KAENA POINT, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Department of Land and Natural Resources Friday announced a record number of ua'u kani, or wedge-tailed shearwater seabirds, hatching at the Ka'ena Point Natural Area Reserve. Success is due to a predator proof fence, funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and installed by the state in early 2011 that keeps out non-native predators like cats, dogs, mongoose, rats and even mice.
"The success of the fence is astonishing. We are beginning to see how abundant our native ecosystems can be when restored to their natural state without predators," said Marigold Zoll, manager of the DLNR O'ahu Natural Area Reserves.
"Since the fence installation, the hatching ua'u kani population has more than doubled from a previous high of 1,556 birds in 2007, to 3,274 in 2012," said Dr. Lindsay Young, biologist with Pacific Rim Conservation, who is studying seabird populations at Ka'ena.
The Moli, or Laysan Albatross, which also nests at Ka'ena Point, has also increased in numbers, up by 15 percent to 400 birds.
While seabird life at Ka'ena flourished in the past, they were wiped out at Ka'ena Point for decades by predation and off-road vehicles driving on the sand dunes where the birds nest. These vehicles were blocked in the early 1990s and, since then, seabirds began to slowly return and attempt to nest. However, birds were constantly eaten or killed.
"Every so often, a stray dog would kill dozens - and sometimes over a hundred - shearwaters," Dr. Young said. "Similarly, rats were eating 15 percent of the albatross chicks, preventing the population from recovering.
"Now, the birds are bouncing back. This last week, the first albatross of the season arrived at Ka'ena Point. We are excited to see how this year goes - and the many generations to come."
Ka'ena Point is only one only a handful of places in the main Hawaiian Islands where these birds nest. To prevent trampling seabirds, visitors must stay on the pathways and cannot bring dogs into the reserve.
The fence has also protected many native plants and insects that were being eaten by rats and mice at Ka'ena. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service funded the installation of the fence to protect these native species, some of which are only found at Ka'ena Point.
"Ka'ena Point demonstrates that with protection from the state and its partners, our native wildlife and plants can thrive again," said William Aila Jr., DLNR chairperson. "This is great news for all that care about the natives that make our islands so special."