In no particular order:

  1. The first turtle of the season was a new turtle to the project. We nicknamed T151 “Dory” because she false nested four times in four nights at Pohue before finally laying eggs during the day. Very un-turtlelike. Seeing this 180 lbs. mother Hawksbill in the flesh definitely ranks in my top ten.
  2. Our first hatchlings were also at Pohue. We nest-excavated in mid-July and found three hatchlings that we then assisted to the ocean. Miniature versions of the massive adults, their shells have an orange sheen to them that reflects brilliantly off of the setting sun. We always release in the evening when it is cooler. Definitely ranks in my top ten.
  3. My most recent trip at Apua had T155 come up at around 6:30 pm while it was still light out. I raced up to the coral pathway with my camera and planted myself right behind a bush of naupaka, where she would amble right into my scope. We are supposed to keep completely still when mothers come up, in order not to spook them right back to the ocean. We also cover their heads with a towel when we restrain them because it calms them down. This means that there is very little opportunity to actually observe the faces of the Hawksbill, so having her crawl up right into my camera scope during the daylight was definitely a top ten moment.
  4. Halape beach has a slightly brackish pool a few hundred yards inland. Blanketed by trees and high cliffs, this pool is home to a species of large endemic shrimp. Rinsing off all the salt and sweat in “the crack” and cooling off from the blistering Hawaiian sun was definitely one of my favorite moments of the whole summer.
  5. Walking north up the Apua coast, one finds a multitude of natural sea arches. The sea spray often creates brief rainbows, and the lack of trees offers a full 360-degree view of the Volcanoes National Park backcountry. Taking strolls up the coast was definitely a highlight of every backcountry trip.
  6. Hiking of Apua to Halape, we stop to beach check Keauhou. This beautiful beach is home to an even more beautiful coral reef. I snorkeled for the first time ever in these reefs and it took my breath away. Large spherical reefs that looked almost Dr. Seuss-like are home to hundreds of species of fish that I had never seen before. Swimming with them was magical. It offered an aerial view of schools of yellow tang, needlefish, and goatfish, to name but a few. One of my most memorable outdoor experiences ever.
  7. During one of our days off, we drove down to Hilo and visited Richardson beach. In a tiny pool that was sheltered from the waves, we swam with no less than eight Green Sea Turtles. We could have ridden them if we wanted. One was at least 250 lbs. This was one of my most memorable wildlife experiences ever.
  8. On other one of my days off, I drove two hours north with another intern to visit Waipio Valley. It was raining the entire time and we couldn’t even see the valley from the overlook because it was so foggy. We hiked down and jumped into the stormy ocean. Something about swimming in the rain is intensely satisfying, and we were offered ghostly views of barely visible lush-green mountains and tall waterfalls. This was definitely a surreal top ten experience.
  9. When a mother turtle starts to nest, it often takes her twenty minutes, and she goes into a sort of trance. At this point we can turn our lights on and talk quietly around her. We check for tags and injuries, and measure her carapace lengths and widths. Watching a deep hole fill up with over 150 ping pong ball sized eggs under a brilliantly starry sky was easily one of my favorite moments whenever we observed them nesting. 45 days later, hatchlings are breaking out of these eggs. Crazy.
  10. One of the best moments I had here was having 45 hatchlings emerge from a nest at once, and the following day excavating the nest, and finding 88 more hatchlings. We released all of them in the evening. Watching one of nature’s most secretive and exclusive moments was a special thing indeed. I have plenty of other moments, but those are my top ten!

 

Written on August 15th, 2017 , Uncategorized

The mountain is on fire

Ghosts billow in the voggy haze,

Writhing and roiling under a smoke-choked sky while

Slashing rivulets of rubies dance across the shadows,

As if hidden puppeteers wished to will the ghosts to life,

Taking form, encapsulated beneath Pele’s armor

Fantasies of savage vengeance under a bloody moon.

Barren desolation stretches from the spectre-filled abyss

Life and death locked in fundamental combat

Unknown Millennia of entrenched warfare scribbled on sulfur-caked scrolls

Shock troops erupt in dense formation at the crater’s edge

Twisting and breaking to mount the century-long charge.

Different ghosts dwell here

Piercing sunlight refracts off of still morning mist

And indistinct forms shimmer at the edge of consciousness

The call of the Coqui penetrates even the thickest night’s silence

Booming out, it rides the salt-laden wind

As of a drummer boy in blue.

