04/10/15 – Kure Atoll Field Camp Volunteers Return To Honolulu

Posted on Apr 10, 2015 in Forestry & Wildlife, News Releases

News Release


For Immediate News Release April 10, 2015    

Six Months of Restoration & Protection on Remote Island

HONOLULU – When the supply ship Kahana returned to Honolulu Harbor from its latest trip, six young volunteers returned to families and friends and potentially more frenetic life styles — a stark contrast to the isolated life they lived for the past six months while toiling on Kure Atoll, the northwestern most atoll in the Hawaiian archipelago.

Kure Atoll is a State of Hawaii Wildlife Sanctuary since 1993, and lies within the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. The atoll, a former U.S. Coast Loran Station, was returned back to the State of Hawaii in 1981. DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) has operated field camps on Kure since 1993, first on a seasonal basis and now on a year-around basis. The team focuses on managing the atoll’s key management threats which include invasive species removal, wildlife management and marine debris removal.

A half dozen volunteers at a time sign up, to spend half a year helping restore Kure Atoll to as pristine a condition as possible by eradicating invasive plants and insects, helping disentangle marine mammals like Green Sea Turtles and the critically endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal, and by planting native species to perpetuate a large colony of Laysan and Black-footed Albatross and other tropical sea birds.

Kure Atoll field camp manager Cynthia Vanderlip has dedicated most of the past 25 years to helping restore the 233 acre island. She takes pride in noting that the volunteer’s most recent counts of albatross show a burgeoning population of both Laysan albatross and the endangered Black-footed species.

Vanderlip gets great pleasure in taking new volunteers under her wing and after a six month stint they become part of the “Kurian” family; people who develop a life-long love for the atoll and protecting it.

Tiana Bolosan of Honolulu was one of the volunteers who just returned home at the end of March. She said it was a bittersweet moment for her. “It was good. I learned a lot of things. You not only learn things on conservation, but you also learn about yourself. That’s what’s good about Kure. It has a really good impact on you and on your life,” Bolosan said. Campers arrive as complete strangers and end up as life-long friends.

Her feelings are echoed by Benjamin Field of Kahaluu. He and his fellow campers spent their last Saturday shuttling bucket loads of supplies, coolers full of food, and personal items from a small boat for the next incoming crew. Field said, “Kind a lot of mixed emotions. We just get done with a really long work stint and it’s kind of like passing off the torch to these guys…about to go on a really rough boat ride.”

Small boat operations from the Kahana to shore had to be cut short, due to very rough sea conditions. This means the next field camp team begins its six month long tour of duty without everything they’d planned on having. A NOAA research vessel is expected to help resupply the camp when it sails through the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands in May.

These are the kinds of logistical challenges Matthew Saunter, a DOFAW Kure Atoll field camp leader faces, when he and his colleagues begin preparing for each field camp, four months in advance. Often the biggest challenge is figuring out how to get volunteers from Honolulu out 1,200 miles to Kure and back.

Saunter explains, “We only have a handful of options as far as transportation. We can fly a plane to Midway Atoll and intercept a ship to go out to Kure. There are a lot of players involved and we just need to coordinate with other agencies as far as berthing and cargo space.” Transportation to and from the remote atoll is the biggest expense, accounting for about half of the operational budget.

Kure Atoll field camps are funded by grants and volunteer hours are used to provide matches to keep the project running. Without the volunteers and the field camps, Saunter and Vanderlip say invasive species could start to take hold again, which would then impact the survivorship of native wildlife and birds, create more erosion and make Kure’s fragile ecosystem more susceptible to the negative impacts of climate change.

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Feature video on Kure Atoll field camps: https://vimeo.com/123528424

For more information go to https://kureatollconservancy.org/explore/

Deborah Ward
DLNR Public information Specialist