Relocation Plans

April 9, 2023
By Damond Benningfield

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Tristram's storm petrel chicks have been relocated to the island of Oahu due to the threat of rising sea level. Credit: Duncan, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Sea birds face all kinds of threats these days: a warmer climate, decreasing food supplies, attacks by invasive species, and others. One of the most basic is rising sea level, which threatens to cover some of their nesting grounds. To help species survive, conservationists are relocating sea bird chicks to higher ground.

An example is the Tristram’s storm petrel. It breeds in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. But it was wiped out on the island of Midway by rats, and it’s threatened by plastic pollution on other islands in the chain.

And on the island of Tern, it’s threatened by the rising waters. Tern covers just 26 acres. And much of that was built up by the Navy during World War II for use as an airstrip. The runway is rarely used today, but it’s still there. Even so, there’s plenty of room for petrels and other species of birds, sea turtles, and seals.

But the island extends only six feet above sea level. And with the ocean rising, petrel nesting grounds could be flooded out in the years ahead. So a conservation group recently moved about 40 chicks to new digs on the island of Oahu, 500 miles away.

The group had already moved some chicks to another island a few years ago. And it’s done the same thing with other species, including albatross and another species of petrel. Most of the chicks have survived and returned to their new homes to breed.

So relocating a few chicks today could help Tristram’s storm petrel survive for decades to come.