Sudden rushing sounds signal the gushing of fleeing Nene

Their powerful wings beating in time to the rumbling drums.

A cacophony of silence suddenly grips the scene

Shrieking cries from mysterious throats interrupt the dark nothingness

And the bristles of hoary bats stand erect on gargoyle spines.

All at once, a sigh from Pele,

The mood shifts, pale moonshine illuminates all

Smoke continues to billow, but as if the fire has been doused,

By cool, cool water.

Written on August 6th, 2017 , Uncategorized

When I stepped off the plane into the small Hilo airport, I immediately heard high-pitched, two-note calls from what I at first thought must be some sort of bird. Having just taken an Ornithology class at Dickinson, I was eager to start identifying some of the native Hawaiian birds, and the airport seemed as good a place as any. Upon arriving at the outdoor baggage claim though, and craning my neck to look up at the rafters, I saw no evidence of birds of any kind. I would later find out the that mysterious call belonged to that of the coqui frog, a native of Puerto Rico. Introduced sometime in the 1990’s, this invasive amphibian has no natural predators, and can be detrimental impacts on native pollinators. The coqui frog is just one of many introduced species that have made Hawai’i their permanent residence, and though I hear its call almost every night, I have only ever seen a single individual.

Profile Point at Apua Beach

Many of Hawaii’s introduced species are from mainland United States, South America, and parts of Southeast Asia. I took a taxi from the airport and arrived at the hostel that I would be staying at for one night. Leaning out the window of my room, I could still hear the relentless peeping of my amphibian friends, a sound that never truly stops. Over the rooftops of Hilo, I recognized house sparrows and house finches flitting over the rooftops, common occurrences in Pennsylvania. Already, the first three animals I had observed were not native. The next morning, while driving to the National Park after being picked up by my project supervisor, I observed many large, dark-brown birds scurrying around on the shoulders of the roads and perching on the power lines. Upon further inquiry, they were identified them as Mynah birds. On the Big Island, I see Mynah birds everywhere I go. They were brought over from India in 1865 to deal with pest problems, and have since traveled across the entire Hawaiian chain of islands. They are gregarious and aggressive birds. It took me a while to get sick of them though, they are quite striking in appearance. A black head with a sharp yellow bill and a yellow ear streak gives the bird a fierce expression. Its black head morphs into a chocolate-brown body ending in long yellow legs. Its wings have a prominent white stripe that make the Mynah bird easily identifiable in flight. Their call however, is an ugly screeching noise, one of the reasons why this particular bird has fallen out of my favor. I also saw Spotted Doves and Zebra Doves, natives of Southeast Asia, and Saffron Finches, a native of South America. I saw Rock Doves and Mourning Doves as well, and was somewhat less excited.

Backpacking in Backcountry.

During the few days that I am out of the field, I attempt to go on at least one hike around the park. With 150 miles of trails, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park offers a variety of opportunities to glimpse different wildlife in different habitats. I have seen the tiny red ‘Apapane flying along the crater ledges, and White-Tailed Tropicbirds soaring on the updrafts above the Jaggar Museum. I have seen and heard Japanese Bush Warblers, and the familiar Northern Cardinal. I have approached Nene, the beautifully colored Hawaiian Goose, to within an arm’s length. In the gloomy lighting of the sulfur pits, I observed an ‘Io, the Hawaiian Hawk, and seen the native “elepaio hawking for insects between the Ohi’a Trees. I once glimpsed the Hawaiian Amakihi, only for a moment in the forest outside of the Kilauea Military Camp. Kalij Pheasants consistently streak across the roads around our employee housing complex. I have yet to see the elusive I’iwi, or the Hawaiian Honeycreeper, though that is mostly due to my lack of transportation to higher elevations within the park, the height that I’iwi prefer.

Birds that I have seen out in the field include Pacific Golden Plovers, a species of Frigatebird, a Black-crowned Night Heron, a Hawaiian Coot, a Bristle-Thighed Curlew, a Wandering Tattler, Yellow-billed Cardinals, a Barn Owl, and as usual, the ever-present Mynah bird. Most likely I have seen additional species of shorebird, but they are admittedly hard to identify, and are flighty as colts. Enough about birds though, let’s move on to other animals.

