Week 8 – Everything Happens Part II

Then Monday came. Our crew leader was nice enough to give us the day off, to make up for the extra work we had to perform over the weekend in various circumstances, and it was a good thing she did. Her cheek was still looking awfully puffy and another call to the medic lead to the discovery of a variety of complications. Penicillin is the preferred antibiotic for an oral infection, but she is allergic to it. The secondary choice, which we had, but in insufficient quantities, is delivered by intramuscular injection (most easily to the butt). She happens to be the only Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certified individual out here, so she is the only person who has any practice giving people injections (besides something simple like an EpiPen). The doctors and our bosses on the main islands decided that more medicine would be air-dropped on island and a ship would be redirected to remove her from island as soon as possible so that she could receive proper medical treatment. It is possible that she has an infection in her jaw bone, so it is a very serious matter.

That is a lot to take in, let’s review:
1) One of us (none of whom have significant medical experience) needed to give our boss a shot, with a real needle, in her butt.
2) Eight times.
3) More medicine (so the required eight injections can actually happen) was going to be air-dropped by a US Coast Guard C-130, a big honking prop plane.
4) The only individual with experience on this island, who knows what we’re supposed to be doing and how we’re supposed to be doing it, was going to be taken away from us with less than three weeks of on island training.

Fortunately, there are other females on the island who were confident enough in their ability to deliver the shots with the help of the doctor on the phone. I certainly wasn’t allowed to be present, but it sounds like the injections are
amusing to all involved.

We spent the latter half of Monday morning mourning the imminent departure of our leader and learning everything that there was to learn about running the camp until she was able to return. This included reviewing all of the projects that we would be completing throughout the winter months, and it was a long list. Duck counts and re-sights, lake sampling, brine fly counts, trail maintenance, camp maintenance (all of the camp maintenance), out planting, invasive plant spraying and pulling, ant survey, native plant surveys, and Albatross reproduction plots, survival plots, transects, and direct counts. That was a lot to take in suddenly. Oof. We were getting ready for a very major learning experience.

The air-drop was really cool to watch and participate in. On Monday afternoon we walked out to the northeast desert with a VHF radio connecting us to the USCG plane and waited for them to show up. They flew by once at about 4000’ to check out the situation and then came back around at about 200’ to make the drop, a ten-gallon Day-Glo orange metal drum attached to a parachute, hopefully avoiding any and all vertebrates (albatrosses, seals, turtles, and us humans, primarily). Don’t worry, I have a video and will upload it when I’m back in civilization. If you weren’t aware, 200’ is not far enough for a parachute create resistance and make any difference. The bottom of the can got rather bent and it is a very sturdy container, think miniaturized 55 gallon metal drum. Fortunately, all of the medicines inside were completely intact, so our boss could get more butt injections. And to top it all off we got a bright orange drum, a couple hundred feet of line, and a freaking parachute (also bright orange)!

To top off the air drop adventure, on our walk out there we saw the one Short-Tailed Albatross (an endangered species) which comes to Laysan! The Short-Tailed are much larger than the Blackfoots and Laysans, but we only saw him from a significant distance, so it was hard for me to tell that.

Tuesday came and went without much interest. We were all still a little dazed from all of the events from the weekend and Monday. In the morning we planted more C. sandwichiana and in the afternoon we counted flies around the lake. To count flies, we take bucket lids and place them on various substrates around the lake, fill them with soapy water, and wait 30 minutes. As the flies try to land on the soapy water, they fall through because the soap destroys water’s surface tension. We come back and count the flies in the bucket lid afterwards, looking for Brine flies, Long-Legged flies, and Black flies (your common house fly). We were all excited for Halloween. It was going to be last hurrah kind of thing with our boss before she was taken away from us leaving us all alone. We knew that the Kahana would be on its way back out to us starting that day and arriving during the weekend to take her back to Honolulu. We knew that meant a lot of responsibilities for us. We were ready to let our hair down (merely figuratively) for a holiday! And then Wednesday  morning happened. Our leader had a phone call with the Honolulu FWS administration at 0800h, after which she told us that they wanted to talk to all of the other people working on the island, too. So, we gathered in the Comm tent and called. On that phone call we were informed that the Kahana would be taking all of us off of Laysan when it arrived and the camp would be closed down until they were prepared to send the summer crew out in March or so. It was a safety issue. They could not leave us out there without a crew leader.

Everyone took it hard. There goes a planned six months of something to do, not to mention the absolutely amazing experience that it is. My feeling is that it is a once in a lifetime opportunity that has been ripped away from me. To taste it for so brief a period makes it all that much sweeter, I do not doubt, but I could tell it was going to be a truly remarkable six months that would stay with me forever. That’s about what it takes away from three of us. For one of the others on the island, this is her job for at least eight months, you know actually making money because she is a real adult. All I know is that her bosses have agreed she can come back when (or really if) Laysan reopens. Another woman here is working on her own Master’s Thesis and a project for her adviser. An entire field season could be lost to both of them, especially with extreme challenge of obtaining permits to work out here, with vertebrates. Ask any field biologist and they’ll tell you how much that sucks.

Things are being worked on as I write, theoretically. The FWS supervisor in Honolulu is looking into the availability of other volunteer positions throughout Hawaii for us three volunteers. There are two that he mentioned, one on the big island and one on Kauai that he might be able to get us into, but we haven’t heard anything yet. My mind is already figuring out what my priorities of trying to do next are (field positions here or east coast, then baking opportunities, maybe Nature’s classroom if they are hiring for the spring semester, but after that I’m lost). The Master’s student’s adviser is looking into other places in Hawaii that she can do her work, all places we’ve been, too: Tern Island, Midway Atoll, and Ka’ena Point. And I’m sure by the time that you read this, more will have been figured out. Hopefully.

That was another morning spent in shock at the realization of what was going to happen very soon, creating and eating a variety of sweet things. (I made what I am now calling Peanut Butter Uppers – mix PB with a little cream cheese and
brown sugar, and enough crush Graham cracker to form balls easily. Make a ball, flatten it, place a small dollop of Nutella in the middle, and reform the ball around it. Chill and stuff into your mouth.) But what did this decision mean for the end of the week until the Kahana arrived to drag us away? Camp securement is the answer. We need to make sure that, in our absence, everything is closed up in a way that nothing is lost or damaged, and nothing endangers wildlife. I’ll post a picture of our To-Do list when I’m back in civilization, but namely: out planting EVERYTHING in the shade houses (where we grow young, native plants), tying down ALL of the pallet tub lids, securing those giant water tanks so they don’t blow or float away, get EVERYTHING inside the tents… and the list goes on like that. The big problem is that many of the things we have to do, we can’t do until we’re almost ready to leave so that we have the necessities available until then. So, Sunday morning, when the Kahana shows up, is going to be a VERY early morning.

Once I’m back in civilization, I’ll tell you how the whole closure process went. Actually, I’ll tell you about the fun we managed to have within this incredibly disappointing time period. I’ll tell you about more time on the Kahana and the
wonderful people that will undoubtedly be there to comfort us. Most importantly, I will hopefully tell you what I’m doing next. But that could come later. Hopefully, not much later. I am very sorry that I do not get to tell you more about Laysan and recall the adventures that I was going to have here. Depending on what I am doing next, I may be able to spend some time introducing you to the natural residents of Laysan as I started to do last week with P. indica. Thank you for reading!

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