach, came to Burger’s mind. “I approached Shaun Smith and Larry Bowman knowing how dedicated they have been to conservation, asking if they could possibly offer a portion of their Ko‘olau land to house the birds. I got a response from them in 20 minutes,” Burger said.

This year, an albatross sanctuary where birds are mating and nesting is in full swing. The process of working to relocate a generation of albatross is a difficult one.

“We all want to solve this problem … Brenda Zaun and Jayme Patrick have worked so hard, really beyond their job descriptions, to figure this out. We have been criticized at different stages, but we are really doing the best we can, we have to protect our pilots, and we have to protect the birds.” Burger said.

When a chick is able to fly, they will travel the seas for years at a time. Yet when they grow old enough to mate, they return to the same spot they were born. Transferring generations of albatross will take many years, as they are very specifically oriented to their home.

“These birds can fly 150-200 miles without a rest,” Burger said, “they can go for miles and miles. They are amazing.”

“We are happy to assist the albatross in any way we can. We have a fenced area where they are safe from harm, as well as posted signs,” said Falko Partners’ Smith.

The signs were also a collaboration between the involved agencies, legally designating the area to be a habitat for the endangered birds. The albatross sanctuary on Falko Partner’s coastline property has created a safe haven for the birds, that are able to fly over the nearby ocean and fish for food for their young. All parties involved in the program hope that the birds will take to their new home and return for years to come.

• Keya Keita, lifestyle writer, can be reached at 245-3681 ext. 257 or kkeita@kauaipubco.com.

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