By Olympia Terral
In mid-2021, slowly at first and then in a flood, Fåhang established a breeding colony in the heart of Malesso’ village, between the church and the historic bell tower.
From the birds’ perspective, this was an ideal location: easy access to the lagoon, and protection from predation, in the form of lawns and parking lots, on the other three sides.
However, the sudden arrival of the birds was clearly a shock to their nearest human neighbors.
At its peak, the colony was massive, with around 600 breeding pairs. It quickly became one of the largest for its species in the Marianas. To be sure, the sights, sounds and smells were intense during the breeding season.
Two years later, three of their large nesting trees have been removed. These Gågu contained nearly 350 Fåhang Åtilong nests in July last year, plus a handful of CHunge’.
They were cut by DoAg Forestry, with assistance from Guam DPW and in coordination with DoAg DAWR. It’s important to remember that the request for the removal came from community members, the church (whose property the trees were on) and was supported by the mayor.
I visited these trees regularly and witnessed the range of emotions they evoked: from anger at the birds’ presence (and especially at their droppings), to amazement, but mostly bewilderment at their sudden appearance.
Many weren’t familiar with the species and were surprised to learn they are one of the native seabirds of the islands. I can’t help but wonder if additional outreach and consultation could have produced a different and less drastic outcome.
I don’t want to villainize anyone involved in this, and least of all the community members that wanted the birds gone. I mainly just want to raise awareness around the incident.
This isn’t the first time this has happened: they were chased out of the Cocos Island Resort grounds using similar methods a few years ago. Will we keep chasing these birds away, or can we find ways to coexist?
Olympia Terral is a co-volunteer coordinator of Friends of Island Dåno along with Martin Kaster.