|NAI'A approaches "Rawaki", Phoenix Island. |
© Greg Stone
Today we are at Phoenix Island (aka Rawaki in Kiribati), the name sake for the entire archipelago. This is a place of birds. As we approached from a distance, the island looked like it had a small dark cloud hanging low over it, but when we got closer I could see the cloud was tens of thousands of squawking, screeching, hovering, darting, flapping, pecking birds. I could hear this cacophony of bird sound from inside the ship a ¼ mile away.
Then as we got even closer, the birds surrounded the boat and we had brown noddies hovering outside portholes, frigate birds gliding high above, impossibly delicate fairy terns making eye contact with me as they glided by, and the pungent smell of guano permeating the air.
"Concerned adult birds occasionally dart at us if we get too close to their nest; we try not to bother them."
|Tropic and frigate birds. © Greg Stone|
Next NAI'A's huge anchor and chain clanked and splashed into the water and settled safely in the sand between two coral heads: NAI'A came to rest for the one day we would be here. Tukabu, Randi, David, Craig, Stuart and I gathered cameras, water, and sunscreen and climbed into a skiff that drove the hundreds yards to the island and dropped us just behind the breaking waves. We leap in swimming and crawling up through the surf and over the rocks to arrive in the terra firma of Phoenix Island.
Tukabu, Randi and I head out across the island to determine if a rabbit eradication project PIPA undertook with New Zealand ornithologist Dr. Ray Pierce has been successful. The goal was to remove rabbits that had established themselves on the island. Rabbits eat the ground vegetation, which provides important shelter for young birds and eggs from the hot mid-day sun on an island like this, which has no trees. The others in our shore party walked the perimeter of the islands looking for turtle nesting sites and doing a general inspection.
Like the other small bird islands visited so far (McKean and Enderbury) we saw old coral walls and foundations from the days when people lived here and extracted the guano commercially, using it for fertilizer. But they are long gone and the last remnants of their presence is slowly being worn away by the wind and water of this tiny island, no more than a pile of coral rock in the heaving ocean. The birds have retaken it as the sole inhabitants.
We walk carefully over the island taking special care not to step on eggs that are laid bare on the ground. The low ground cover is intact and more lush then when I was last here in 2002. Concerned adult birds occasionally dart at us if we get too close to their nest; we try not to bother them. We are happy to report that not one rabbit or rat was seen. This place is once again safe for the more than 15 different seabird species that call this wonderful place home, inside the Phoenix Islands Protected Area.
– Gregory Stone, PIPA Expedition Leader
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