Artwork of a Hawaiian monk seal among marine debris by Jacqueline Le of Hawaii. One of the winners from the 2015 NOAA Marine Debris Art Contest (to be featured in the 2016 calendar).
It's time again for the NOAA Marine Debris Art Contest, which opened on Tuesday, Oct. 20. All students from Kindergarten through 8th grade from U.S. states and territories are eligible to participate.
The deadline for entries (form here) is Nov. 30. Winners will be featured in the 2017 Marine Debris Calendar.
The phrase "marine debris" sometimes draws a blank stare — it's a formal name for basically, trash, or things that don't belong in the ocean. Examples include plastic wrap, plastic forks and spoons, plastic toys, metals takeout lunch waste, pieces of rope, plastic bags, paper napkins, derelict fishing gear and other items, which are prevalent from the ocean floor to the surface.
The five most common items tallied by the International Coastal Cleanup: plastic cigarette butts, plastic food wrappers, plastic beverage bottles, plastic bottle caps and plastic straws.
NOAA defines it as "any persistent solid material that is manufactured or processed and directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, disposed of or abandoned into the marine environment or the Great Lakes. It is a global problem, and it is an everyday problem. There is no part of the world left untouched by debris and its impacts. Marine debris is a threat to our environment, navigation safety, the economy and human health."
Where does it come from? Basically, humans (visiting the beach, leaving litter by sewers and throwing trash off of fishing boats). But every person has the power and ability to prevent it. Preventing the trash from entering the ocean in the first place is a good step.
Watch this video for an introduction to marine debris, where it comes from and solutions:
Here's a look at winners from 2015, which were just announced for 2016 calendar. A finalist from Hawaii has been chosen since the contest started in 2010, originally in the isles, before it expanded nationwide.
Artwork by Claire, California. 2015 NOAA Marine Debris Art Contest winner.
Artwork by Madison, Hawaii. 2015 NOAA Marine Debris Art Contest winner.
Artwork by Gautham K., California. 2015 NOAA Marine Debris Art Contest winner.
Artwork by Elizabeth, Florida. 2015 NOAA Marine Debris Art Contest winner.
Artwork by Ryan, Michigan. 2015 NOAA Marine Debris Art Contest winner.
Kilo, the Hawaiian monk seal that NOAA rescued from Niihau, resting on an ohia log at Ke Kai Ola. Photo courtesy The Marine Mammal Center. NOAA Permit No. 18786.
Ke Kai Ola, the Hawaiian monk seal hospital run by The Marine Mammal Centerat NELHA in Kona, is rehabilitating seven seals.
The hospital has successfully rehabilitated and released eight seal patients over the past year, mostly malnourished pups from the Northwestern Hawaiian islands, or Papahanaumokuakea, that would otherwise had little chance of survival. The monk seal population at Papahanaumokuakea is in decline primarily due to poor juvenile survival — fewer than one in five survive their first year due to marine debris entanglement, predators and starvation.
Most recently, NOAA returned Pearl and Hermes to the atolls where they were found. Pearl and Hermes were pre-weaned pups that were able to pretty much double their weight at Ke Kai Ola. They were healthy enough for release after just four months.
Fewer than 1,100 Hawaiian monk seals remain in Hawaii. While the majority reside in the more remote isles of Papahanaumokuakea, a growing number of pups are being born in the main Hawaiian isles, which is home to between 150 to 200 seals. However, NOAA's Hawaiian Monk Seal Research team recently surveyed monk seal breeding sites along the 1,200-mile archipelago and found that 148 pups were born in Papahanaumokuakea this year, up 22 percent from 2014.
While Pearl and Hermes were transported back home (see pics below) aboard the Oscar Elton Sette, the team rescued six new patients — five female pups and one juvenile female — and transported them back to Ke Kai Ola. The team also rescued Kilo, a female monk seal pup found earlier on the island of Niihau. For the first time, all four of the pool pens at Ke Kai Ola are full.
For further depth and details on the journey, read the wonderfully descriptive and humorous Kim Rogers' Malama Monk Seal blog series, which will take you on the trip and get you acquainted with the remote isles and each seal.
"All of our research cruises have seals on them now — either seals headed to Kona for rehabilitation or headed back home fat, healthy and ready for their return to the wild," said NOAA's monk seal research scientist Charles Littnan. "This hospital and our ship-turned-ambulance means new hope for monk seals."
Current monk seal patients at Ke Kai Kola include:
>> Kilo (pictured above). Female pup and the first from the main Hawaiian islands at Ke Kai Ola. Her name means "sassy." She is doing well, and while she's still being tube fed, she's starting to show an interest in whole fish, which is a positive sign.
