I want to tell you a wonderful story that happened to me in July 2020 on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. A story that made me understand one more time, that what truly makes me happy is to be able to help someone in need, to open my heart to someone who needs me at that moment, to recognise the needs of others above my own, and just be honest and courageous in my effort to make someone’s world a little better place to live in.
This is the story about me, and my unplanned rescue mission of a wedge-tailed shearwater on the coast of Kahuku Point.
Just a couple of days before it happened, officials in Hawaii urged residents to take shelter as Douglas, the Category 1 hurricane, swirled off the coast with heavy rain and gusts of high winds of 85 mph. That meant one thing to me - all of the beaches in the North Shore of Oahu will be covered in micro-plastic washed from the deep ocean waters. I reached out to my Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii team to organise the beach clean-up in the North Shore of Oahu, at Kahuku point as soon as possible before all of that plastic will be washed away back to the water.
My predictions were right. On the next day after the hurricane watch I headed to the beach with a couple of bags and sand sifters to clean the micro-plastic. Three bags were obviously not enough for everything I saw there. My friend Rachel, and Head of internal operations in SCH sent me a text asking to walk a little bit further along the coast to check if what we call ‘the dirtiest plastic location in Kahuku’ is as bad as it is during the winter season. I agreed to go there and check it out. The rainy clouds were moving my way, and the wind was gaining more power, but at that moment I was dedicated to the beach clean-up, that I simply did not care.
Finally, after getting to the northeast point of the coast and collecting some plastic bottles and lids, I noticed that the small black piece of ‘something’ I was ready to pick up and put in my trash bag was actually moving. When I got closer, I realised that it was a sea bird that was struggling to breath. She was just sitting there, on the edge of the rocky shore, she was all wet, shaking from cold while the powerful oceanic waves were almost crushing her back. It looked like she almost gave up on her survival. She could not move out of the waves, she could not fly. She looked so helpless and exhausted that me and my friend knew that for sure - she needs our help. Our guess was that the hurricane wind was so powerful in Kahuku that Wegie ended up being in the water for I dont know how long.
Lucky enough, because I was doing the beach clean up in Kakuhu, I had a pair of special gloves with me, so I could easily take the bird with my hands and move her to the safer place, where she will be able to rest from the stormy conditions and eventually get some sun.
When I got closer to her, I was afraid that she is going to resist or even fight back and will loose the little energy she had left, but she did not. She tried to bite me a couple of times showing her resistance, but she gave up very fast. She surrendered and was ready to cooperate with me. At that moment, I thought that my mission was to move Wedgie to the safer and drier area and to leave her somewhere under the bush to dry and get some rest after the life-threatening adventure in the Pacific ocean. So I did that.
I do not believe in signs, but I as soon as I did everything I thought is right, out of nowhere it started to rain. That rain was so heavy, that there was no chance that Wedgie will dry out and fly back to her family. I decided to find a more safer place for her stay. This time she did not resist.
I saw the biggest tree on the coast, and made the decision to move her there. Me, carrying two 60-gallon weight bags filled with plastic from the beach clean-up, and my friend who was carrying Wedgie, found as we thought a new safe place for her to spend the night at. Unfortunately, because the coastline of Oahu does not have much of the vegetation, the only trees are bushes that exist in that area are occupied by tropical fire ants, that also have a bad sting. Poor Wedgie was so worn out and by the time we got her some water, she was covered with ants all around her. It was our last attempt to find a safe place for her along the coastline of Kahuku Point.
It was way after the sunset time, it was getting darker and I had no idea where I can take an injured wedge-tailed shearwater after 8 pm on Tuesday. I was hesitant if what I do will actually safe her life or will make it worse. I was really worried that she will just die in my hands. My friend was calming me down by saying that whatever we do for her now is utterly better than leaving her in the rocks being crushed by the waves, or under the bush being beaten by ants.
I started to call and text everyone I know who could help me saving Wedgie or at least knew someone who could help her to stay alive. I started to ask people on social media networks, I was calling sea birds rescue organisations, environmental non-profits, I added myself to Bird Rescue Hawaii Facebook group. No response. Within ten minutes of no responses, we decided to drive home and take Wedgie with us. I was so scared at that moment, because we were still holding her in our hands, and she stopped reacting to any movements around her, we put her on the ground and she did not even open her eye. I was sure she is dying. As soon as we got into the car, my phone was blowing up from the calls and messages I was receiving. Everyone was asking me about the bird, and giving me useful contacts and information what should I do in my case and where I can take Wedgie to make sure she will survive today. I could not believe it. I will never forget that moment when I realised that we can take Wedgie to the hospital. We turned around and needed to drive to the other side of the island for one hour, and then back home, but it was worth it. After driving for about twenty minutes, she almost did not move, her eyes were still closed, I was scared. Some time later, I noticed that her feather became pretty dry and she started making noises and move. I was so happy!! She was just sleeping, she was resting in my hands being covered in warm towels, she finally felt safe, for the first time in the last couple of hours. She trusted us.
Around 9:30 pm we finally arrived at the hospital that a lot of people referred to. The hospital has very good reviews, and specifically for the sea birds they have a team of dedicated volunteers who prepare the birds in their recovery to be transferred to the national wildlife bird refuge on the Big Island. The nurse and the doctor met us in the parking lot because of the Covid-19 precautions, we filled out the form on who we are saving, and where we found the bird, and in which condition, what we believe is wrong with her etc. I was so happy we are taking her to the hospital because I could learn exactly what is wrong with my Wedgie and when she gets better, I will be able to visit her and become friends in the future. It was a big disappointment to me when the doctor told me that if I want to get updates on her recovery and future health condition, I need to sign the form that I am taking Wedgie for my personal care as a pet after she recovers, and I will need to pay for all of the medical examinations too. How can I allow myself to have a wedge-tailed shearwater as my pet? They are birds of freedom, Wedgie is a ‘"moaning bird” - ‘Ua‘u Kani. Yes, I can save her life, but what is the point of doing that, if I am going to take her freedom after that?
Today I do not know if my Wedgie has already recovered and is back with her family, or she went through a couple of surgeries and just starts her recovering process. I do not even know what was wrong with her, and what were her chances to survive. But one thing I know for sure - Wedgie trusted me, and I made her feel warm and safe, and this is what matters. Now, every time I see the shearwater flying above the ocean, I think of my Wedgie, and I truly hope that she is back with her family telling them how a random human who was just cleaning the beach from plastic that day, saved her life and helped her to reunite with her Ohana.
* Wedgie - local shortcut for wedge-tailed shearwater