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Community efforts at Kahuku Point give hope to albatross and other native species

A Laysan Albatross sits on its nest at Midway Atoll.
US Fish and Wildlife Service
A Laysan Albatross sits on its nest at Midway Atoll.

Next to Turtle Bay Resort lies a 35-acre parcel of undeveloped land. Within this parcel is Kahuku Point — home to several native plant and animal species.

"Out here we've got green sea turtles that nest on the coastline. We've got monk seals that pup out here as well," said Tim Tybuszewski, director of conservation for the nonprofit North Shore Community Land Trust.

Tybuszewski says the native yellow-faced bee also calls the Kahuku Point home.

Since 2015, the nonprofit has been removing invasive plants and animals from the area, and restoring it with native plants like ʻOhai.

"When you think about it, most coastline easement has either a house or a hotel on it on Oʻahu," Tybuszewski said. "So there's not a lot of these sand dune ecosystems left on Oʻahu. I felt like it would be really great to restore this, and see this as a community resource."

Tybuszewski says he also envisioned it as a safe haven for plants and animals. But in order to accomplish that goal, the North Shore Community Land Trust partnered with botanists and other experts from the state and federal partners.

Since 2015, the North Shore Community Land Trust has been clearing invasive plants from Kahuku Point and restoring the sand dune with native plants.
Casey Harlow
Since 2015, the North Shore Community Land Trust has been clearing invasive plants from Kahuku Point and restoring the sand dune with native plants.

He says the Kahuku Point project is also driven by the community. Plants are locally sourced from North Shore nurseries, and volunteers primarily drive the clearing and plantings at the project site.

"All of this wouldn't be possible without the help of the community," he said.

The nonprofit's efforts began seeing progress in 2017, when Laysan albatrosses began to nest at the project site.

"We had a colony of, I believe, three nests," he said. "We've grown now to 20 nests a year, and we're hoping for even more this upcoming year."

There are three species of albatross that call Hawaiʻi home — the black-footed, Laysan, and the extremely rare short-tailed albatross.

A majority of Hawaiʻi's albatrosses reside and nest in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, there are a number of threats they face. Among them are human fishing activities and non-native predators — such as rats.

But a growing threat is the effects of climate change and rising sea levels. Beth Flint, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, says sea level rise, and increased storm frequency and intensity are already impacting important habitats.

"It's not just a hypothetical, we have lost tens of thousands of nestlings to storms in the winter now, up in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands," Flint said. "We've lost, more importantly, actual land area that provides nest sites for birds."

Flint says it also has an impact on other wildlife, such as green sea turtles and monk seals.

But there are efforts underway by the USFWS to transfer albatross eggs and chicks to the main Hawaiian Islands, in order to establish colonies on "higher ground" — areas that aren't as easily impacted by storms or rising water levels. So far, colonies have been established at Kaʻena Point and the James Campbell Wildlife Refuge on Oʻahu.

However, Flint says establishing colonies this way is difficult, and may take years to determine whether or not it was successful.

In the meantime, USFWS has other efforts to help establish colonies. The service partners with domestic and international agencies and organizations for restoration projects like Kahuku Point.

"We provide a number of ways to assist, either through funding, in the form of grants, or through expertise," said Sheldon Plentovich, USFWS's Pacific Coastal Program Coordinator.

Plentovich acts as a liaison with various partners on restoration and conservation projects throughout the Pacific. She says the North Shore Community Land Trust's project has seen amazing results in a few years.

"Not only have the albatross started nesting, but we've seen increases in the numbers of [the] endangered yellow-faced bee," she said. "And then, this year, we saw this explosion in nesting green sea turtles at that beach, that's adjacent to the restoration site."

Kahuku Point
Casey Harlow
Kahuku Point

Plentovich says partnerships like this are important to not only preserve native ecosystems, but also to secure the futures of native plants and animals impacted by climate change, predators, and other human impacts.

So far, the North Shore Community Land Trust's efforts at Kahuku Point have cleared 8 of 35 acres. Tybuszewski says there is a standing community-driven restoration event there every second Saturday of the month.

More information about the NSCLT's Kahuku Point project and other initiatives can be found at www.northshoreland.org

Casey Harlow was an HPR reporter and occasionally filled in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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