SEA 2014: The birds at Birnie (July 25)

A six-week expedition with Sea Education Association (SEA) to the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) is underway. This will mark the first-ever oceanographic cruise to PIPA, and is a historic collaboration between SEA, the New England Aquarium, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Republic of Kiribati. The objectives of this mission include the high-quality education of 13 students in both science and policy aspects of PIPA as well as scientific goals, which will be detailed in the coming weeks and months here on this blog.

This post comes from research intern Luke Faust.

Friday July 25, 2014

We have arrived at Orona after a brief two day stint at sea.

View from the porthole at sea

Along the way we did five hydrocasts and Neuston net tows, plus a few MOCNESS deployments and meter net tows. We sampled the waters just off of each island we visited plus a double station our one full night at sea, one at night and one during the morning. These are among the most important measurements we will make while at PIPA. Many of the differences we detect are small from station to station, but from a large scale view the patterns should become clear.

Deploying nets from the Robert Seamans

Another island, Birnie, lay between us Kanton and Orona only a few miles east off out of our way. Unfortunately the wind was coming directly from the east as well and sailing into the wind is very difficult and not something we were going to do. Instead we motored most of the way there, reaching Birnie early on the 24th. In many ways Birnie is very similar to Enderbury. Like Enderbury it is a small island with little vegetation and large populations of seabirds. Birnie was also part of the same rat eradication that Enderbury had in 2011. It was not successful at Enderbury so we were very interested to see what Birnie's rat status was. Although no one went onshore and we only stopped at Birnie for an hour of bird observations and a deployment station, we saw clear signs that the eradication was successful.

Christmas shearwaters roosting | Photo: Duncan Wright via Wikimedia Commons 

Close to ten different Christmas shearwaters were flying a little offshore, and since they make their nests in burrows in the ground, are especially vulnerable to rats. So their presence at Birnie is an indicator that there are no longer any rats on that island and that the eradication was successful.

Luke Faust

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