Kure Atoll Ecological Field Station Project
Kure Atoll is the western-most atoll in the Hawaiian Archipelago, located at 28°25’N latitude and 178°10’W longitude. Green Island provides nesting habitat for 16 species of seabirds including approximately 1500 breeding pairs of Black-footed Albatross (Phoebastria nigripes). Green Island is one of the six major breeding sites for the endangered Hawaiian monk seal (Monachus schauinslandi). The emergent reef, which provides protection from large swells and resting habitat for monk seals, also dispenses energy and nutrients into the atoll supporting a shallow reef ecosystem. The outer slopes of the atoll provide deeper habitat for coral colonies, all of which are interesting due to their location near the “Darwin Point” where ocean temperatures fall below physiological optimum for reef building corals. The lagoon offers additional habitat for reef development, fish recruitment, daily resting habitat for spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris), and foraging habitat for species such as Galapagos sharks (Carcharhinus galapagensis), tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier), spotted eagle rays (Aetobatus narinari), ulua (Carangidae) and the threatened Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas). All of these areas are of interest to visiting scientists, specialists, media, and Native Hawaiians concerned with the species mentioned above, coral growth, reef species composition, marine archaeology, education, and cultural resources. Kure Atoll Research Station personnel oversee and support these visiting parties and insure that the integrity of ecosystem is not compromised by their activities.
Kure’s beaches and reefs are impacted by tons of marine debris capable of entangling and killing wildlife and destroying coral reefs. The National Marine Fisheries Service and Kure Atoll Research Station personnel remove thousands of pounds annually to keep the accumulation of nets, lines and other fishing gear as low as possible, but the atoll is never free of marine debris due to a constantly replenishing supply from offshore. Monk seals, sharks, turtles, seabirds and other marine species have been found entangled in abandoned nets and other debris such as packing straps. Increased monitoring and removal effort are needed to prevent the destruction caused by marine debris. Due to the highly endangered status of the Hawaiian Monk seal, every animal that can be saved from death by entanglement is a significant accomplishment, and helps to perpetuate the species.
Kure Atoll has had a history of human activities that have damaged the environment. Invasive alien plants and animals have negatively altered seabird habitat and caused lower reproductive success in several seabird species. Several native plant species are now extinct on Green Island due, in part, to the invasive nature of weeds and arthropods such as Verbesina encelioides and Big-headed ants (Pheidole megacephala).
Kure Atoll is the only Northwestern Hawaiian Island (NWHI) managed by the State of Hawaii. This valuable resource is rarely showcased in Hawaiian schools or island communities. Hawaiian residents have a unique and historical connection to the NWHI that could be enriched by their involvement in Kure Atoll programs. The education provided by the Kure Atoll Ecological Research Station Project would enhance knowledge of the NWHI ecosystem by Hawaii’s residents and visitors, and help them to communicate important issues such as extraction and preservation that face NWHI managers. Kure also helps to showcase what a relatively pristine Hawaiian marine ecosystem looks like, absent of relentless fishing pressure. This is an important educational and management tool for beginning to restore the fishery resources in the main Hawaiian Islands.
The goal of this project is to enhance the survivorship and productivity of seabirds nesting in the offshore colonies. For these seabirds, reducing or eliminating alien predators and improving nesting habitat by removing non-native plants, and replacing them with native ones is expected to increase survivorship of all age classes and increase reproduction. Species expected to benefit from this project include the Brown booby, Masked booby, Red-footed booby, Red-tailed tropicbird, Great frigate bird, Brown noddies, Tristram's storm petrels, Bulwer’s storm petrels, Laysan albatross, Black-footed albatross, Short-tailed albatross, Christmas shearwaters, Wedge-tailed shearwaters, Sooty tern, Gray-backed tern, Pacific golden plover, and Ruddy turnstone. In addition, our efforts may result in brooding attempts and success of presently rare species such as the Christmas shearwater, Tristram's Storm petrels, Bulwers petrels, and the endangered Short-tailed albatross. The planned introductions of the endangered Laysan duck and Nihoa finch to Kure will help to ensure the survival of these two critically endangered species with limited ranges. The introduction of the endangered loulu or Nihoa palm on Kure Atoll ensures genetic material is established on another island within the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Kure Atoll has no palms present, therefore no potential for loulu to hybridize.
To learn more about Kure Atoll please visit their website at: kureatollconservancy.com