>> Ama‘ama, a female pup named for the French Frigate Shoals where she was born.
>> Puka, a female pup named for the scar on her neck.
>> Neva, a female pup named for Neva Shoals on Lisianski Island, where she was found.
>> ‘Ena‘ena, a female pup named for a small, silver plant native to Kure Atoll, where she was found.
>> Mahina, a female pup named after the super moon, when she was found.
>> Mo‘o, a one-year-old female named for the mythical Hawaiian lizards and shapeshifting dragons. Most of us will think of geckos.
Ama‘ama and Puka resting at Ke Kai Ola. NOAA permit 18786.
Six new patients arrive at Ke Kai Ola. Two rest by the pool. NOAA Permit 18786.
Hermes and Pearl have returned to Papahanaumokuakea. Photo by Julie Steelman. NMFS Permit 16632-00 and 932-1905-01MA-009526-1.
Pearl and Hermes in shore pen. NOAA Permit 16632.
Back home. Pearl and Hermes official release. NOAA Permit 16632
If you see a Hawaiian monk seal resting on the shoreline, give it space and let it rest. The monk seal hotline is 220-7802 (for Oahu) or 1-888-256-9840.
Hawaiian monk seal pups Hermes and Pearl resting by the pool pen at Ke Kai Ola, a hospital run by The Marine Mammal Center in Kona. Hermes and Pearl were rescued as pre-weaned pups at Pearl and Hermes atolls in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. NMFS Permit 16632-00 and 932-1905-01MA-009526-1. Photo credit: Julie Steelman.
Happy monk seal Monday.
Here's an update on Pearl and Hermes — two prematurely weaned Hawaiian monk seal pups that NOAA researchers picked up from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, or Papahanaumokuakea, aboard the Hi‘ialakaiin early June. The pair, one female and one male, are being rehabbed at Ke Kai Ola in Kona and doing well.
The seals, named Hermes and Pearl after the atollwhere they were found, graduated from fish smoothies to eating whole fish last week. The shift to eating fish (thawed-out herring) is a significant step since it eliminates the need for tube feeding.
"Pearl is starting to put on weight," said operations manager Deb Wickham. "Hermes is not putting on as much, but he's basically stable."
Pearl weighs about 35 kilograms, and Hermes weighs about 36 kilograms.
When the monk seal pups first arrived, they were under a month old, with black coats. Their coats are now turning into a silvery sheen. Besides herring, Pearl and Hermes are also enjoying "fishstickles" this summer. They sleep a lot during the day, according to Wickham, but are also playful. They're up early in the morning, and at night.
"When they first arrived, they were suckling on each other," said Wickham. "They play together. They are very bonded."
Pearl, a Hawaiian monk seal pup rescued from Pearl atoll, peeks out from her pen at Ke Kai Ola, the monk seal hospital in Kona where she's being rehabilitated. When she gains enough weight, she'll be released back home. NMFS Permit 16632-00 and 932-1905-01MA-009526-1. Photo credit: Julie Steelman.
Wickham actually got a chance to observe them in the wild on this last 21-day voyage to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands aboard NOAA's Hi‘ialakai.
"They're doing really well, doing great," said Wickham, who added that seeing Pua and Mele healthy at home was the best reward.
Hawaiian monk seals are critically endangered, with a population of fewer than 1,100 remaining in the wild, according to NOAA. They are protected by both state and federal laws, and should be left in peace if resting on a shoreline. A growing number, between 150 to 200, are appearing on main Hawaiian isle shorelines like Maui, Kauai and Oahu. Volunteers from the Monk Seal Foundation help keep watch over them, as well as maintain a safe distance between the wild seals and humans.
Ke Kai Ola, a brand-new facility at NELHA, offers specialized pens and pools for the rehabilitation of Hawaiian monk seals, plus a fish kitchen, lab and office. The hospital welcomes help from volunteers in the community who want to help with its mission of helping save the critically endangered monk seals. Visit www.marinemammalcenter.org/hawaiito learn more.
Hermes at Ke Kai Ola in Kona. Hermes just began eating whole fish and is on his way to recovery. NMFS Permit 16632-00 and 932-1905-01MA-009526-1. Photo credit: Julie Steelman.
Pua and Mele being released at Kure Atoll (By The Marine Mammal Center)
Schoolchildren, teachers and other members of the public had lined up in a V-shape along the shores of Rodeo Beach in Marin, Calif., to witness the release of two rescued sea lions by staff at The Marine Mammal Center.
