“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard” -A.A. Milne
Restless for the day to begin, I arise early and climb the ladder onto the roof of the main house just as the island is beginning to stir. Our days are now numbered and I want to savor every moment we have left here. From my vantage point, I have an unencumbered view of the island that has been our home for the past seven months.
To the east I see the sun rising above a cloudless horizon and catch a brief but brilliant green flash erupting from the edge of the ocean just as the sun breaks free for the day.
I turn to the south and see the remnants of a distant squall that passed over the island sometime in the night. The curtains of rain that still drape from its fringes appear fiery red and orange, reflecting the rays of the early sun.
A cloud of Black Noddies suddenly lifts off from atop the dunes to the west. They seemingly move as one through the air as they fly in an arc out over the lagoon. Soon they make their way back to their perches and settle down once again among the coastal vegetation.
I look north and see a pillar of ‘Iwa birds rising into the sky. They are like an ever-changing constellation, slowly sweeping across the horizon as they hover in place using the thermals to keep afloat. Together they form a visible tattoo across the sky.
Suddenly, a young Laysan Duck breaks free from the edge of the bushes below me and, quacking loudly, runs along the path, its awkward waddle bringing an immediate smile to my face.
I look up at the central plains spreading out before me and see thousands of white silhouettes dotting the landscape: the ubiquitous Albatross. They have been our constant companions since their annual arrival in October and now they are working tirelessly to raise their young. In a few months, those chicks that survive, will fledge and make their way out into the great expanse of the Pacific to endure a lifetime of voyaging and exploration.
It saddens me to know that soon we will be saying goodbye to Kure Atoll. For the last seven months, we have lived and worked on this incredible island at the heart of the greatest oceanic wilderness on this planet. We have given our time, our energy, our sweat, and our tears to this island with the goal of restoring it as close to its original, unspoiled state as possible. In the end, our objective is to give Kure back to nature and allow its native inhabitants to grow and thrive in a properly functioning ecosystem. While our collective role as caretaker is not yet done, we have, this season, been a part of taking another important step closer to a restored and pristine Kure Atoll.
There is, without a doubt, something extraordinary about this place. Kure allows you to look into the world of nature and witness life as it fights for existence. Every day the wildlife here struggle to push on amidst the ever-encroaching hands of humankind. Albatross feed their chicks a diet of plastic that they mistook for food while foraging on the open ocean. Netting and other debris cast aside by fisherman entangle critically endangered Hawaiian Monk Seals and countless other marine and terrestrial species. Invasive plants, belonging to places on the other side of the world, have naturalized themselves on Kure and have threatened the nesting habitat of its native seabirds.
Those of us who have been fortunate to come here have worked incredibly hard to give Kure a helping hand to reduce some of these harmful effects. We work every day to eradicate invasive plants. We collect marine pollution that has washed up on our beaches in order to prevent future entanglements. When birds and seals become caught in the detritus that has made it to our shores, we free them from it and, in doing so, are rewarded by the knowledge that we have saved a life. By restoring and maintaining diversity among this isolated ecosystem, we are helping the much larger and more global ecosystem to function and thrive.
As this season comes to a close, I have become acutely aware of the many things I will miss about this place: the sudden realization that there is a giant Black-Footed Albatross effortlessly gliding directly over my head, its intense eyes filled with curiosity as it turns its head to peer down at me; the muffled growl of a Bonin Petrel emanating from a nearby burrow; the laughably quirky and individual personalities of the critically endangered Laysan Ducks waddling through camp; the ginormous and often startling sneezes of the Hawaiian Monk Seals; the invigorated dancing and ever so ear-piercing calls of the Laysan Albatross on full moon nights; the incoming squalls whose foreboding clouds change from gray to turquoise as they glide over the lagoon on their steadfast path across the Pacific.
I will miss being completely at the mercy of the rawness and strength of nature’s elements and the extreme isolation that is difficult to find anywhere else. I will miss the moments that defined our time spent here and the camaraderie forged from sharing these experiences.
In time, memories tend to fade, but knowing that, in our small way, we have contributed to preserving this remarkable place is an undeniable honor that will remain with us, always.
I have spent the last two winter seasons here and I don’t know if I will be back, so, for now, I will say aloha and a hui hou Hōlanikū, until next time Kure.