I woke up to the feeling of ants crawling on my leg. Following an instinctive slap, I looked down to find nothing there. There are so many ants at Apua beach that I have started to feel “phantom” ants crawling everywhere on my body. If you take a moment to look at the ground, you will find a bustling highway of red ants on every sand and rock surface in sight. Locally called “crazy ants” because of their frantic scurrying behavior, they specialize in crawling up one’s leg while nature is calling. This leads to many an unceremonious shaking and tripping on the uneven ‘aa (volcanic rock type), but such is the nature of field work.

Of the more than 40 ant species found in Hawaii, none are native. Ants are just one of the many invasive species brought to Hawaii by humans. Without any evolved adaptations against ants, endemic flora and fauna have been devastated by their introduction, and I am reminded of that fact every time I take a leak. Luckily these crazy ants do not bite or sting, they are merely a nuisance.

 

Apua Beach

Apua Beach, known for strong winds and no shelter from the sun.

Let me take you through a typical day in the field as a member of the Hawaii Island Hawksbill Turtle Recovery Project. My alarm goes off at 6 am. The night before, I went to bed at 2 am. I am running on less than four hours of sleep, but protecting an endangered species is worth the inconvenience. After pulling on some clothes, it is time for 6 am beach check and predator trap check. Each intern takes a turn at carrying the turtle bag (a bag holding plyers, tags, beach-specific field notebook, blue pens, flags, bobbers, string, and data sheets for every possible scenario) the turtle stick (a large caliper used to measure the scutes (shell) of a sea turtle), and the predator bag (a bag containing a CO2 canister, a hose, two pairs of gloves, garbage bags, spoons, and bait). Two of us head off to do the beach check, scanning the sand for turtle tracks and nesting areas. The other two head out to check the predator traps, each beach typically has five of them. So far we have only caught invasive mongoose from India, but we can also expect to find feral cats, rats, and the occasional common myna bird. Mongoose are notorious for digging up egg chambers and devouring the eggs, as well as preying on hatchlings trying to reach the ocean, not to mention the damage they have on other native species. After we humanely euthanize the trapped mongoose, we make our way back camp where we eat a quick breakfast (except for me, because I’m weird that way) and pack up all our gear. At the latest, we are on the road by 7:30 am.

Turtles

Turtle Nesting Sign.

Today we are leaving Apua beach and trekking to Halape beach. This is a hot, humid, five-mile journey filled with ‘aa and hard, unforgiving rock. I consider myself a somewhat experienced backpacker, and enjoy the independent feeling of carrying my own food and clothing. I keep a constant stride and soak up the heavenly scenery around me. To my left is the wide expanse of the Pacific Ocean, infinite, ceaseless in its assault on the Hawaiian coast. High-energy waves break 20 feet before the black, rocky shore. The broken waves propel themselves towards the shore, tumbling and writhing in the white froth. I think in admiration of the snails, anemones, and other marine organisms that evolved to brave the ruthless environment of the intertidal zone. Occasionally I spot a golden plover scurrying along the sand, and other shorebirds unknown to me, flying just above the dark blue water in groups of two’s and three’s. To my right, steep cliffs shoot straight up into the cloudy sky, or is it a blue sky? Clouds form and dissipate hourly, occasionally cleansing the sweat off our bodies with a light and windy mist.

Halape Beach

Mountains meet the Pacific at Halape Beach.

Palm trees on Halape beach sprout up through the distant heat haze, a tantalizing reminder that we have completed only half of our journey. Piles of black volcanic rock with white, sun-bleached coral on top like a star on a Christmas tree, occur every 20 yards, marking our trail. All of our nesting beaches have been subject to significant lava flows in the past, and sections of old walls and carved stones represent old towns abandoned in the 19th century. Less than two miles from Halape, we stop for a quick day-check of Keauhou beach. Keauhou is a protected by dense vegetation, and is home to the most active tide pools I have seen in Hawaii. Upon our approach, eels slip-slap slip-slap in retreat over the black rocky tide pools with surprising speed. After exploring and finding no evidence of turtle activity, we hike the rest of the way to Halape and set up camp. The rest of our day is spent probing potential nests, cleaning the beach, clearing overgrown trails, and catching a quick nap before another night of monitoring. Starting at 5 pm and working until 2 am, we scan the beaches for mother Hawksbills. The work is fun and rewarding, and you get used to four hours of sleep every night.

Written on June 9th, 2017 , Uncategorized Tags: , , ,

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COMMENTS
  1. Dennis commented

    I really like that you introduce the notion of invasives with ants. Who would have thought over 40 tiny species, all introduced.

    Reply
    June 22, 2017 at 9:08 PM

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