Again, I will start with the invasives. The first thing I noticed was the unusual number of dogs, it seemed like every house that I pass on the Hilo roads has one or two dogs chained up to a fence in the front yard. I have also seen goats, sheep, and cats wandering around tied up or left to their own devices. On many of the beaches, cat tracks are found in the mornings. They are one of the worst predators of Hawksbill nests and hatchlings, as well as native bird species. Driving past some of the more rural areas, herds of horses can be seen cantering through scenic valleys of long grasses. Cows can also be spotted in these areas. At one of the beaches we monitor at, a group of wild goats stalks the lave fields, sprinting rapidly away whenever we get too close. Though I haven’t seen any, feral pigs are huge problems that dig up nests and dig up native vegetation that is good nesting habitat for Hawksbills.

Hiking out of Halape Beach

The natives though! This is the cool part. I’m not even going to bother researching the hundreds of fish that I have seen, but just imagine every size and every color on the spectrum. At least three species of sea urchins, two types of crabs including the ghost crab, and at least four species of eel can be found at all of the beaches that we monitor. One evening, my fellow volunteer Ted and I were exploring tide pools when we spotted four dark shapes in the water, they turned out to be spotted eagle rays. That same night we observed the only native mammal to these islands, the Hawaiian Hoary Bat. What a spectacle. It came out around dusk hawking for insects for almost twenty minutes next to our chairs.

Hawaii has an abundance of life, much of it in the ocean surrounding the island. Many places have been developed, but it is still easy to find pristine wilderness areas if you know where to look. At some point I will come back to the big island to properly explore it. Many species are rapidly declining in numbers, and who knows how long they will be able to continue the fight against man’s encroachment. Go and explore these places while you can, because every day it becomes slightly less likely to spot a green sea turtle, or a hoary bat. Hopefully though, it is becoming more likely to see Hawksbill sea turtles. Thanks again to the Dickinson Internship Grant Program for making this summer possible.

Written on August 6th, 2017 , Uncategorized

Great swaths of naupaka form a buffer zone between Apua Beach and the lava fields that stretch to the base of Mauna Kilauea. At dawn, the sun rises over Hilo to the east, and its penetrating rays are in full force by 6 am. Eels splash and slither frantically over the shallow tide pools to deeper waters as we pass by, and golden plovers perform astonishing aeronautical feats on the warm wind currents that blast their way towards Kona. Morning glory tangles its way across empty patches of sand in a perpetual attempt at entangling the feet of unobservant beach checkers, while beautiful pink flowers pop out of its otherwise homely mass. Near our shack, industrious yellow crazy ants get to work, scouring our campsite for drops of water and food crumbs from the night before. Along the coastline, energetic waves grind at the volcanic rock, slowly forming sea arches, natural monuments constantly weathered by the Pacific Ocean.

Commonly found at Keauhou beach, the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle, or Honu, is named after its diet of green seagrass and algae.

Less than four miles down the coast, extensions of volcanic rock protect Keauhou beach, allowing beautiful coral reefs to form close to the shore. After hiking from Apua beach, we arrived at Keauhou and set up a simple camp. Today’s focus was on recreation. High tide wouldn’t be until a little after 2 pm, so we listened to music, read, talked, and slept intermittently. At high tide, we grabbed our snorkel gear, and with gusto, plunged into the rich, alien world of coral reefs. The coral came in all sorts of colors: greens, yellows, purples, blues, reds, and in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Most of them were spherical, creating a Seuss-like setting beneath the rolling waves. Fish of every conceivable color drifted and darted with the currents, seemingly oblivious to our presence. My mind was on fire, overwhelmed by the staggering beauty of this underwater world.

Tiny hermit crabs boast striking blue eyes.

Occasionally I forgot to breathe, forcing me to cough and retch salt water at the surface. It was worth every second. We had uncovered a goldmine right where we worked. Every conceivable hue was represented by the reflective scales of the fish feeding on the coral, and I sliced and cut up my feet and hands in an effort to pursue the most elusive individuals. At first I contented myself with floating at the surface, looking down on the cities and highways that the fish inhabited. Soon though, I started diving down, propelling myself to the bottom of the reef, working muscles that hadn’t been utilized since swim team in middle school. At eye level, I was a massive presence amongst the tiny organisms shooting past my face, between my legs, and occasionally nibbling at my feet. It was pure biological bliss. The only thing that forced me out was the retreating tide and the necessary preparation for more hiking.

Pelagic Frigate Birds are occasionally seen soaring on the warm currents over the sea.

