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Coral. Currently Kure Atoll has almost 80,000 acres of coral reef habitat. However, Kure is the northernmost coral atoll in the world. Its location is essentially at the Darwin Point, which marks the location where an atoll sinks faster than its coral can grow. Kure’s coral is still growing slightly faster than the island is subsiding, but further north and west, the Emperor Seamounts are completely submerged, since the seamounts lie in water too deep and cool for coral growth. As Kure Atoll continues its slow migration atop the Pacific Plate, it too will eventually slip below the surface and become a deep seamount.

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Invertebrates. Despite its northern location and relatively cool waters, the aquatic habitats of Kure house a diversity of corals and large invertebrates such as echinoderms, crustacea and mollusks. Twenty eight species of stony corals have been documented at Kure.

Fish. The lagoon and near-shore reefs support large schools of dolphins, jacks, sharks, goatfish, and chub, as well as dragon morays, knifejaws, masked angelfish and rare native grouper. Recent aquatic surveys have identified rare fish species and behaviors seldom seen in the Main Hawaiian Islands.

Seals. Kure Atoll is an important pupping and resting area for Hawaiian Monk seals. The Kure Atoll sub-population of monk seals apparently declined during the 1960s due to increased human disturbance from the Coast Guard station, but has been increasing in recent years. The monk seal population size at Kure is currently about 100-125 animals.

Photo courtesy Cynthia Vanderlip

Birds. The island is a nesting area for shearwaters, petrels, tropicbirds, boobies, frigatebirds, albatrosses, terns and noddies. It is also a wintering area for a variety of migratory bird species from North America and Asia. The photo above shows that the birds, like many of the native species, share the space with a huge amount of debris that washes onto Kure from the ocean.

Rats. One animal that is no longer found on Kure is the Polynesian rat (Rattus exulans). The rat was probably introduced by early Polynesians, and was the major predator on the atoll since at least the 19th century. In 1993, the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) began a systematic program of trapping the rats. By 2000, repeated surveys show that there are no rats on Kure. This rat also has been eradicated on numerous islands in New Zealand and the Pitcairn Group, using brodifacoum, a poison marketed under the trade name D-Con.

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Copyright © 2011 Robert W. Schmieder All rights reserved. Last update: Tuesday, March 08, 2011