HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Kukui returned to Honolulu Tuesday after taking part in two important multi-agency missions in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands: moving endangered ducks and removing large amounts of marine debris.
The Kukui docked at Sand Island with some 10,000 pounds of ocean debris on deck. The ship's commander said it likely took a year for the nets, plastic debris and fishing line to accumulate. The crew removed debris from areas around Kure Atoll Wildlife Sanctuary, which is part of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.
In addition, the Kukui helped the state of Hawaii, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey transport 28 endangered Laysan ducks from the wildlife sanctuary on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge to one at Kure Atoll.
Officials said translocating, or spreading the species to other islands, helps ensure their survival.
"To spread out your population increases your chance of longterm persistence of the species in case you have tsunamis, which we had in 2011 that affected the Midway populations, and now, a little bit of avian botulism that's affecting the Midway population," said John Klavitter, biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Steven Ramassini, commanding officer for the U.S. Coast Guard Kukui, said moving the ducks was a significant event for the Coast Guard.
"It's extra special for us as a crew to be a part of something that's potentially historic, assuming that the colonization and self-sustaining capability of the Laysan duck takes affect as planned," he said.
Scientists said the ducks that once lived throughout the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are very adaptable and did well during the short trips between atolls.
Officials said success would mean a 50 to 90 percent survival rate of the ducks in the first year, with breeding taking place next spring. Eventually, they said they hope to spread more ducks to other islands. Once they have five sustainable populations, they believe they can move the species from endangered status to threatened. If they achieve several high altitude populations, the hope is to take them off the list for good.