As a species, we have explored only a tiny fraction of our oceans, and personally, I have hardly explored at all. There is a world of astonishing and vibrant complexity beneath the waves. After all, the oceans are where life on Earth originated over 3.5 billion years ago. In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, I scratched the surface of a deep, endless world of scientific and spiritual discovery. My next post will discuss all the life I have seen on Hawai’i.

Common Mynah Birds are loud and aggressive birds from India found everywhere on the Aina.

 

Written on July 9th, 2017 , Uncategorized

As we sit on the beach for our seven-hour monitoring shifts, we must get creative about how to pass the time. For the first few hours there is talk. Talk comes in the form of story-telling, riddles, games, and the asking and answering of questions about each other’s lives. Toward the latter half of the shift, when the stars are at their most brilliant, the talking tends to trail off, each of us absorbed in our own thoughts as we let our minds drift under the supervision of the infinite cosmos. There is ample time for thinking. I let my mind wander along familiar paths. I usually think about Chewonki, the semester school I attended during the frigid Maine winter. I think about the places and the people I met there, how that magical community essentially molded me into who I am today. As I shiver under the wind of the southern Hawaiian coast, I can’t help but think ruefully back at the polar plunges I participated in every Saturday morning at Chewonki. On a particularly ambitious Saturday, we happily donned snowshoes to trudge down to the waterfront during a blizzard, and then broke through the ice to immerse our bodies in the freezing Maine waters. These thoughts typically warm me up as I gaze out at the black Pacific Ocean.

Starry nights at Pohue.

I go on to think about my past hockey exploits, reliving the high school glory days. LET’S GO BULLDOGS! and LIUUUUU! fill my ears as I recall one of my more memorable games. I think about past teammates, coaches, playoff games, tournaments. I think back longingly on the endless hours of mini hockey we would play, terrorizing the hotel guests and staff alike. Ice Hockey used to consume every day, and every thought that I had. I loved it, I was good at it, I lived it. I still play today for the Dickinson club team, but I am long past my prime, my skills a shadow of what they used to be. I think back on these happy memories, on sad memories, and people and places blur together. I can’t believe I am already 22 years old, in fact this is the first time I am writing it out, and it feels strange. I think about my middle school friends, my high school friends, so many people influencing my life, part of my experiences that make me who I am. Memory is a fickle thing, and before you know it, you forget the majority of the experiences that you’ve lived. Something Maya Angelou said though, you will forget what people said, what you did with them, even what they look like, but you will NEVER forget how they made you feel. Some shit like that, I always liked that quote.

This type of thinking is easy, dwelling on the past in the comfort of experiences I have already lived. I also think of the present, and of course, the future. Sitting on the beaches of Pohue, Apua, Halape, I think about the Hawksbill, of conservation in general. I think about the vast powers working against us: the fossil fuel industry, ignorance, greed, waste, consumerism, and the bloated human population. We now know that even if all fossil fuels ceased burning at this exact moment, we would still feel the effects of climate change for centuries to come. I think of the fragility of the Hawksbill population. A mere 200-300 individuals are estimated to remain around the Hawaiian Islands. They are constantly assaulted by human induced impacts. Beach developments destroy nesting habitat, and flood remaining nesting habitat with bright lights, people, pollution, trash, coastal erosion, and vehicles. Marine debris, mainly plastics, are mistaken for food, choking the turtle or giving a false sensation of being full. Pollution degrades foraging and nesting habitat. Campfires and bright lights disorient nesting mothers as well as hatchlings. They are drawn inland toward the light and are killed by cars, people, predators, and exhaustion. Fishing lines and nets trap sea turtles as bycatch, most notably from shrimp trawlers. Invasive predators such as mongoose, rats, feral cats, and pigs, dig up nest and eat eggs and hatchlings. Invasive plants create barriers from the nests to the ocean, and can prevent mothers from building suitable nests, as well as trapping hatchlings inside of nests. On top of this, they take 30 years to reach sexual maturity, they don’t breed every year, and nests have a 1% survival rate. The hatchlings that I assist to the ocean this summer will not return to nest until I am 50 years old. I think about these things, alone in my thoughts, realizing how futile everything seems. Working in the field of conservation can be a superbly disheartening endeavor, yet people still do it, I still do it. Why? If a person asks me why conservation is important, what do I say? To scientists and nature lovers everywhere, the answer is almost so simple that it eludes logical explanation. To someone like me, who has seen a mother Hawksbill go into a seemingly spell-induced trance while laying her eggs under the star-studded sky of the Hawaiian archipelago, it is obvious why conservation is important. I admit though, I have had problems explaining its importance to the common individual who rarely goes outdoors and has a painfully inadequate scientific education.

