Management under scrutiny

KILAUEA — The federal government is taking a look at how the island’s population of ‘a‘o (Newell’s shearwater), an endangered seabird found only in Hawaii, is being managed.

Kim Uyehara, Kilauea Point National Refuge biologist, said in 2015 the refuge had 13 ‘a‘o pairs, eight of which were confirmed breeding. The colony at the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge is a result of an aggressive egg-fostering program. That’s up from the four pairs documented in 2007.

“To establish the colony, 90 eggs were taken from at-risk ‘a‘o mountain colonies and placed under ‘ua‘u kani to be raised,” Uyehara said. “‘Ua‘u kani proved to be excellent foster parents, with 67 chicks fledging and going out to sea.”

Wedge-tailed shearwaters were also used to establish a small colony of ‘a‘o. In 1997, the first breeding pair of ‘a‘o was found on Kauai and is believed to be the offspring of chicks raised successfully by ‘ua‘u kani (wedge-tailed shearwater), Uyehara said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a Draft Environmental Assessment examining alternative management measures and analyzing possible environmental effects of those alternatives.

The DEA from the USFWS looks at three management styles of the ‘a‘o population: no action, social attraction and chick translocation combined with social attraction and the anticipated determination is Finding of No Significant Impact.

That means that none of the options are expected to cause significant, irreversible impacts to the environment.

“This project comes at a particularly important time for the ‘a‘o, which has suffered a serious and dramatic decline over the past two decades,” according to a USFWS news release.

According to the Kauai Endangered Seabirds Recovery Project, between 1980 and 1994, at-sea surveys documented about 19,000 breeding pairs of ‘a‘o, but since then the population has declined.

The small colony of ‘a‘o at the Kauai National Wildlife Refuge, however, has been growing.

The key to the colony’s growth, refuge biologists say, was the 2007 installation of a social attraction system that projects pre-recorded colony calls.

“It’s like an ad for a seabird nightclub: it tells birds that this is a great place to meet your future mate,” Uyehara said.

She said the recent installation of a New Zealand-style predator proof fence exclosure, known as the Nihoku Ecosystem Restoration Project, has helped secure a safe space for the endangered birds as well.

“In combination with ‘a‘o chick translocations from mountain colonies, we hope to see a second colony thriving on the refuge,” Uyehara said. “We hope someday the two colonies will join and become one continuous seabird nightclub, with only real seabirds calling (instead of loudspeakers).”

The full DEA is available for review and comment at www.fws.gov/kilaueapoint. Printed copies may be requested by contacting Heather Tonneson, project leader for the Kauai National Wildlife Refuge at (808) 828-1413.

Comments may also be mailed to the Kauai National Wildlife Refuge Complex, P.O. Box 1128, Kilauea, HI 96754, or emailed to FW1planningcomments@fws.gov, with “‘a‘o management DEA” in the subject line.

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