Evacuation of Three Northwestern Hawaiian Island Field Camps

November 5, 2014
Evacuated field team members land safely at Midway island via MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft from U.S. Marine Corps 
        Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 163 (VMM-163).
Evacuated field team members land safely at Midway island via MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft from U.S. Marine Corps Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 163 (VMM-163).

The 2014 Northwestern Hawaiian Island (NWHI) monk seal field season was definitely not typical. In early August, Hurricanes Iselle and Julia posed a serious threat to the safety of our field teams, particularly as most teams live in tents and the islands are low lying with little option to move to higher ground (e.g., the highest elevation at Pearl and Hermes Atoll is 8 feet). Because the predicted storm track and associated storm surge was headed directly toward these islands, quick actions were taken to identify a means for evacuation. Fortunately there were U.S. Navy ships which were able to respond and on August 8th, the field teams at Laysan and Lisianski Islands and Pearl and Hermes Reef were all simultaneously evacuated by 3 different U.S. Navy ships, the USS Makin Island, USS Comstock and USS San Diego. Later that day all 11 field personnel (including a 3-person American Bird Conservancy team from Laysan Island), safely arrived at Midway Atoll via U.S. Marine Corp tiltrotor aircraft from the Navy ships. A huge Mahalo goes out to the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps for diverting from their mission to rescue our field teams.

Because of the evacuations due to these major weather events, the field effort for 2014 was almost cut in half (4 of 10 planned weeks) at Laysan and Lisianski Islands and Pearl and Hermes Reef. However, having the field teams at Midway Atoll was fortuitous and tripled the planned effort for Midway Atoll from 11 to 33 days.