In early November 2013, Department of Land of Natural Resources (DLNR) Kure Atoll State Wildlife Refuge staff received the flight patterns of a very special Black-Footed Albatross named “Rumi.” The seabird flew 5,000 kilometers for food from Kure Atoll towards the Japanese peninsula, where his namesake resides. “Rumi” is named in honor of a young woman from Japan who sent a message in a bottle in 2006 with her grade school class. Her bottle was found on the shores of Kure Atoll State Wildlife Refuge on Jan. 5, 2013. Since then, field staff have made contact with Rumi and continue to share information with her about Hawai‘i’s natural resources and the importance of our global ecosystem.
Kure Atoll State Wildlife Refuge, part of the Papahânaumokuâkea Marine National Monument (PMNM), is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is actually under the jurisdiction of the City and County of Honolulu. The DLNR has staff stationed year-round at Kure Atoll to gather data, remove invasive species and marine debris, and protect endangered wildlife. PMNM remains one of the largest and most important seabird rookeries in the world with more than 14 million individuals and over 98 percent of the world’s endangered Black-Footed Albatross; the land at Kure Atoll contributes significantly to seabird nesting.
The flight pattern tracks were collected in partnership with the Winged Ambassadors program, which involves partnerships with the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW), Hawai‘i Pacific University (HPU), the United States Geological Survey (USGS), and Oikonos Ecosystem Knowledge. Patterns have shown that albatross tagged further south on the Hawaiian archipelago tend to forage northeast, while albatross tagged at Kure Atoll, like “Rumi,” tend to forage northwest towards Japan.
Last January, Ilana Nimz, a three-season biological technician at Kure Atoll, was surveying the beach and came across a unique piece of marine debris. The north Pacific gyre frequently disposes of marine debris at Kure Atoll, which is one of the top three threats to natural resource management in PMNM alongside climate change and invasive species Marine debris often includes plastic bottles, ropes, and fishing gear, but this particular object was a message in a bottle containing a typed note and a photo.
“The message in the bottle had Rumi’s home address, so I sent a letter with my email address and the Kure Atoll State Wildlife Refuge website listed so she may contact me and see what people are doing on Kure Atoll,” said Nimz. “Since then, we have been emailing and sharing pictures; I attempt to write in Japanese and she replies in excellent English. It has been so much fun to have a new friend in Japan through the most random connection of a message in a bottle, and I hope I get to meet her one day!”
Shortly after Nimz contacted Rumi, Kure Atoll field camp members chose a Black-Footed Albatross to name in her honor.
A photo of Rumi’s elementary class was provided. The original message, offered in both Japanese and English, read:
“Dear someone who has picked up this bottle. Hello. My name is Rumi and this is from Kagoshima, Japan. I’m [a] 6th grader. I wrote this letter because we’ll graduate elementary school so I wanted it to be a graduation memory…Could you please tell me where you received the bottle and what country you are from. Please tell me a little about your country. We are sending a card and can you send it back with your information? Thank you very much! We appreciate it. I hope to meet you sometime!”
Rumi is now a college sophomore studying social science at her local university. She intends to become an elementary school teacher and is eager to teach her future students about Kure Atoll State Wildlife Refuge. She recently wrote, “We had only limited hope, but Ilana sent me a letter. I was deeply moved with my friends! I want to go to Hawai‘i someday.”
The message in a bottle and Rumi the Black-Footed Albatross are both reminders of our global relationships. In Nimz’s words, “
Opening the letter and seeing the class picture was incredible, a little time capsule that had floated around the ocean for six years, and containing the potential of a new friendship.” The Pacific Ocean serves not only as an expanse of water, but also as a means of building international connections through our shared natural resources.
Papahânaumokuâkea is cooperatively managed to ensure ecological integrity and achieve strong, long-term protection and perpetuation of Northwestern Hawaiian Island ecosystems, Native Hawaiian culture, and heritage resources for current and future generations. Three co-trustees – the U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Department of the Interior, and State of Hawai‘i – joined by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs together protect this special place. Papahânaumokuâkea Marine National Monument was inscribed as the first mixed (natural and cultural) UNESCO World Heritage Site in the United States in July 2010.