News Release

December 21, 2012

Biologists Evacuated from Remote Pacific Field Station

Media Contacts:
Ann Bell, 808-792-9484

See images at http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwspacific

Biologists Evacuated from Remote Pacific Field Station
Storm damage to Tern Island facility is extensive

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist and four volunteers arrived safely in Honolulu early Friday after being evacuated from their research station on Tern Island, which was extensively damaged during an intense storm December 9. The experience was frightening but no one was physically injured.
 
The pre-dawn morning storm produced high winds that damaged all facilities on the field station 490 miles northwest of Honolulu within the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, part of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. The living quarters, storage facilities and boat sheds suffered extensive damage as did the communication systems and solar panels.  Damage to nesting birds and habitat will be determined after photographs and eye witness accounts are assessed.
 
The Tern Island biologists arrived in Honolulu around 1 a.m. Friday after a two-day voyage in high winds and rough seas aboard the M/V Kahana. The biologists were safely evacuated from Tern Island December 18 with help from Fish and Wildlife Service employees traveling from Johnston Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. The Tern Island residents had sufficient food and water while waiting for the boat.
 
“We are extremely grateful for everyone’s safety and well-being first and foremost, including those involved with the shore-to-ship evacuation under very stiff wind conditions,” said Barry Stieglitz, Refuge Supervisor for the Hawaiian and Pacific Island National Wildlife Refuges.  “It was a harrowing experience for our employees, including four young volunteers, as they were awakened by a freak wind burst that shook their living quarters.”
 
The residents told Stieglitz everything started “popping” as wood panels and windows blew out and a boat shed was completely destroyed.
 
“With their normal internet communication seriously compromised and a satellite phone connection that often dropped, they no doubt felt isolated,” Stieglitz said.  “We are very glad to have them home.”
 
Located on Tern Island within French Frigate Shoals part of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, this U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service field station provides critical shelter and a touchstone with wildlife for biologists to do research, student-based education and restoration projects and to monitor hundreds of albatross, wedge-tailed shearwaters and Bonin petrels, including a population of Tristram’s storm petrels.  These biologists are also the eyes and ears that provide a year-round presence to help protect marine and island ecosystems that provide life support for most of Hawai‘i’s green turtle nesting population, the endangered Hawaiian monk seal and extraordinary native marine life.
 
The first chance Monument employees in Honolulu will have to view the damage will be from photographs the biologists carried with them onboard the Kahana.  Upon assessing the impacts to facilities and habitat, the Service will begin to determine next steps.
 
To learn more about Tern Island see www.fws.gov/hawaiianislands
 
Papahānaumokuākea is cooperatively managed to ensure ecological integrity and achieve strong, long-term protection and perpetuation of Northwestern Hawaiian Island ecosystems, Native Hawaiian culture, and heritage resources for current and future generations.  Three co-trustees - the Department of Commerce, Department of the Interior, and State of Hawai‘i - joined by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, protect this special place. Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument was inscribed as the first mixed (natural and cultural) UNESCO World Heritage Site in the United States in July 2010.