Ocean Watch: A paradise where nature and people live in harmony

On Sunday, Craig and I paddled our kayaks to the Mokulua Islands, also known as the Mokes and Twin Islands. The pair of peaked islets about three-quarters of a mile off Lanikai are known as Na Mokulua, or “the two islands” in Hawaiian, and are state seabird sanctuaries. Colonies of ground-nesting, wedge-tailed shearwaters make their nests there.

COURTESY SUSAN SCOTT

Beachgoers keep their distance from this monk seal sleeping on Mokulua Nui beach.

The smaller islet, Moku Iki, is off-limits to the public. The other, Moku Nui, has a white-sand beach that attracts visitors in and on all manner of floating devices. Beaching there is permitted, but ropes and signs separate people from the birds’ hillside nesting areas.

IT’S SPRING, and right on schedule the wedgies are arriving from the open ocean. We heard these seabirds moaning for mates and saw two pairs preening one another at the entrance of last year’s hole-in-the-ground nests. The birds ignored us, intent on their mission of propagating their species.

Several powerboats were anchored off the beach, and we paddlers dragged our surfboards, stand-ups and kayaks ashore. And in the middle of all those engine roars, smoky barbecues, loud music, laughter and children’s shouting lay a monk seal sound asleep.

The Hawaii Marine Animal Response Team had posted signs around the seal, asking people to stay back from this critically endangered species to let it rest. Everyone complied while I was there.

Last fall when I kayaked to this same beach, a larger seal also lay basking in the sun, exhibiting the same nonchalance during similar commotion.

This is a far cry from my experiences with monk seals in French Frigate Shoals from the late 1989 through 2003. While working various stints as a volunteer, first on NOAA’s monk seal recovery team and later for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we were required to stay physically hidden from monk seals and remain absolutely silent. If a seal picked up its head, we workers hit the ground, remaining motionless until the seal went back to sleep.

THE SEALS there were so sensitive to human presence that the mere sight or sound of us would often cause them to flee to the water. Not so here. The seals that live around Oahu seem to view people in the same light as our plovers, white terns and shearwaters: If you can’t beat them, join them.

It’s heartwarming in this era of dwindling wildlife to see clusters of Hawaii’s native species living with people and thriving. To continue to do so, however, these adaptive individuals need our help.

Besides sharing space, we need to reduce Oahu’s feral cat population. These free-roaming predators kill birds and spread toxoplasmosis to seals. Not buying plastic-bottled drinking water also helps our seabirds and seals by reducing ocean pollution.

The next time I’m discouraged about the state of wildlife in Hawaii, I’m going to load my stainless-steel bottle of tap water into my kayak and paddle to the Mokes. When I paddle there, it’s not just the exercise that makes me feel good.

To reach Susan Scott, go to www.susanscott.net and click on “Contact” at the top of her home page.

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