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You are here: /main/research/NOWRAMP 2002/journals/good seeds


Ship Logs

Good Seeds
Pearl and Hermes Atoll
Posted by Kaliko Amona, Graduate Intern, NWHI Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve
September 29, 2002

Beth Flint collecting Eragrostis seeds on North Island.At so many of the islands we've visited during this expedition, our teams have been extremely cautious with our clothes, shoes, and equipment, not wanting to introduce any alien plants or animals to these pristine environments. Today we were just as careful, wearing only new clothing that had been sealed and frozen for 48 hours before we left Honolulu, but there was one difference. At Pearl and Hermes Atoll, our goal was to bring seeds, the good kind, from one island to another.

At North Island, our group split up into teams to work on the day's first order of business: counting birds. Watching first for their burrows, then for nohu (Tribulus cistoideds) barbs, Ethan and I carefully walked the island looking for noio (brown noddy) and 'iwa (great frigate bird) chicks and eggs. Most of the young noio we found were hidden in the shade of Eragrostis variabilis grass, quietly waiting for a parent to arrive with their daily meal. Beneath the roots of this grass we peeked into burrows where wedge-tailed shearwaters did the same.

Eragrostis variabilis.After the bird count, we collected seeds from the Eragrostis to plant at Southeastern Island. Native to Pearl and Hermes Atoll, this bunch grass-like plant provides excellent habitat for many of the seabirds that live here. The native plants at Southeastern Island have not fared as well as those on North Island, with Verbesina (golden crown-beard) and other alien plants taking over some parts of the island. Verbesina is the same alien plant that we fought during our stay on Green Island at Kure Atoll. Verbesina appears to be an allelopathic plant-it may release chemicals that prevent other plants from growing around it, so it easily out-competes many native plants. As part of its annual cycle, the Verbesina dies back, leaving barren areas with very little vegetation. These barren areas provide unstable soil for burrowing birds and their burrows may easily collapse if the soil becomes wet. To help the birds, and the entire ecosystem, we scattered these seeds over an area that the terrestrial team had cleared of pest plants earlier in the week.

Sowing seeds on Southeast Island.In all, we sowed about a gallon and a half of the tiny Eragrostis seeds. A year ago, Alex Wegmann of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scattered a little less than this amount and twelve plants have come up since. Our efforts today are a small step toward restoring Southeastern Island. It will take much more work, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's work at Laysan Island provides evidence that such restoration is possible. Over several years, field crews there have transformed the island environment from one that was degraded by human exploitation to an ecosystem where native plants and animals thrive.

During our search we came upon a koa'e 'ula (red-tailed tropic bird) chick sitting under the shade of Eragrostis. Although we were focusing on noio and 'iwa for the count, we made a note of this one and continued on. Only after returning to the rest of the group did we find out what a special find we had made. Beth Flint, our escort from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told Ethan and me that this was the only red-tailed tropic bird chick reported during their surveys during the past several days. By now, most koa'e 'ula have fledged and are out on their own.

Solanum nelsoniWe also gathered seeds from the native Solanum nelsoni plants we came across on North Isalnd and sowed them on Southeast Island. The large black fruits are filled with small, chili pepper-like seeds.


Beth Flint and Alex Wegmann, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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Kaliko Amona
Kaliko Amona


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