Once released from their kennels, California sea lions Zeno and Shackle, did not linger or hesitate. They shuffled quickly along the sand, making a beeline for the ocean. As they entered the water together, a smattering of applause came from the audience.
Then we watched in delight, as their two heads bobbed in the waves. It was a beautiful sight.
Zeno and Shackle head out to their ocean home after being rescued and released by The Marine Mammal Center at Rodeo Beach in Marin, Calif. The two seals were rescued from the Santa Cruz and Monterey area.
Beautiful, because these wild mammals are returning to their natural habitat, where they should be. Beautiful, because they were being given a second chance — humans may have created the problems that hindered them, but humans can also be part of the solution.
What the audience may not have known is how much work it took to get the wild sea lions into the kennel, weighed on a scale, then carefully loaded onto a pickup truck and carted across the sand for the release. Staff and volunteers at the center all played a vital role.
The release was also a small, uplifting celebration in the midst of a sea lion crisis. For the third year in a row, sea lion pups are stranding along the California coastline in record numbers. While the center usually houses about 10 sea lion pups, it was taking care of nearly 100. TIME Magazine on Feb. 18 explored whether the strandings could be caused by rising ocean temperatures impacting the diet of sea lions (squid, anchovies, mackerel).
"We call sea lions sentinels of the sea," said MMC communications curator Sarah van Scagen. "What's going on with them can tell us a lot about the oceans as a whole."
Zeno, a female California sea lion, was rescued from Santa Cruz in January. She was behaving abnormally for a sea lion, and rescuers who picked her up confirmed she was suffering from domoic acid toxicity. Domoic acid, produced by algae, accumulates in shellfish, sardines and anchovies, which in turn, are consumed by sea lions. The biotoxin affects the brain, causing lethargy and disorientation. It can also affect people, so the center gives the health department a heads up when it discovers a case like Zeno's.
For Shackle, a male California sea lion picked up from Monterey, the problem was simpler – he had been entangled with a fishing net around his neck that left a scar. But luckily, once the net was removed, he quickly regained weight and was ready to be released.
Releasing two sea lions together is ideal, according to van Schagen, because they can keep one another company. Sea lions are, by nature, social animals.
That seemed apparent — the pair seemed as if they were immediately bonded as they headed into the waves.
TMMC, founded in 1975, is the non-profit that recently celebrated the grand opening of Ke Kai Ola (The Healing Sea), the first monk seal hospital at NELHA in Kona, in September. With more than $3.2 million raised in funds, TMMC was able to build four pens with pools – two for juvenile and adult seals and two for pups, along with a fish kitchen, medical lab and seawater filtration infrastructure for the pools.
Ke Kai Ola's first patients were four young, malnourished monk seals — Kulia, Ikaika, Hala‘i and Maka‘ala — from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. They were admitted in July, and released (nice and fat again) on Aug. 31. The center's current patients are Meleana and Pua, also from the NWHI, who were admitted as malnourished pups in September. Hopefully, they'll be released soon, too.
Sea lions Zeno and Shackle, are released and ready to head back to their ocean home.
Boobie bird at Palmyra Atoll, to be featured in the "Oceans" segment of PBS Hawaii's "Earth A New Wild" airing Wednesday, Feb. 18 at 10 p.m. Photo courtesy of Dave Allen.
From baby pandas in China to humpback whales in Alaska and reef sharks at Palmyra Atoll, Dr. M. Sanjayan, a leading conservation scientist, explores humankind's relationship to the planet's wildest places.
"Earth A New Wild,"produced by National Geographic Studios in association with Passion Planet, premieres "Oceans" on PBS Hawaii (KHET) at 10 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 18. A preview of the film was screened at ProtoHub Honolulu by The Nature Conservancy and PBS Hawaii last Thursday. The team visits 29 different countries, capturing spectacular natural history footage — what distinguishes this series from other nature films is that this time, humans are in the picture.
Episodes One (Home), Two (Plains) and Three (Forests) have already aired, starting Feb. 4, but are available onlineand scheduled for encores for the rest of February.
The "Oceans" segment (preview here)has many messages relevant to Hawaii — overfishing, coastal pollution, climate change and sea level rise, not to mention the growing "rise of slime."
It opens with scenes from Palmyra atoll, a national marine monument located 1,000 miles south of Hawaii which gives us an idea what an untouched ecosystem still looks like. It's a place where the top predators, sharks, are still thriving abudantly over a healthy coral reef. It was once considered a part of the Territory of Hawaii, then became an unincorporated U.S. territory and was occupied by the U.S. military during World War II. Today it is owned and managed as a nature preserve by The Nature Conservancy.
