Hawaiian Airlines sends birds to Mexico to escape rising sea levels
Hawaiian Airlines helps protect seabirds and their eggs by flying them to San Diego en route to Isla Guadalupe, an island off the coast of Mexico. Black-footed albatross eggs are at risk of being washed away by sea level rise.
Hawaiian Airlines Conservation Mission
Hawaiian Airlines is doing its part to conserve a local seabird species by flying chicks and eggs to safer territory. In partnership with Pacific Rim Conservation, HA has transported this special cargo for the past two years as the birds face the threat of rising sea levels.
The black-footed albatross, known in Hawaii as the Ka’upu, is a large seabird found primarily in Papahānaumokuākea, a marine protected area consisting of 10 islands and atolls over 1,510,000 km2 of ocean.
Hawaiian Airlines first partnered with Pacific Rim Conservation in 2020. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | single flight
Their eggs on Midway Atoll are at risk of being washed away by the ocean, forcing conservationists to intervene. The chicks and eggs were transported to the Mexican island of Isla Guadalupe via San Diego.
Pacific Rim Conservation Scientific Director Eric VanderWerf said:
“Nearly all of the Ka’upu in the world, about 28,000 pairs, nest on the low atolls of the northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The greatest long-term threat to the species is flooding of its breeding colonies by the ‘Sea level rise and storm surges caused by climate change.’
According to Julio Hernández Montoya, a conservation biologist with the Island Ecology and Conservation Group, many hatched and unhatched chicks are “destined to drown” if left at Midway.
Hawaiian Airlines has carried out similar flights for the past two years, ferrying about 70 chicks and eggs to safer territory.
A delicate cargo
The team developed bespoke incubators and padded boxes to ensure the chicks and eggs were protected during flight.
Debbie Nakanelua-Richards, Director of Community and Culture Relations at Hawaiian Airlines, said:
“Eggs and chicks are incredibly sensitive, so we had to manage everything around them and minimize the number of hands touching them. We took them to check-in, TSA – which was particularly concerning as they had to pass by the x-ray machine.”
The plan appears to have worked, with 53 of 57 eggs hatched and nine of 12 chicks surviving after arriving at Isla Guadalupe. The surviving birds now care for the newly hatched chicks on their new island.
A new home 6,000 km away
Isla Guadalupe was chosen because it offers an abundance of food sources and higher nesting places. It is also home to a distinct species of albatross known as the Laysan albatross, or Mōlī, which has successfully established a colony.
Eric VanderWerf added,
“They love it there and they’re doing really well. And part of the reason they love the island is because there’s cold water very close to the island. California Current which passes the island is cold and has many favorite food species this albatross really likes.”
Hawaiian Airlines has taken special measures to protect its fragile cargo. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | single flight
95% of the world’s population of black-footed albatrosses nest in the Hawaiian Islands, with Midway Atoll accounting for about a third of the species’ breeding population. Studies have estimated that over 90% of black-footed albatross nests would be flooded with a two meter rise in sea level.
HA’s last visit to Midway took place under somewhat different circumstances. As Simple Flying reported in September, a Hawaiian Airlines Airbus A330 diverted to Midway after an in-flight problem forced the plane to make an emergency landing on Midway Atoll.
Are you happy to see airlines participating in conservation programs like this? Do you know of any other carriers that do something similar? Let us know in the comments.
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