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NOWRAMP 2002

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A Tern for the Better
September 11, 2002
Posted by Mark Heckman, Educator, Waikiki Aquarium/ University of Hawai’i – Manoa

I finally noticed the date today and think back to last year. My wife Terry and I had just gotten back from the hospital. Our one year old, Skye had just been born. Early in the morning, when Terry was finally having a good rest; one of her friends called and told me to turn on the television. I did, noted the scope of what was happening and did not wake Terry or Skye. There is so much suffering in this world, why wake them early to see what would be played and replayed through the day. Instead, I thought about the world that I had brought little Skye into and what I would like it to be.

Sooty Tern  in flight at  French Frigate Shoals.  Photo by Stott Kikiloi.Today I am reminded of that as I consider another part of that same world. I went to the main bit of habitable land left here, a sand island no more than six feet above waterline at any point. A place aptly named Tern Island. The island was buttressed with seawalls during World War II, with a runway built so that the war planes could land and refuel for their flight to Midway Island further north. Since then, various structures have been added, but it is the original inhabitants that rule - the seabirds.

Sooty terns greet us with raucous guttural calls as we land. I think we are all taken with them. They hover just above our heads, peering down at these disturbers of their landscape. The chicks of the Sooty Terns are now the size of the adults, but an with an interesting black checkered pattern instead of the solid black with white of the adults. They are protected here. The US Fish and Wildlife Service maintains the island for the terns, other seabirds, turtles, monk seals and all that live here.

Before long, these chicks will take wing and head out for sea. They will fly for years without making landfall - years. It is so hard to imagine. Stretch your two hands on the keyboard and you have the size of the body of these birds. Think of these birds flying day in and day out over the sea, sleeping on the wing. I look down at my hands and think of the huge storms that take down ships. What do the terns do then? How do they survive the storms? Somehow, someway, these small terns fly on.

It seems a small gesture that we grant them an island or two, critical for their time to nest and raise their young. Of course we should protect that island. It is the part that we can do. I think of my kids and a bird the size of my hands that lives through travails I can't even imagine - and I think about the small but very important things that we can do to help make the world right - it is the least we can do.

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