Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute

After a weekend of camping at Big Basin Redwoods State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, I decided to write about the imperiled marbled murrelet, and efforts to reduce the threats to this endangered species. Here’s my Marbled Murrelet story, with an excerpt below:

California State Parks has launched a

California State Parks has launched a “keep it crumb clean” campaign to remind visitors to Big Basin Redwoods State Park to never feed wildlife and to pick up after themselves (Photo by Cole Allen).

Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute

California State Parks urging campers to clean up after themselves, in a novel effort to protect the endangered marbled murrelet

By Sena Christian

When campers register at the headquarters of Big Basin Redwoods State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, they receive the usual trail map and, for the past couple years, instructions on how to be “crumb clean” and why this matters to the fate of the endangered marbled murrelet, a seabird about the size of a robin.

California State Parks launched its “keep it crumb clean” campaign to educate visitors about the importance of never feeding wildlife and picking up after themselves. The campaign has been propelled forward by a 2014 lawsuit settlement agreement with the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, which had claimed the government was failing to protect the bird under its new general plan for Big Basin. The planned expansion of public uses and infrastructure in the bird’s habitat exacerbated the species’ risk for extinction, according to the lawsuit.

“Education is such a big part of the solution,” says Shaye Wolf, a wildlife biologist and the climate science director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Most park visitors would be heartbroken to learn their trash is contributing to the decline of this beautiful, endangered seabird … What we’re trying to do with the settlement is educate and increase public participation in the solution.”

The marbled murrelet’s low reproductive rate makes it especially vulnerable. A mature female lays only one egg high in the mossy branches of ancient coast redwoods (or other conifer such as firs) that stretch up the Pacific coastline from central California into Oregon, Washington, and as far north as Alaska. The parents take turns incubating the egg and flying miles away to the ocean to eat herring, smelt and anchovies and then returning to feed the nestling. A mere month or so after hatching, a chick will make its first flight to the ocean. That is, if it survives till then.

Murrelets face a mighty foe in corvid predators — mainly Stellar’s jays and ravens that are intelligent enough to know food follows humans. When these birds finish foraging around people, they notice murrelet nests high in the trees and attack the eggs and chicks. Jays are a natural part of the forest ecosystem, and murrelets evolved under their predatory pressure. But the corvid’s population has exploded throughout the park, along with the once-rare raven that is now a common sight.

“Whenever there are people, there is food, and whenever there is food, there will be animals taking advantage of that,” says Portia Halbert, the environmental scientist with State Parks who oversees the “crumb clean” campaign in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Some 1.5 million people visit Big Basin State Park each year. An estimated 400 to 600 murrelets exist in the entire Santa Cruz mountain range.

Read the rest of the article here …

Now, My Final Reflections

Now that the shock of returning to normal life after two weeks in Hawaii has subsided, the time has come for a list of final observations made during my trip:

Diamond Head

  1. Good luck enjoying dinner as a vegetarian in Waikiki. My nightly menu consisted of either a $10 Gardenburger or a $14 cobb salad. I am like the world’s least-annoying vegetarian but I still want options, people!
  2. Birds are highly evolved in Waikiki. White pigeons saunter through the front door of a restaurant, eat crumbs off the floor, then exit the way they came in and enter the dining establishment next door for another meal. This is all done in a calm and orderly manner.
  3. Oahu, particularly Waikiki, is a true tossed salad of international diversity. As such, I developed stereotypes for travelers based on perceived nationality — Japanese, American, western European, Chinese, Russians. But to share any of those stereotypes would get me in trouble.
  4. There must be so much trash in the ocean. I could not believe how much litter I saw floating around — and that I tried to retrieve. Are people actually that irresponsible and uncaring? Or are they just oblivious? Either way, it makes me mad.
  5. If I lived in my hotel for a few months, I would be so popular and have so many friends. In two weeks, I became a homegirl with the hotel bartender, hotel bellhop and the Vietnam vet in the wheelchair on the street corner.
  6. I, with the help of a traveling buddy, am capable of spending $300 during two weeks at the ABC stores. For that accomplishment, I received two free hula girl mugs and a pictorial calendar of Hawaii, thank you very much.
  7. I don’t like the idea of someone being lonely. On several occasions during the first week of my trip, as my sister and I lounged on the beach, a middle aged man sat down near us. He carried a large, stuffed black backpack and black jacket, which he stacked so the items were visible from the ocean. He looked Native American, and wore a pair of faded maroon pants into the water as he floated over the waves. “I hope he has friends,” I told my sister, as we watched him one  afternoon. “It makes me sad to think of people being lonely.” She paused, eyeing the man and contemplating my concern. “He might have a really killer nightlife,” she said.
  8. I observed that my sister is a total weirdo.
  9. Despite the availability of high-priced rental cars and hotel shuttles to various tourist destinations, I found that the public bus system was, in fact, the most convenient and reliable mode of transportation.
  10. The culture of Hawaii is so rich. It’s crazy (in a great way). I just cannot imagine white mainlanders possessing such a deep respect of, commitment to and knowledge of traditions and historical people and places and culturally significant entities. This, of course, does not apply to Americans and professional sports.
  11. As Cole and I hung out at dry dock for Hokule’a with members of kapu na keiki, a group of young voyagers, Cole made an observation. He remarked on how impressive it is that these young people choose to spend their time performing this manual labor — sanding fiberglass, drilling holes and so on. They don’t get paid. They don’t get school credit. It won’t look flashy on their college-entrance essays (most have already graduated college). They do it, as they say, out of pure “aloha.” It was a beautiful thing to see.
(Just because this post is called “final reflections,” that doesn’t mean this blog is done yet! More to come!)