Sanjayan looks at potential causes as well as solutions to this rise of slime in the ocean, including a revival of oysters, which play a vital role in cleaning up the waters around Manhattan.
It's clear that Sanjayan, who has spent 25 years in conservation, has a passion for nature and animals — he travels to the edge of the Earth, plunges into the ocean, parachutes in the air, hangs out with Dr. Jane Goodall and chimpanzees, and cuddles with baby pandas. Watch the live birth of a lemon shark.
Dr. Jane Goodall reveals her plan for ways for village dwellers to coexist with the wild chimpanzees through the planting of "wildlife corridors" — corridors of trees at the edge of farmers' lands so that the chimpanzees have a way to travel and inter-breed with one another.
At every frontier, he discovers how much humans and wildlife need each other to survive. The question nowadays is how do we coexist?
Says Sanjayan: "Now, my mission is to tell you an untold story, where we humans are not separate from nature. We are part of it."
Dr. Sanjayan with a panda in the bamboo forests of China. Photo courtesy of Ami Vitale.
Hawaiian monk seals Kulia and Ikaika in the pool at Ke Kai Ola. The malnourished seal pups were transported from the Northwestern Hawaiian Isles to the hospital in Kona. The seals were able to gain weight, and were released back in the NWHI Aug. 31. Photo by Sarah van Schagen, NMFS permit 16632-00.
Ke Kai Ola, the new Hawaiian monk seal hospital in Kona, held its grand opening and blessing on Sept. 2.
The Marine Mammal Center's new, $3.2 million facility, which means the healing sea in Hawaiian, is dedicated to giving sick and injured Hawaiian monk seals a second chance.
Previously, malnourished pups like the four were left behind to fend for themselves by scientists, who had no place to take them.
"We built this hospital to save a species," said Jeff Boehm, executive director of The Marine Mammal; Center. "Thenks to funding from the Firedoll Foundation as well as a generous family foundation and hundreds of donors throughout the world, this hospital can now provide life-saving medical care."
The Hawaiian monk seal population hovers at about 1,100, with fewer than one in five pups surviving their first year in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands due to threats like marine debris entanglement, changes in the food chain and predators.
The total area covered would more than double the monument from about 83,000 square miles to more than 755,000 square miles, west and south of Hawaii, making it the largest network of protected areas on Earth.
President Obama is expected to make a decision after public input, though there is no specified timeline or date in which he will do so yet.
The White House Council on Environmental Quality, on behalf of NOAA and FWS, invited the public to a town hall meeting Aug. 11 at Ala Moana Hotel. Comments were also accepted via email until Aug. 15.
There was overwhelming support from Hawaii, according to environmental activists.
More than 200 attended, and roughly 50 commented publicly, including individuals from Maui, Molokai, Kauai and Miloli‘i on the Big Island, the last traditional fishing village in Hawaii. The large majority were in favor of expanding the monument to protect the ecosystem from the shore to the deep sea as well as to create a refuge for endangered species. Also, to keep the area safe from drilling and mining.
More than 135,000 U.S. citizens submitted letters, 1,500 from Hawaii residents. More than 30 non-profits including the Sierra Club Hawai‘i, Conservation Council for Hawaii, KAHEA, Surfrider Hawaii and others sent a group letter in support.
Some opposition came from the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management because of concerns from commercial fishermen.
The monument was established by George W. Bush in 2009, covering roughly 83,000 square miles, which extend 50 nautical miles from the shores of seven islands and atolls: Howland, Baker, Jarvis islands and Johnson, Wake and Palmyra Atolls and Kingman Reef.
Collectively, the Pacific Remote Islands are home to 14 million seabirds of 19 species, 22 species of marine mammals, seven of which are endangered, including the blue whale, m ore than 240 seamounds and some of the most pristine coral reefs in the world.
It is also home to some of the healthiest populations of green and hawksbill sea turtles.
"By protecting the entire ecosystem from the shore to the deep sea, we ensure that all the links in the food web remain intact," said Alan Friedlander, director for the Fisheries Ecology Research Lab at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.
The film is the subject of today's Green Leaf column.
Robin and Andrew Eitelberg of Monterey, Calif. discovered the plight of the critically endangered Hawaiian monk seal a little over two years ago. Since last fall, they've been in the isles, dedicated to their goal of making a documentary film to help save the species.
They hope that the film, "One by One: The Struggle to Save the Hawaiian Monk Seal," will help educate the public about Hawaiian monk seals.
“When you talk to people about monk seal outside of Hawaii, no one’s heard of them, so we’re starting with a completely blank slate," said Andrew. "We’re trying to get people aware of the species and what’s happening here.”
