Coast Guard helps return remote Johnston Atoll to natural state

by Ensign Matthew Romano, Coast Guard Cutter Kukui

JOHNSTON ATOLL, Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument – For the past two weeks, the crew of the Honolulu-based U.S. Coast Guard cutter Kukui spent time discontinuing mariner aids to navigation at remote Johnston Atoll.

It had been determined by the Coast Guard that the buoys were no longer necessary and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined the removal of the harbor and aids to navigation will help the atoll return to a natural state.

The Kukui’s crew returned to Honolulu this past weekend.

Johnston Atoll is a 50-square-mile atoll in the North Pacific approximately 750 nautical miles west of Hawaii. There are four small islands — two natural and two man-made at the atoll, which is officially part of the unincorporated territory of the U.S. and manged by the Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the Pacific Remote Islands Marinee National Monument.

The atoll was transferred in 2003 from the U.S. military to the Fish and Wildlife Service. The Kukui’s crew needed three days to discontinue 18 different aids to navigation — buoys and dayboards, which can be costly to maintain.

In total, nine buoys were recovered from a small harbor and nine day boards were removed from the beaches. All that remains of the harbor are a few concrete pylons and range towers.

The Kukui’s crew assisted the Fish and Wildlife Service on the trip by transporting two biologists to the atoll and providing them small boat rides to the different islands. The team’s objective was to visit the refuge, monitor the various seabird species, review the condition of the habitats and assess the condition of the existing landfills.

The biologists’ observations revealed the birds were taking full advantage of the recently abandoned islands by extending nesting areas. The Fish and Wildlife Service is optimistic that Johnston will remain an important breeding colony for seabirds.

The buoy tender’s crew also assisted the U.S. Geological Service by assessing the condition of a Global Seismographic Network (GSN) station. The GSN station is capable of measuring and recording seismic vibrations from earthquakes providing scientists data of earthquake locations, earthquake hazard mitigation, and earthquake emergency response.

Electronic technicians assigned to the Kukui obtained readings, took photographs, and cleared debris away from the device in hopes of sustaining survivability.

The Kukui is a 225-foot Juniper class buoy tender home ported in Honolulu. In addition to servicing aids to navigation throughout the Main Hawaiian Islands and Western Pacific Ocean, the crew performs law enforcement, marine pollution response, and search and rescue missions.

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