Albatross V106 was born at Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai three years ago and when she returned to land, her feet touched Oahu’s soil, not The Garden Island’s.
That’s because V106 is the first of 46 albatross chicks that have been moved from Kauai to a new, protected Laysan albatross colony in James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge on Oahu.
The translocation project involves several organizations including Pacific Rim Conservation, the U.S. Navy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Refuge system and Pacific Islands Coastal Program.
She’s the first of the translcoated chicks to return to land after fledging out to sea on June 30, 2015 and spending three years around the North Pacific Ocean.
“The return of V106 marks a milestone toward the long-term success of this project,” said Eric VanderWerf of Pacific Rim Conservation. “We hope this bird and others will continue to return and begin breeding at the refuge in the next several years.”
The albatross nesting site at PMRF on Kauai’s Westside is close to an active runway, posing a danger to both aviators and the birds, who have a seven-foot wingspan.
So, the U.S. Navy, USFWS, and PRC hatched a plan to move the albatross colony somewhere safer — the coastal dune ecosystem at James Campbell Refuge.
“PMRF is proud to be a partner with Pacific Rim Conservation and USFWS to reduce the bird hazard to our airfield, and at the same time help repopulate the albatross colony on Oahu,” said Capt. Vinnie Johnson, commanding officer at PMRF.
He continued: “Our Navy’s Environmental Department here at PMRF has been working closely with Pacific Rim Conservation to create the best opportunities for Laysan albatross survival, while also protecting pilots on the PMRF airfield.”
V106 was one of the first chicks who are moved from PMRF in December every year and hand-raised by biologists at James Campbell Refuge.
“Seeing the first of the hand-reared chicks return as an adult in its new home is a long awaited reward and confirmation that our project continues to reach its important milestones,” said Megan Dalton, Pacific Rim biologist.
The chicks at James Campbell Refuge spend February through July of each year before fledging, and the birds spend their first three to five years at sea before returning to land.
After their first return, some birds don’t start nesting for another two or three years.
The birds face many threats, including predators like dogs and feral cats. The relocation of the chicks into a predator-proof fence helps protect them as they grow into adulthood.
Nesting on low-lying the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands is also a challenge for the birds, according to scientists, as sea level rise has started to claim their nesting grounds.
“By thinking proactively and working together to establish more secure colonies on high islands within the historical nesting range of the Laysan albatross, we can ensure a future for these birds,” VanderWerf said.
Jessica Else, environmental reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or firstname.lastname@example.org.