Making the Hawaiian monk seal, Hawaii's official state mammal, more visible and prominent, is one of their goals. Raising awareness of how hooked monk seals should be reported immediately is another.
The film will highlight the work of numerous conservation groups like the Monk Seal Foundationand The Marine Mammal Center, the passion of the scientists and volunteers who are working together to save the species, as well as the volunteers who are dedicated to protecting the seals as they haul ashore to get some rest in Hawaii.
Filmmakers Robin and Andrew Eitelberg. Courtesy image.
The Eitelbergs, graduates from film studies at the University of California at Berkeley, believe documentaries have the power to tell a story and reach a worldwide audience. Both were impressed by "Blackfish."
They've been filming in the isles since last fall with the help of NOAA's Monk Seal Research Program. Challenges include capturing footage of seals that are spread out over thousands of miles, sometimes on remote isles like Papahanaumokuakea. They've respected the 150-foot distance from the seals, and are also careful to be quiet while shadowing NOAA scientists so as not to disturb the seals.
There have been many inspiring moments, according to Robin, including when a vet was able to successfully extricate a hook from monk seal pup Luana's mouth in June. A collective sigh of relief came from the team that rescued her, along with high-fives all around.
Funding will help the pair recoup out-of-pocket expenses already invested into travel and equipment, as well as editing, graphics and film festival submission fees. Robin says editing will take place in the fall, with a screening hopefully, by next spring.
They hope to offer screenings and discussions here as well as on the mainland.
With more funding and time, Andrew says it would be interesting to explore the unique challenges of monk seal populations for each isle.
"We want to have children, and grandchildren one day, and I am fearful my grandchildren will not get to see these monk seals and share the experience of knowing what they have to offer to all of us," said Andrew. "We have to all come together right now...build this movement to save a species and we hope this documentary can be a spark."
A Hawaiian monk seal snoozing. Photo courtesy "One by One."
In a kai ceremony at noon, six communities of the newly formed Maui Nui Makai Networkpledged new commitments to members of the voyage at the Hawai‘i Convention Center. The ceremony followed an hour-long presentation by members at the 2014 annual Hawai‘i Conservation Conference.
Kahu Sam Ohu Gon III combined ocean waters from each site as a symbol of shared commitments to community-based management of the six communities that make up an ahupua‘a on Maui. These commitments were recorded in a book that will be carried on board the Hokule‘a, which are to be completed by the voyage's conclusion in 2017.
Among the Network's commitments to one another:
>> Protect and restore healthy ecosystems
>> Share and learn from their diverse experiences
>> Help one another malama (care for) their areas
>> Perpetuate Hawaiian values, including kuleana
"We are a group of like-minded people who have shared aspirations to care for our marine resources," said Ekolu Lindsey of Palanui Hiu, current chair for the network. "The ocean is the foundation of our island culture and we need it to be healthy and sustainable. We are working toward sustainable reefs and fish for our future."
Members of the Network currently include: Kipahulu ‘Ohana and Na Mamo O Mu‘olea in east Maui; Wailuku Ahupua‘a Community Managed Makai Area in central Maui; Palanui Hiu in Lahaina; Hui Maalalama O Mo‘omomomi in Molokai; and Maunalei Ahupua‘a Community Managed Makai Area in Lanai.
Members of the Maui Nui Makai Network with Polynesian Voyaging Society president Nainoa Thompson, fourth from left, and Kahu Sam Ohu Gon III, right. Photo by Sean Marrs.
Scientists are mapping and monitoring the ‘opihi population in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and believe hybridization is occurring between the yellowfoot and blackfoot ‘opihi. Photo courtesy NOAA.
Scientists on a recent expedition to the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monumenthave discovered a mingling of the yellowfoot and blackfoot ‘opihi on Mokumanamana. The good news is that the hybridization means ‘opihi, a prized delicacy in Hawaii, may be more resilient against the effects of climate change and other disturbances.
For the sixth consecutive year, members of the intertidal monitoring expedition examined the rocky shorelines of Nihoa, Mokumanamana and French Frigate Shoals. It involved walking, crawling, swimming and clinging to rocks to count, size and record all ‘opihi around the islands.
The data collected will provide good baseline information to compare with data being collected in the more populated main Hawaiian islands, according to NOAA acting deputy superintendent Hoku Johnson, who led the expedition. It will also be turned into spatial "heat maps" depicting ‘opihi abundance, size and species on each island.
In the main Hawaiian islands, ‘opihi is is serious decline.
Scientists are trying to better understand their spawning patterns, gene flow and the rate of evolution of the three species endemic to Hawaii to better manage shorelines near populated areas.