My first argument runs along a spiritual focus. At an early age, good parents foster a love of the outdoors in their children. They run wild in the meadows, climb the highest trees, frolic in the streams, get stung by hornets, scrape their knees, catch frogs and snakes, and gaze in wonder at birds in flight. Children learn lessons in the great outdoors, learn of the vast biodiversity this world has to offer, and learn of their own insignificant role in a greater ecological story. Children deprived of such an education often grow up with machine minds and machine hearts. Multiple studies have shown that spending time in nature reduces stress, and makes people happier. The reason is simple; nature is where we are hardwired to spend our lives in. Why do we enjoy watching sunrise and sunset? Why do we keep flowers in our houses, and tend gardens with loving care? Why do we go on long walks through forests and meadows? Living and growing things exert a magnetic force upon us, we are always drawn back to whence we came. I don’t need a church to get closer to God, whatever that may be, a walk through the woods will do just fine. This fact transitions nicely into my next point about why people should care about conservation; religion.

God created the Earth in 7 days, a monumental feat! He created the oceans, the forests, the deserts, the birds, the mammals, the reptiles, the amphibians, the fish, the insects, and the microbes (of which He must have spent a considerable part of a day) etc. An overwhelming majority of the human population believes in some form of higher power. I ask them, why are you destroying what your God made for you? It is a paradox that I can only understand to stem from extreme human narcissism and privilege. A great biologist once said that present day humans have prehistoric emotional capacity, a medieval self-image, and God-like power. It is the equivalent of leaving a spoiled child alone at the house with a flamethrower. One would think that the religious community would be at the forefront of the environmental movement, fighting tooth and nail to protect the vast diversity of Earth’s biological heritage that God himself created. To me, an assault on Earth is an assault on God himself. A union between the scientific and religious communities would be a mighty power indeed! Alas, religious communities remain almost exclusively anthropocentric.

The glow from Mount Kilauea can be seen at night.

My last point molds together what could be several smaller points. Everything that we use, own, buy, and sell, comes from the natural world. An increasing trend in economics is the inclusion of environmental costs in business models. Economies run on the assumption that resources are infinite, a mistake that will absolutely have to be rectified in the near future. Without a sustainable use of natural resources, the current quality of life for almost every person living in a developed country will have to diminish. An additional point that everyone should be able to agree on is medicine. Advancements in medical research iare founded upon the characteristics of flora and fauna found in the natural world. Rosy periwinkle, for example, contains chemical properties that have been found to treat Hodgkin’s disease, and acute childhood leukemia. A Norwegian fungus made the organ-transplant industry possible! The natural world is all that we have, from the tiniest microbe, to the Blue Whale. Conservation is a fight to sustain the human identity, a battle to live on this Earth as a steward and not a conqueror, a war to ensure the quality of life that we want for our great-great grandchildren. I think about these things, isolated in the middle of the Pacific. The ancient Polynesians used their knowledge of the stars, the waves, the winds, and the birds to navigate thousands of miles of ocean in small wooden vessels. They had no instruments and nothing we would call technology. With our vast knowledge that we hold today, one would think living on Earth in a sustainable manner would be a walk in the park.

This inner dialogue of mine is in constant turmoil on the beaches of Hawai’i, but I feel comforted surrounded by the hardy, intelligent, passionate, and caring people that are navigating similar paths. As we stare into the black cosmos, at the stars from where my atoms and all other atoms on Earth originated, I feel a deep level of connectivity with the universe around me. Perhaps, out there, similar issues are being discussed on some alien planet light-years away. Or perhaps they have solved them, and are looking down at us with a detached humor and inner melancholy. It is my hope that we solve things here on Earth, and that in a million years’ time, mother Hawksbills are still wandering up the beaches of Pohue to nest, and then quietly slipping back into the deep unknown.

 

Written on June 27th, 2017 , Uncategorized

The breeze came first,

Followed by dark clouds that obscured the moon.

Then the rain came, nothing more than mist at first,

but magnifying to a light drizzle;

the Pohue equivalent of a torrential downpour.

Half-submerged in sand, my eyes popping, I watched for a dark mass,

the wave of a flipper.

My ears strained for the splattering sound of sand displacement,

the sure sign that nest-building is in progress.

I looked for the long regal neck,

the slightly haughty frown of the Hawksbill.

