Posted by `Aulani Wilhelm, Assistant Reserve Coordinator,
NWHI Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve
September 26, 2002
the zodiac appeared just off shore, I felt a sort of sadness.
I didn't want to leave. It wasn't the kind of sadness that
you feel when someone hurts your feelings, or the kind you
feel when you've just finished watching a movie and the
bad guy wins. Nor was it the kind you feel when a relationship
ends or someone close to you passes away.
was simply the kind of sadness that I used to experience
as a kid each time I left my tutu's (grandmother's)
house. I loved going to my tutu's house. Each visit
was filled with fun, food and comfort. Each visit was filled
with learning new lessons and trying new things. And each
visit usually had some sort of surprise, because lots of
folks would drop by, unexpectedly. Most of all, being at
my grandmother's house made me feel loved - like I belonged.
It felt like home, even though it wasn't where I lived.
(My parents told me that I used to make up ailments or other
tales just to be able to stop by for a quick visit.) My
sadness about leaving Kure was filled with disappointment,
because, like being at my grandma's house, being there felt
a Native Hawaiian point of view, Kure Atoll is our tutu.
She is the eldest of our kupuna (elder) islands,
and we are descendants of all of nature that came before
us. She has lived a full life, 40 million years worth, and
has seen many changes on Earth. Like our human elders, she
has experienced great joy, and also suffered great pain.
Out of that joy and pain, her experiences have yielded many
lessons for us - one's we can learn great things from, if
we take the time to pay attention and listen.
of us spent the past 2 days on Green Island, the largest
of the sandy islets in the Atoll's azure blue lagoon. Kure
is managed by the State Department of Land and Natural Resources'
Division of Forestry and Wildlife. My friend Ethan Shiinoki
is the wildlife technician who escorted us during our stay.
Island is 2 miles in circumferece and contains 256 acres
of beach, sand dunes and a vegetated interior that hosts
several species of seabirds like Laysan albatross, great
frigate birds, wedge-tailed and christmas shearwaters, bonin
petrels, white and sooty terns, 3 kinds of boobies, and
the list goes on. She is also home to the endangered Hawaiian
monk seal and protected green sea turtle. Although she has
no regular field camp operation, monk seal researchers do
set up camp on the island during 'pupping' season and Ethan
and his wildlife gang come up to do maintenance work as
often as they can 'hitch a ride' on research vessels visiting
the atoll. Ethan and his agency hope to set up and outfit
a more regular field camp on the island, budget and human
by many nations, visited by many ships (many of which wrecked
on the reef), prepared for war (though never used) in WWII,
and utilized as a Coast Guard LORAN station, Kure has been
scarred by the hand of man. Feather poachers diminished
of seabirds in the late 1800s, buildings were erected for
several purposes, weeds and rats were introduced accidentally
and largely took over the island (making it difficult for
sea birds to survive). And now, big-headed ants abound,
changing the ecology of the place in ways we have yet to
fully explore and understand. Kure also is located in an
unenviable position in the North Pacific, next to a giant
gyre of ocean currents that regularly deposit marine debris
by the ton onto her shores and tangled within her protected
only had 2 days to spend on island, so Ethan had to pick
our battles wisely. Our main mission was to kill verbescina
(golden crownbeard), a hearty weed species that has virtually
taken over the island. The plant is a seemingly harmless
looking one. Its beautiful golden flowers resemble those
of mini-sunflowers. But it is far from benign. Its rate
of spread exceeds that of most plants, and it is so pervasive
that it virtually crowds out all other plants in its way.
