Tsunami damage to Pacific atolls seen as harbinger of climate change
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2011:
AIR STATION BARBERS POINT, Hawaii –“This is a problem that
we expect to have again, not because we’re expecting another tsunami
but because of changing climate,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
biologist Elizabeth Flint told Audrey McAvoy of Associated Press.
The March 11, 2011 tsunami that devasted northeastern Japan
did relatively little damage to U.S. territory, but “offered a
preview of what could happen to low-lying atolls,” McAvoy explained,
“as global warming lifts sea levels and causes storms to develop more
frequently. Flint said she expects the high water events such as
these to eat away at seabird habitats.”
The 60-year-old albatross Wisdom survived and returned to her
nesting area on Midway Atoll, Hawaiian & Pacific Islands National
Wildlife Refuge Complex project leader Barry Stieglitz reported.
Banded as an adult in 1956, Wisdom is the oldest wild bird
whose age has been documented in the 90 years that the U.S.
Geological Survey, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and Canadian
Wildlife Service have collaborated to band and study birds.
Wisdom in February 2011 hatched a chick, but the chick was
probably among the estimated 110,000 chicks and 2,000 adult
albatrosses who did not survive, Stieglitz said.
The tsunami “swept up a week-old Hawaiian monk seal pup and
separated her from her mother at a remote atoll northwest of the main
Hawaiian islands,” McAvoy wrote, “but a state wildlife worker
managed to reunite the pair shortly after.”
Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources biologist
Cynthia Vanderlip, field camp supervisor at Kure Atoll, 1,400 miles
northwest of Honolulu, heard the pup crying–but the mother, asleep
about 150 feet away, did not.
“Vanderlip waited a while, then carried the tiny seal to her
mother,” McAvoy recounted.
Only about 1,100 Hawaiian monk seals remain in the wild, a
population “dwindling at a rate of about 4% per year,” McAvoy
reported, “in part because juvenile seals have been struggling to
survive. Scientists believe this is because the youngsters are
having a hard time competing with other species for food,” most
notably the human species.
The fishing industry has intensely lobbied for decades
against closing monk seal critical habitat to fishing. Apart from
fishers competing with monk seals for prey, entanglement in nets–
including lost and abandoned nets–is among the major known causes of
monk seal mortality. Swallowing hooks and other fishing gear is also
a known cause of monk seal deaths, believed to occur mainly when
seals eat fish who have been hooked but escaped being reeled in.
Other effects of the March 11 tsunami in Hawaii included
three instances of sea turtles turning up far inland in the Kanaha
Beach Park area, and several aholehole reef fish who were discovered
“swimming in a pond at a Kahului parking lot,” reported Maui News
staff writer Melissa Tanji. The turtles and fish were all returned
to the ocean, Tanj wrote.