marine debris


Having a day off we, the other USFWS volunteer biology technicians, and I decided to adopt a beach and clean marine debris from one of the beaches on Sand Island at Midway Atoll.  Marine debris can kill large wildlife or smaller marine organisms through entanglement or ingestion.  Midway Atoll’s location puts it near the infamous Pacific Garbage Patch, a confluence of currents that concentrates debris.

Part of the beach before cleanup. Copyright USFWS/Greg Joder

The beach in question has beautiful fine white coral sand and the turquoise blue sea at its shore and is sometimes used as a basking or loafing area by Green Sea Turtles (Chelonia mydas) and Hawaiian Monk Seals (Monachus schauinslandi). We are allowed to visit this beach when those animals are not present and today the coast was clear and we were able to remove a few hundred pounds of marine debris.

The same part of the beach after cleanup. Left to right: Wieteke, me, Marie. Copyright USFWS/Greg Joder

The variety of debris we removed included cigarette lighters, tooth brushes, buoys, fishing nets, fishing lines, ropes, glass and plastic bottles and a multitude of other unidentifiable pieces of plastic.

An evening view of the beach not showing the debris line. Copyright USFWS/Greg Joder

What we could not pick up were the millions of tiny tiny specs of plastic so small they mixed in with the sand and were only visible because of the variation in color as compared to the white sand. Even though what we removed amounts to a fraction of the whole, we felt pretty good for making a large positive impact in a small area.

Below are two photos of the same dead Laysan Albatross, a chick from last year (the adults are just now breeding, nest building and egg laying for the next hatch year).  The adults feed in the open ocean and pick up small pieces of plastic they mistake for food.  When they return to the nest they regurgitate it when the chick feeds from the adults mouth and so the chick ingests plastic instead of squid and small fish.

A Laysan Albatross chick from last year with stomach full of plastic debris. Copyright USFWS/Greg Joder


This chick from last year (same one as above) was on one of the old WW II runways on Eastern Island, Midway Atoll. Its stomach filled with mostly bottle caps… Copyright USFWS/Greg Joder



Midway Sunset ~ copyright USFWS/Greg Joder

The first week at Midway has been exciting in many ways: Meeting the Refuge and contractor staff, island orientation, seeing all the birds and swimming in the aqua marine blue ocean water.

Midway is composed of three islands, Sand, Spit and Eastern, along with the fringing reef. Check out the view on Google Earth… All the storage buildings, power plant, water plant, living quarters and restaurant (The Clipper House) are located on Sand Island. Midway is grouped as one of the United States Minor Outlying Islands. It is less than 140 nautical miles (259 km; 161 mi) east of theInternational Date Line, about 2,800 nautical miles (5,200 km; 3,200 mi) west of San Francisco, and 2,200 nautical miles (4,100 km; 2,500 mi) east of Tokyo” (Wikipedia).

Hello from Midway Atoll ~ copyright USFWS/Greg Joder

Even though we are volunteers we are treated like staff and participate in most of the biological field work. We also are bound by the rules of the Refuge and are not allowed in certain areas like the airport runway, some buildings and beaches important to Hawaiian Monk Seals and Green Sea Turtles. There are, however, plenty of places, including beaches and some areas on the water, that we are allowed to go walking, swimming and sea kayaking. So, despite being a very small island there is no sense of being confined. The food is really well prepared and served cafeteria-style with vegetarian options. There is also a soft ice cream machine and an automated espresso machine – definite moral boosters for working in remote locations.

Black-footed Albatross ~ copyright USFWS/Greg Joder

This week we started field work which included removing non-native vegetation and the start of monitoring reproductive success of Laysan and Black-footed Albatross.

Sea urchin shell ~ copyright USFWS/Greg Joder

Midway Atoll


We finally made it the to the top secret destination:  Midway Atoll!

The internet connection here is akin to 1990′s dial-up, so I will post what photos I can, though the resolution is sub-par.  I will be sharing photos and thoughts on my time here on Midway working as a volunteer field technician on the USFWS Biological Volunteer Program.

Today was spent going through some extensive orientation, but we did see a male green sea turtle basking on a beach and, for you birders out there we saw:

Laysan Albatross, Bonin Petrel, Bristle-thigh Curlew, Common Canary, Common Myna, Great Frigatebird, Pacific Golden Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, White Tern, White-tailed Tropicbird, Cattle Egret, Laysan Duck and Hybrid Laysan/Black-footed Albatross.

Welcome to Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge ~ Copyright USFWS/Greg Joder

DSC_1803 laysan alb

Laysan Albatross ~ Copyright USFWS/Greg Joder







APU? Flaps?


Update:  We are still in Honolulu.  We learned today that there are two problems with the plane.  We’ve all wondered why the charter company doesn’t just send a different, working aircraft, but since we are not in charge we are not privy to that kind of information.  Here’s the descriptive part of the email from our supervisor regarding this third delay:  “Sorry to say the plane will not be leaving tonight, Thursday.  They are flying in parts to fix the flap problem, and those parts arrive tomorrow, Friday, morning.  They also need to come up with a different solution to yesterday’s problem with the APU, as they can not leave the engines running while off- and on- loading passengers at XXXXXX.  The gist is they have two outstanding problems, so lets keep our fingers crossed.”

While we all want to get the flight behind us, we’ve been able to spend time together exploring the Honolulu area and we’re getting to know each other.  This is a good thing since we’ll be working together day in day out for four months in a very remote location.

We’ve decided, if the flight is delayed again, that we’ll rent a car for a day and explore more of O’ahu.

white flower ~ copyright g. joder

red flower bud ~ copyright g. joder

yellow flower ~ copyright g. joder

after sunset on a Honolulu beach… by g. joder



Well…  We’ve had two consecutive delays with our flight to the super-top-secret-for-now work location.  Yesterday, there was a problem with the plane’s avionics and so we never even boarded.  Tonight the plane was loaded with our gear and goods and the engines were running when the pilot shut everything down and said there was a problem with the flaps (“this plane really needs flaps”).  So our departure is delayed yet again.  It’s really no big deal for us since we are in such a beautiful place.  And, of course, we all want to be flying on a plane fit to fly.  Even so, we are all itching to get to work, but due to the location and logistics involved we have to keep a sense of humor and patience when it comes to the reality of flying to such a remote location… Oh, and I have to say everyone involved have been happy, friendly, concerned, helpful and professional in every aspect of this step of the the trip.  I think the nature of this kind of adventure attracts these kinds of people and together makes things so much more meaningful and real.

Near Diamond Head O’ahu ~ by g. joder

O’ahu Color


Here are a few photos and a video from today’s explorations.  What I find funny is that the two birds, to me, were an amazing find – so unique and beautiful.  However, a volunteer at the zoo said they were really common and not even native to O’ahu and no big deal.  It was still great to see new bird’s in my book…

what bird? copyright g. joder

what bird? copyright g. joder

rainbow eucalyptus ~ copyright g. joder

cactus ~ copyright g. joder

flower ~ copyright g. joder

Today I took a flight from Phoenix to Honolulu, O’ahu and arrived just in time for a sunset walk on the beach.  I’ll be here until Tuesday afternoon when I’ll be meeting some of the crew I’ll be working with for a 1300 mile flight to the yet-to-be-disclosed-top-secret work location.  In the mean time I’ll try and post some fun photos and video from the Honolulu area…

Sunset in O’ahu November 2nd 2014 ~ copyright g. joder


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