[Tweeters] Fwd: FWS News Release: 110, 000+ albatross chicks die at Midway due to Jan/Feb Storms and Tsunami

bucephala at comcast.net bucephala at comcast.net
Mon Mar 21 21:58:52 PDT 2011

Recent news from the Laysan Islands.....not good.

A bad nesting year at Midway, to say the least. Also, Wisdom has not been found..... [or?? see last photo in flickr sequence below]

Seabird Losses at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge Greatly Exceed Early Estimates
Wisdom, possibly the world’s oldest wild bird on record, has not been found
Other Papahânaumokuâkea atolls and islands are affected but information is limited

Tsunami images from Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Laysan Island are available at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwspacific/collections/72157626288933504/

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials are revising their estimates of wildlife losses at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, Papahânaumokuâkea Marine National Monument , resulting from the tsunami that washed over the Refuge’s three low-lying islands March 10-11, 2011, following a massive earthquake in Japan.

Surveys of the Refuge reveal that more than 110,000 Laysan and black-footed albatross chicks – about 22 percent of this year’s albatross production – were lost as a result of the tsunami and two severe winter storms preceding it in January and February. At least 2000 adults were also killed. Wisdom, the 60-year-old albatross that recently hatched a chick, was initially reported as surviving the event because her nest site was not overwashed, but biologists have not been able to confirm her survival.

“We are all anxiously awaiting her return,” said Barry Stieglitz, Project Leader for the Hawaiian and Pacific Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

Midway Atoll is comprised of three islands within an outer reef of approximately 5 miles in diameter. Sand, Eastern, and Spit Islands are 1117, 366, and 15 acres, respectively. Following the earthquake, the three islands were pounded by four successive waves, the tallest of which was approximately 4.9 feet, over midnight March 10-11, 2011. The tsunami overwashed the fringing reef and Spit Island completely, and covered approximately 60% of Eastern Island and 20% of Sand Island. (See the attached graphic titled Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge March10-11 Tsunami Overwash .)

Immediately following the tsunami, Refuge staff estimated tens of thousands of albatross chicks had been lost, along with about 1000 adults. After initially concentrating on freeing approximately 300 entrapped or waterlogged birds with assistance from a small group of visitors there participating in a natural history tour, and waiting for danger from the tsunami to pass, biologists turned their attention to surveying the damage. “The results were both startling and disheartening,” Stieglitz said.

For example, in early January, Spit Island held 1498 Laysan and 22 black-footed albatross nests. After losses from the January 14 and February 11 storms and the March 10-11 tsunami, only 4 chicks remain on Spit.

“We are very fortunate not to have suffered any loss of human life or other tragedy, as have the people in Japan, and for that we are very grateful,” Stieglitz said. “But this tsunami was indeed a disaster at many levels, including for wildlife.”

Biologists are confident that, absent any other stressors, the albatross population could rebound from this event, Stieglitz said, but “we remain concerned about the compounding effect of this tsunami on the existing stresses of invasive species, global climate change, incidental mortality from longline fishing, and other threats to albatross and other wildlife populations.”

The Refuge has recently become known for its two “celebrity” albatross: Wisdom, perhaps the oldest confirmed wild bird in the world, and the single short-tailed albatross chick on Midway’s Eastern Island, which was the first of its kind confirmed to be hatched outside of Japan. Unfortunately, early reports of Wisdom’s survival have not been confirmed. The short-tailed albatross chick was washed approximately 100 feet from its nest, but was later safely returned by Refuge biologists. This chick’s parents, however, have not been seen since the tsunami. Since the chick is incapable of fending for itself, the Service will carefully consider whether hand-rearing this bird is appropriate if it is determined that it is not being fed by its parents.

Biologists also initially estimated that thousands of Bonin petrels were lost, but they have since been unable to confirm a number due to the species’ behavior of nesting underground. Their burrows are not as extensively mapped as the albatross nests. A few deaths of other adult seabirds were also reported including red-tailed tropicbirds, red-footed boobies, and great frigatebirds.

The Refuge is also important habitat for the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, the threatened Hawaiian green turtle, and a translocated population of the endangered Laysan duck. Although three green turtles have been found washed onto the interior of Eastern Island and later returned alive to the sea, no carcasses of these species have been found to date at the Refuge. Monument co-managers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will be evaluating the impacts of the tsunami on the Hawaiian monk seal and the Hawaiian green turtle.

Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge provides significant habitat for many species of native wildlife. For example, it is home to over 3 million seabirds of 21 species. Collectively the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands hold greater than 98% of the world’s population of nesting Laysan and black-footed albatross. Fortunately, only 4 species were nesting at the time of the tsunami: Bonin petrels, a species that nests in burrows, and three species of ground-nesting albatross: the endangered short-tailed albatross (1 pair), Laysan albatross (482,909 pairs), and black-footed albatross (28,581 pairs).

Also within the Papahânaumokuâkea Marine National Monument, the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge stretches north and west from the Main Hawaiian Islands and includes every island after Ni’ihau up to Midway Atoll. Information from these other islands is limited, as only two were occupied by people at the time of the tsunami: Laysan and Tern Islands. Tern Island, located within French Frigate Shoals, experienced very little impact from the tsunami and recorded no damage or wildlife impacts. However, Laysan, where the Service maintains a year-round operation, had significant wave action that overwashed many parts of the island including Service and NOAA field camps.

"We are extremely grateful for the extraordinary effort by the NOAA ship Hi'ialakai commander and crew in the evacuation of our people from Laysan Island following the tsunami," said Acting Service Papahânaumokuâkea Marine National Monument Superintendent Ray Born. Wildlife losses here cannot be estimated with the same degree of accuracy, but at a minimum many more thousands of albatross chicks were lost, he added.

The lack of information about the uninhabited islands and areas in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands point toward the need for a coordinated, comprehensive damage and impact assessment by allof the Monument’s co-managing agencies, Born said, and those discussions are taking place now. For instance, it is possible the entire translocated population of endangered Laysan finches on Pearl and Hermes Reef were roosting on the ground when the tsunami likely overwashed the low-lying islands there.

For more information on the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, please see: http://www.fws.gov/midway/

For more information on the Papahânaumokuâkea Marine National Monument , please see: http://www.papahanaumokuakea.gov/


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David Patte
Assistant Regional Director - External Affairs
US Fish and Wildlife Service,
Pacific Region, Portland, Oregon
(503) 231-2264

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