Three Laysan albatross chicks fledge at Kahuku Point

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — First documented successful fledging of Laysan albatross chicks on Oahu property is a milestone in the establishment of a new colony of the ground-nesting seabirds, whose primary habitat in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands is increasingly threatened by sea level rise.

North Shore Community Land Trust reports the successful fledging of three Laysan albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis) chicks at Kahuku Point.

The first chick fledged in mid-July followed by the final chick which left Saturday morning.

This marks an important milestone in the establishment of an emerging colony of the ground-nesting seabirds, whose primary habitat in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands is increasingly threatened by sea level rise.

Laysan albatrosses, a near threatened species called mōlī in Hawaiian, have used the Kahuku Point area since at least 1978.

Over the years, the species sporadically attempted to breed in the area, but was not successful due to invasive mammalian predators like mongooses, cats, rats and dogs, which killed a chick and at least five adults in 1996.

This is the first documented successful fledging of Laysan albatross chicks on this property, although the species may have bred in the area prior to human arrival.

“It is inspiring to see the continued progress being made at Kahuku Point. As we remove invasive species and clear the way for more natives to thrive the coastal strand habitat is returning to its original pristine condition. We see the presence of the albatross as strong indication that this is a special place and nature endorses the restoration efforts. The chicks fledging are the culmination of a great deal of hard work and cooperation. It is an honor to be a part this,” says North Shore Community Land Trust executive director Adam Borrello.

The first chick to fledge was named “Manupeia,” or “Soaring Bird” in Hawaiian, by Hauula Elementary School students.

The keiki named the second chick “Manulani,” translated to “Heavenly Bird.”

The final chick, named “Hopena,” or “Destiny,” left Saturday morning.

The chicks are headed to the North Pacific and as far as the Bering Sea, where they will spend the next three to five years foraging for food on the open ocean before returning to land to find a partner.

Laysan albatross typically mate for life and lay up to one egg per year. Albatross chicks imprint on their home at one month old and usually return to the same area to lay their eggs.

The hope for the Kahuku Point restoration partners is that the fledglings will eventually return here to rear their young, allowing the new colony to grow.

“Evidence from the fossil record indicates that nesting seabirds were widespread and abundant in the main Hawaiian Island before humans arrived. Many species are now confined to low-lying islands and atolls in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, but those once safe habitats are now facing sea level rise and increased storm surge. The survival of these seabirds is in our hands and depends on our ability to work together to provide safe habitat to raise their young,” explains Dr. Sheldon Plentovich, the Pacific Islands Coastal Program coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Since February 2015, North Shore Community Land Trust has been restoring the coastline at Kahuku Point, also known as Kalaeokaunaoa.

In addition to removing invasive species, planting native plants and stabilizing the dunes, community volunteers have been working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Islands Coastal Program, Hawaii Marine Animal Response and Turtle Bay Resort to create a safer environment for nesting birds.

North Shore Community Land Trust controls predators, primarily mongooses, using humane traps while Hawaii Marine Animal Response volunteers watch over the nests and provide educational information to passersby.

“We work every day of the year in conservation, education, response and rescue work with Hawaiian monk seals, sea turtles and seabirds. This project at Kahuku Point is a great example of positive results that come from partnerships and working as a team,” says Jon Gelman, president of Hawaii Marine Animal Response.

In 2015, North Shore Community Land Trust played an instrumental role in helping to preserve 630 acres of open space along five miles of coastline between Kahuku Point and Kawela Bay.

“The entire Turtle Bay Ohana is excited about what is happening out at Kahuku Point and especially excited about our latest visitors, the Laysan albatross. We are so pleased that albatross have given the work of the North Shore Community Land Trust nature’s stamp of approval by choosing this area as a nesting ground. We owe this monumental success to the hard work of our friends and partners at the NSCLT who, with the help of thousands of volunteers, have been restoring Kahuku Point since 2015. It is our pleasure to support the efforts of NSCLT to restore this special place to its natural condition and have such deep gratitude for the work they do,” says Jerry Gibson, vice president at Turtle Bay Resort.

Kahuku Point is one the few remaining places on Oahu with intact coastal strand habitat that includes endangered species such as ʻohai (Sesbania tomentosa), yellow-faced bees (Hylaeus anthracinus), Hawaiian monk seals (Monachus schauinslandi, including multiple generations of females who pup there annually), and green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas).

Funding for this project was provided in part by Hawaii Tourism through the Aloha Aina Program. Additional funding was provided by Turtle Bay Resort, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Pacific Islands Coastal Program, Hawaii Community Foundation, the Laura Jane Musser Fund, the Johnson Ohana Foundation, Patagonia Haleiwa, the Atherton Family Foundation and the Cooke Foundation.

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