Conservation fence protects endangered seabirds at Molokai preserve

A new, 5,600-foot-long conservation fence at Mokio Preserve now keeps seabirds safe from predators on Molokai, according to the nonprofit American Bird Conservancy and Molokai Land Trust.

The $1 million fence, built over nearly four years, is formidable — consisting of Aquamesh, a wire mesh fabric made in the U.S. — and stretches along the length of the wildlife sanctuary on nearly 100 acres of elevated land. Its purpose is to protect endangered, ground-nesting seabirds from predators such as invasive feral cats, mongooses, rats and mice.


“Seabirds are the most endangered group of birds and restoring their populations on Molokai Island has been a long-term goal of the Mokio restoration partnership,” said Brad Keitt, ABC Oceans and Islands director, in a news release “We’ve already begun seeing benefits from the newly installed fence, including wedge-tailed shearwater chicks this year, compared to previous years when all chicks were lost to mongoose predation.”

Through social attraction and translocation methods, the team hopes to establish species there that are losing their nesting sites due to sea level rise in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, such as Laysan and black-footed albatrosses, Bonin petrels and Tristram’s storm petrels.

The fence is part of a long-term restoration effort to transform former ranch land overgrown with invasive buffel grass and kiawe trees into a dune ecosystem supporting endangered plant and pollinator species unique to Hawaii, and now, a safe haven for seabirds.

The Mokio Preserve was recently ranked as a “Top 5” priority location for seabird restoration across all U.S. Pacific islands in a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service review with input from more than 70 seabird experts.

It is identified as a potential habitat for multiple seabird species, including the albatrosses, the Hawaiian petrel, Newell’s shearwater, white- and red-tailed tropic birds and great frigate birds, among others.

According to ABC, seabirds play a critical part in coastal and island ecosystems. They spend most of their lives foraging for food on thousands of miles of open ocean, tend to be long-lived and have only one chick every one or two years.

Their droppings fertilize coastal plants, forests and nearshore waters, and research has shown islands with healthy seabird populations have healthier coral reefs and fish populations near them.

“Mokio is a special place and it has been phenomenal to see the transformation from a degraded area to thriving native coastal strand habitat with blooming native species carpeting the ground,” said Butch Haase, executive director of Molokai Land Trust, in the news release. “It is now possible to stand in the middle of the project and see only native species and ocean, giving people a chance to experience what Hawaii used to be like. It is our hope that seeing this restored land will inspire others to do the same elsewhere across our islands.”

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