Blog: “Number 19” – Tern Island

Blog: “Number 19” – Tern Island


We stopped at Tern Island in French Frigate Shoals today to shoot some of the sights there. Its the only other place to land a plane in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands besides Midway Which is hundreds of miles to the north west. That said, it reads as a conflicted place to me. If you take it at face value, it could be an old dusty landing strip off route 66 that waits for an ever dwindling trail of traffic to come by. The buildings are a throw back to the 1970s complete with Eagle Dubs on audio cassette in the kitchen. Im just glad they still have a sony tape player to listen to Hotel California during the quiet times. But when you look a little more at the island there are some distinct differences between the lonely runway in middle America and this spot; the first of which is the thousands upon thousands of birds that occupy the space there. but if you look a little closer below the thriving naupaka and other plants that make home for these birds you can find small treasures flopping around looking for the waterline. Baby Hawaiian Green Sea turtles prevalent on tern as they are nested on the beaches just outside the metal barriers that hold the island together. When our crew arrived in the mid morning, Meg, the only actual employee on the island (there are 4 total people, Meg and three volunteers) had already done a lap around the island looking for the three inch baby turtles that might have gotten stuck. She was up to more than a dozen before we arrived.

As our team split up to survey the runway and start shooting stills and video for our project some of us went on with Meg looking for turtles. After Justyn and I started the time lapse we set out to begin looking for stuff to shoot. I took care of stills for the day and justyn went out shooting video. There were a variety of birds to photograph, terns, frigate birds, red footed boobies to name a few. I was trying to get them in the nest and in flight. It took several hundred frames to get good stuff of the birds in flight.

On my way back down the 3,300 foot runway I happened upon what I thought was a baby turtle that died in the heat of the runway, until I saw its tiny flippers move a bit. Surprised, I picked it up and and it started to turn all its flippers looking for the land that had disappeared beneath it. I walked back to basecamp and turned the turtle over to a FWS volunteer. She said it was number 19 of the day. I had already named it “Randy” after our Chief Scientist on board this cruise. This fragile baby Green sea turtle had me thinking all day. There are all these species that that have to live here in unison, even the baby turtles have to make it in this world. But that delicate existence is something that I needed to be reminded of this trip. I feel very thankful to have gotten to cross paths with number 19 today.

By Na’alehu Anthony
On board NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai.


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