Ninety-eight percent of Laysan albatross nests are on low-lying atolls within the Hawaiian Islands that are increasingly vulnerable to sea-level rise and storm surges. Large storms in the past few years, along with the 2011 tsunami, have destroyed tens of thousands of eggs, and many of the islands may succumb to the ocean entirely in the next 20 years. With more than a million Laysan albatrosses worldwide, it may seem as though the population is strong and there’s little need for concern, but conservationists believe a clear threat to the birds’ nesting grounds lies ahead. The seabirds spend most of their lives away from land, laying only one egg a year in familiar territory—the island or atoll where they themselves hatched.
To prevent harm to the Laysan albatross population, Pacific Rim Conservation has partnered with groups including the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the American Bird Conservancy to move eggs from the Pacific Missile Range to higher ground at the James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge. The eggs they’ve collected from the missile range hatch under wild foster parents, and the hatchlings are then moved to the refuge so that they can make an “imprint” on the higher area. The chicks are raised by hand for nearly five months, until they fledge and take to the sea for several years before returning. The team will gauge the success of its efforts then, with the biggest impacts seen in 10 to 15 years if a new colony of Laysan albatrosses is established. By settling in an area less vulnerable to the effects of climate change, Laysan albatrosses will be safer for future generations, reports national-geographic.