Yesterday I wrote about how the U.S. Coast Guard–with the help of the Navy–had done something bad in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (specifically, bury a bunch of PCB and lead-filled junk in the sand at Tern Island during and after World War II). Today, I’m going to describe something good the Coast Guard did in the NHI. On Tuesday, Sept. 9, the Coast Guard cutter Kukui transported 28 endangered Laysan ducks from Midway to Kure Atoll in a move to help repopulate the species.
“This is an important milestone in the survivability of this native duck species, and we thank the Coast Guard, as well as all the project partners, for their critical support of this joint agency wildlife recovery action,” said DLNR Chairperson William J. Aila, Jr. in a Sept. 9 news release sent out by NOAA.
According to the NOAA news release, a team of “translocation specialists” flew to Midway on Aug. 31. for the next “three days and nights,” the team found birds that were suitable to move to Kure. “Kure’s ‘founders’ were selected by age class, health and male-to-female sex ratio,” stated the news release. “The ducks were cared for in aviaries and provided with hydration, nutritional support, health screenings, tasty worms and duck chow to eat, and swimming pools.”
The news release also noted that the Laysan duck is “the rarest duck in the Northern hemisphere.” The duck once lived across all of Hawaii, but the introduction of rats about 800 years ago all but eliminated the duck from all but Laysan Island, where it’s lived for the last 150 years. After people brought rabbits to Laysan in the early years of the 20th century, the duck’s numbers collapsed (three other endemic land birds died out completely).
“The Laysan duck population was recorded at 11 birds in 1911; their numbers climbed quickly after the rabbits were eradicated from Laysan in 1923,” noted the news release. “In 2004 and 2005, ducks were successfully translocated from Laysan Island to Midway Atoll to increase the species’ chance of survival.”
It was looking like good times for the ducks on Laysan and Midway–then the 2011 Tohoku Tsunami hit, and their numbers plummeted by 40 percent, according to the news release. Still, they’re doing better today than they were a century ago.
“Laysan ducks do not fly between the Atolls, so each additional island reintroduction helps to restore its distribution,” said Michelle Reynolds, Ph.D., of USGS Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center, in the news release. “In the face of rising sea levels, a predator-free, larger and higher elevation Hawaiian Island will ultimately be needed to recover the species since inundation is expected to impact wildlife on low-lying islands.”
Photo of Laysan Ducks: US Fish & Wildlife Service