They are noble beasts, with not much conventional intelligence,

but containing the ancient olfactory cues and magnetic language,

that makes all species of sea turtles natural wonders of evolution.

I hear the rising tide growing louder behind me,

stretching and grabbing and snatching,

trying to yank and wrestle me back to the ocean.

The moon suddenly broke through the clouds,

illuminating the scene around me as if Mount Kilauea had decided to erupt silver.

Above our shack, a perfect arc dominated the sky.

Sturdy as Iron.

Perfect symmetry and the smoothest of edges,

make the Moonbow an unforgettable monument silhouetted beneath the rolling clouds.

Light reflected off the Moonbow, creating a twinkling sea of rain,

drops of moonlight suspended in a Moonbeam.

Seconds felt like hours,

as if even Time had paused to gaze in wonder.

The Mother returned to the sea,

oblivious to the great spectacle in the sky.

It was our second encounter, and we would have one more.

I would never see a Moonbow again.

 

 

Written on June 19th, 2017 , Uncategorized

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: , , ,
Pohue

The sky turns pink as the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean. This beach is one of the most active nesting sites in Hawaii.

“Beep-beep, beep-beep, beep-beep, beep-beep.”

My watch alarm blares on my left wrist, jerking me awake and signaling the end of another short night of sleep. After a brief sigh, I groggily jab at a button and turn my alarm off. I dig my fingers under the alien grip of the Timex, rubbing at the soft skin that had been ornament-free for the past few years. I hear Laura, a recent graduate of the University of Iowa, stirring in the bed above me. After staring blankly into space, pondering the meaning of our existence, we both crawl out of bed at 6:05 am, rubbing the fatigue from our eyes, preparing ourselves for another long day in the field. I reach over to the shelf adjacent to my bed, and grab two yellow Rite-in-the-rain data notebooks. My eyes wander past the contents of the small, wooden shack that we both spent the past night in. Fold-up chairs, fold-up cots, a stove, propane tanks, CO2 canisters, over 30 jugs of water, sardine cans, a cooler, and miscellaneous backpacks and boxes are strewn in an orderly fashion across the floor. The rising sun is already piercing through the tiny square window above the stove, casting an orange-pink light on the dusty, sandy shelf next to our bunk bed.  We both pull out our blue pens. Laura gives a cat-like stretch, a yawn and a sigh, puts on her glasses, flips open her notebook, and says,

“Okay, today’s date is May 25th, 2017…”

I have been in Hawaii for fifteen days. I am a monitoring intern for the Hawaii Island Hawksbill Turtle Recovery Project (HIHTRP). Located on the “Big Island” of Hawaii, the project is stationed in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, about a 45-minute drive south of Hilo. Hawksbill Sea Turtles are listed as critically endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). As usual, the cause of their decline is mostly anthropogenic in nature. Bright lights confuse nesting turtles and hatchlings, drawing them inland away from the ocean. Beachfront development destroys crucial nesting habitat, a devastating blow as hawksbills lay eggs only twice every ten years on average. Invasive species such as mongoose, rats, and feral cats prey on nests as well as hatchlings on their way to the ocean. Fishing nets trap adult hawksbills with painful regularity, and plastic bags and micro plastic are often found in dead turtle’s stomachs, starving them to death and causing internal bleeding. Due to these avoidable human-induced problems, the hawksbill population has steadily declined in recent decades.

 

Apua

Strong waves pound the rocky shore of Apua Beach, a backcountry nesting site for the Hawksbill.

The Hawaiian Islands are home to one of the world’s biggest populations of hawksbills, with 80% of the local population nesting at beaches on the southern coast of the Big Island. These beaches are where I am going to be monitoring until August 20th. I have already monitored on six of these beaches, and our two-week orientation is finally coming to an end. Instead of a six-person group, I will soon be paired with various interns for the rest of the summer in an attempt to efficiently monitor all of the potential nesting beaches, and give this declining, mysterious species of sea turtle every advantage during their breeding season. The future of the hawksbill is largely dependent on our work as monitoring interns, and I cannot think of a more noble and worthwhile job. I would like to thank my parents, my Grandma Liu, and the Dickinson College Internship Program for making this summer financially possible. In return, I hope to preserve one of Earth’s biological legacies, the Honu’ea.

Written on May 29th, 2017 , Uncategorized Tags: , ,

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Protecting the Hawksbill – Connor Liu

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park