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Ship Logs

True Conservationist
Lisianski Island

Written By Carlos Eyles
Photography by Jim Watt
October 2, 2002

Immature Great Frigate bird.Battalions of storm clouds blitz the Rapture early this morning. Wind and rain drive the heartier Team members who were sleeping on the upper deck to their rooms. Where they, like the rest of us tossed and turned through the remainder of the morning. I slept in late, chiefly because it was the only sleep I could get and, with apologies, missed the sunrise, only to discover there wasn't any. That is to say I am quite positive the sun rose, because it wasn't dark any longer, it was gray. Uniformly gray, as in the game-face attitude of an outside linebacker. The wind was blowing out of WSW at a healthy clip of eighteen knots, pushing the smudged storm front like a horde of charging defensive lineman with third and long and nothing but foul intentions on their mind. It was due. Overdue, but I resisted bringing it up for fear of jinxing the good weather. So here we are, on the last leg and seas before us; dues to be paid, sleep to be missed, food to be spilled, bruises to be acquired. I only hope I can stare at this laptop long enough without getting woozy.

Today the Documentation Team will go ashore. Getting from the Rapture into the zode in ten foot seas is something special. One of those "my life passed before me" experiences. One's timing must be impeccable, never mind loading it up with gear. Watt missed a frontal lobotomy by less than an inch, even he was a bit shook up, something I never thought I'd see in this lifetime. We pounded over to the island, and I was let off to spend time with Beth Flint, while the others went to the north side of the island for photo ops.

Lisianski Island NWR sign.Beth and Alex Wegmann, Moani Pai, and Ethan Shiinoki who have spent the last three days here meet Kaliko Amona and me at the shore line. They are going inland today on this island of 400 acres and 3.25 miles in circumference to run a quadrat, similar to a transect line, that is fifty meters long and three meters wide. Wherein they record the vegetation and the number of burrow openings and contents of the burrow. This is a major burrowing island for birds, specifically Bonin Petrels, Wedge Tailed Shearwaters, Christmas Shearwaters, Tristram's Storm Petrels, and Bulwer's Petrel. In actual fact this island is in pretty good shape, despite what it has endured over the centuries. At one time the Laysan Duck resided here, and was last seen in 1805 when captured by a shore party and eaten. Our old friend Max Schlemmer was here at the turn of the last century leasing the area to the Japanese who took out 284,000 birds in 1904 and another 100,000 five years later. Rabbits were also introduced that finished the job on the vegetation, which the birds need to nest and provide protection from the elements. These days there are eighteen different species of seabirds that nest on the island.

We are heading to the middle of the island where grows a rather unique tree, Pisonia grandis, there is not another for a thousand miles. The going is slow. The walk is done in a gingerly fashion to avoid stepping on burrows of the birds. Not unlike walking in a mine field. Each misstep that causes a cave in has to be dug out and checked for chicks and made proper for any bird that may be residing there. After a dozen such incidents we arrive at virtually the middle of the island and its lone tree. The Pisonia grandis is generally found in a wet tropical area, and grows upwards to a hundred feet in height, many are found in the Marshall Islands, anywhere there is substantial rainfall. Here the tree is no more than ten feet high and spread out, the wind and elements keep it low to the ground. Red Footed boobies, Black Noddies, Great Frigate Birds nest in it and supply the much needed guano required to keep it healthy. There could only be one way this volunteer tree came to reside here and that was through the birds themselves. The seeds of the tree are quite sticky and in adhering to the birds they managed to prevail over their constant preening, a rather remarkable journey for seeds. All part of the ever astounding marvel of an island overcoming great obstacles to achieve balance and harmony in this day and age.

We are to meet our boat on the other side of the island and follow Beth, stepping in her tracks to avoid caving in burrows, still we can not avoid them all and when they break open Beth lovingly cleans out the soil, feels for any chicks then makes sure their home is livable once again. There is tenderness in each reconstruction, there is joy in her voice when she speaks of the birds, and there is this boundless forgiveness for those who have brought terrible harm to that which she so loves. I am in the presence of a very unique individual, one who has devoted her life to sea birds. Often those so dedicated live in an obscure world that renders them out of touch with humans and their foibles. However her humanity glows in direct eye contact, ready, warm smiles and lively conversation. Her protégé Alex Wegmann speaks in glowing terms, saying, "She is a true conservationist, and displays a depth of humanity that is rare in people. Her knowledge and integrity is an inspiration to me to continue to do this very difficult work." In many ways she exemplifies all in this boat, this village of caring humans who have dedicated their lives to the nurturing and protection of the natural world. It is an honor to be in such company.

Historical Reference: Isles of Refuge by Mark J. Rauzon

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Red Footed Booby. Sula sula.

Beth Flint
Beth Flint

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