Have you ever walked along the seashore and discovered something magical? You never know what treasures might float in with the tide, like this colorful sea star I spotted in shallow water off the coast of Mozambique,
or a driftwood cave that could shelter an animal from the wind.
One of the most thrilling sights for me was coming across a Hawaiian Monk Seal asleep on a deserted beach on the Island of Kauaii. Monk seals are an endangered species. They are only found in the Hawaiian Islands and there are less than 1500 of them left in the world. Monk seals spend their lives in the ocean, struggling against high waves and strong ocean currents to dive hundreds of feet down for food.
Sometimes, they will haul themselves out of the water to rest like this mother and pup.
Over the last 10 years, NOAA (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has been hard at work helping to protect the Hawaiian Monk Seal population and increase their recovery rate. Their efforts include rescuing and treating injured seals and releasing them back into the wild - like Honey Girl, the female monk seal whose story is chronicled in my recent book, Rhino Rescue! And More True Stories of Saving Animals. This brave female monk seal was found on a beach with a large fishhook lodged in her cheek. Marine debris that is left floating in the ocean is a dangerous problem for marine animals. But thanks to the quick work of the NOAA response team Honey Girl was rehabilitated and released back into the wild in just a few weeks.
NOAA has also helped organize a gung ho group of volunteers to patrol the beaches for monk seals and set up barriers to keep people from getting too close and disturbing their much-needed sleep. These efforts have begun to pay off with the Hawaiian monk population showing an increase from 1100 seals to 1400 in the last three years! To celebrate this ongoing recovery effort, NOAA has announced that 2017 is the “Year of the Monk Seal.”
What can we do to help protect these gifts from the sea? If you are drawn to the seashore by the smell of salt water and the chance to see something magical there, remember that the sea stars, birds, and marine creatures you might discover there are best left alone to continue whatever they are doing to survive before the tide returns to take them back to their ocean home.