Tern for the Better
September 11, 2002
Posted by Mark Heckman, Educator, Waikiki Aquarium/
University of Hawaii Manoa
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
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.
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.
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.
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.