Its presence on Kure has dramatically changed the landscape
and left the island far less hospitable for seabirds who,
across the vast Pacific Ocean, have very little real estate
to rest and nest in as it is.
six solid hours of hand-pulling, our team yanked 2-acres
worth of the nasty weed. We were so focused on clearing
this marked 'booby plot' laid out by Ethan (which is a favorite
nesting site of brown and masked boobies) that we didn't
bother to stop for lunch. We were possessed.
also had a few smaller missions, to sand and paint the storm
shutters on the field camp -- a former Coast Guard building
that was left behind, and to weed-whack a circular swath
of verbescina in an area that Laysan albatross use
for landing and nesting, near a monument that stands where
the former LORAN communications tower once stood. These
'missions' were accomplished by a smaller crew on our first
day on island by those of us who didn't have to document
the area or collect limu or invertebrates for research purposes.
was great to give something back. For the past 19 days,
we've visited these ancient islands and atolls and taken.
We've taken data, taken pictures, and in some cases, taken
specimens, all in the hopes of better understanding this
place. Today, we were finally able to give something back
in exchange. Though we returned with aching backs, swollen
hands, and sun burned faces, we felt good.
we know the weeds will grow back and need to be removed
again, we hope that when the albatross return in a few months
and the brown and masked boobies do a fly-over to inspect
potential nesting sites, they will see the cleared patches,
find them suitable and make a nest. If so, at least their
next generation of chicks will have a better chance at survival.
dusk neared, we cleaned up the cabin, put away the tools,
sleeping mats and cooking utensils we used while on island.
We wrote our names on the wall of the field camp ("verbescina
killahs wuz hea") and made our way to the beach to
await our ride back to Rapture.
taught us the beauty of wildlife, when given some freedom
from man. She taught us that even though Kure is a far-flung
place, geographically separated from human populations,
she is not immune from our impacts. (Marine debris clutters
her shores and threatens wildlife.) She taught us the resilience
of birds, monk seals and turtles, who persevere through
various assaults. And she taught us the value of giving.
Despite the injuries she has endured, her old age (and near
subsidence in to the sea), and continued threats, she continues
to give. She gives home to wildlife, she gives rest to visitors
like us, and her waters host giant, centuries-old coral
heads which, in turn, give shelter to hundreds of marine
critters. Like most kupuna, she's gifted at giving.
of all, she taught us that these lessons are ones we must
take home with us. We must be vigilant where we live about
making room for wildlife and ensuring that our home islands
are friendly not only to ourselves, but to native plants
and animals that once thrived. We must work hard to fight
back against the weeds, the effects of development, and
the encroaching material values that place little worth
on wildlife and nature. And we all must learn to give.
feel at home on Kure, even though the island isn't where
I live. I feel aloha for her. I also feel kuleana
(responsibility) to somehow help care for her. She is my
tutu island and I feel secure on her shores, just
as I still do, in the wise presence of my own grandma. We
must take care of our tutu, whether human, island,
animal or natural element. They are all part of our genealogy.
our ship pulled anchor and began her travel back to Pearl
and Hermes, Kekuewa Kikiloi, Kaliko Amona, Bonnie Kahape`a
and I (all members of the expedition's education and documentation
team) gathered on the stern deck to release the wilted petals
from the dozen or so lei that we were given when
we departed. A few days ago we cut the strings and ribbons
off the strung flowers, intending to release them into the
ocean at Kure. Although we never talked about why exactly
we would do that, we each somehow understood the symbolism
of this simple gesture. For us, it was a small offering
we could leave to acknowledge our tutu island, and
acknowledge our connection to her, although we live 1,200
, my new friend (thanks to the expedition) told me that
he believes the traditional name for Kure is Holaniku,
the last name mentioned in the ko`ihonua, a Hawaiian
genealogical chant. Kekuewa is a graduate student who has
been researching the cultural history of the Northwestern
Hawaiian Islands for the past year. He gave me a run down
on the documents he's found about ancient names, which give
his theory credibility. But what sold me was when he said,
"I sat with it, and it just feels right." He meant
the name feels right in his na`au (gut). That's good
enough for me.
now on, I will refer to Kure as Tutu Holaniku. And
I will forever remember the love, warmth and comfort she
shared with me. The sadness of leaving her will pass, but
the lessons she shared with me will live on.