LIHUE — Kauai’s North Shore will soon be home to a predator-proof fencing system, similar to the one found at Kaena Point on Oahu.
The Kauai National Wildlife Refuge Complex has announced its plans for the Nihoku (Crater Hill) Ecosystem Restoration Project, located on the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, east of the lighthouse.
“This project will initially involve construction of a seven-acre, pest-proof fence on the Nihoku section of the refuge, which will be the first pest-proof fence on a National Wildlife
Refuge in the United States and the first of its kind on Kauai,” wrote Shannon Stutzer-Smith, project leader of the KNWRC.
Stutzer-Smith says the goal is preserving and restoring the native environment of Nihoku through integration of science, natural resource management and environmental education.
In addition to protecting native coastal plants, the fence would keep introduced predators — including cats, dogs, mongooses, rats and mice — out of the area so that native species like the moli (Laysan albatross) and endangered nene (Hawaiian goose) can flourish in a safe environment.
Once predators are trapped within the area, they will be removed, and the area will serve as a translocation site for endangered ao, or Newell’s shearwater.
KNWRC plans to break ground next summer, with construction of the fence lasting between two and three months.
The ultimate goal is to create a predator-protected colony of native seabirds, according to George Wallace of the American Bird Conservancy, one of the project sponsors.
“Seven acres doesn’t sound big,” he said, “but you can put a lot of birds in seven acres.”
Project Coordinator Lindsay Young said shearwaters would be brought to the Nihoku site from mountainside burrows on Kauai approximately one month before their maiden flight to sea.
“The idea being it’s right on the ocean, there are no lights in the area and they have a safe area to take off from,” she said.
During their maiden flight, shearwaters have been known to confuse street and stadium lights with the moon and become disoriented, often resulting in injury or death. The birds also face threats by a number of invasive predators on Kauai.
Over the course of several years, approximately 100 shearwaters will be translocated to Nihoku, starting with between 10 or 15 the first year, according to Young. As a partner in the project, the Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project is in the process of locating potential donor colonies on the island.
“We think it is going to be positive,” Young said. “It’s an alternative area for these birds to fledge.”
Over time, Wallace said the hope is that the translocated birds return to the site as breeders.
“Shearwaters are faithful to the site they fledge from,” Wallace said.
Young, a wildlife biologist and co-owner of Pacific Rim Conservation, is no stranger to projects such as this. In 2011, she worked as project coordinator of the Kaena Point Ecosystem Restoration Project on Oahu, which included construction of the first predator-proof fence in the U.S.
The project, located on 52 acres on a nature reserve, has resulted in a dramatic increase in the population of Wedge-tailed shearwaters, nearly doubling the number of chicks within the first two years.
“Kaena Point has been incredibly successful,” Young said. “We were really underestimating how much of an impact (predators) were having.”
The KNWRC expects a similar outcome on Kauai.
The 6.5 foot-high, 2,388 foot-long green fence will be built on a sea-facing slope and enclose a 7.8-acre space following an existing road bed and natural landscape contours, to reduce visual impacts. A small mesh skirt will prevent mice as young as two days old from entering the area and a rolled hood will keep larger predators from climbing over, according to a news release.
Young said the project will not affect public access because the site is already off limits to visitors, and that preliminary archeological surveys did not find any historic or cultural sites on the property.
“It’s our opinion that it really should result in little or no conflict that we can imagine,” Wallace said
The same type of predator-proof fences have been used in New Zealand and Australia, and Young and Wallace hope to see similar projects move forward across the state.
“This is a great tool,” Wallace said. “There’s going to be a need for many more of these projects.”
As part of the initial planning process, KNWRC is soliciting public input from the community to ensure it identifies and addresses areas of concern and potential impacts of the project. Public comments can be submitted through June 21. For more information visit www.fws.gov/kilaueapoint.
The information gathered will be used as a guide to prepare the Draft Environmental Assessment, planned to be released later this summer.
The project is a collaboration between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the American Bird Conservancy, the Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project and Pacific Rim Conservation.
On Wednesday, Young will discuss the history of seabird translocation and introduce the Nihoku Ecosystem Restoration Project during a free public talk from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Princeville Public Library. For more information call the library at 826-4310.
• Chris D’Angelo, environment writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or email@example.com.