Navigating Home fellow flocks to Cocos Island for ko’ko’ project

At the beginning of the year, Katelyn Anderson, a fellow for the 2023 National Science Foundation Navigating Home Early Career Fellowship Program, went to Cocos Islands as a part of the Guam Rail Project/Ko’ko’ for Cocos Project.  


Anderson, who earned her master’s in environmental stewardship from Colorado State University, was selected to be a fellow in September 2023. 


The UOG Center for Island Sustainability and Sea Grant launched the capacity-building program to create a pipeline for training and recruiting individuals with bachelor’s or master’s degrees in the marine and environmental sciences who may have left the island for educational or work opportunities. The primary aim is to entice them back to Guam, where they can contribute their expertise to the local workforce.  


After admission into the program, fellows collaborate with universities, non-profits, government agencies, and community organizations within their respective territorial program hub. 


Working under the Department of Agriculture’s Division of Aquatic & Wildlife Resources, Anderson and her cohorts make weekly visits to Cocos Island to collect data that could help to bolster the ko’ko’ population.  


“The purpose of the Guam Rail Project/Ko’ko’ for Cocos Project is to establish a sufficient number of rails (Guam rails or ko’ko’) at the Department of Agriculture’s rail yard in Mangilao that would fledge at least two clutches per year with a goal of releasing them on Cocos Island,” said Anderson. 


Anderson and her cohorts have a checklist of tasks while visiting Cocos Island, including surveying the site and setting up and retrieving trail cameras, which help to monitor ko’ko’ bird behavior, habitat preference, dispersal patterns, and overall survivorship. 


Anderson says, “The data collected on Cocos Island influences the decision of when to relocate the ko’ko’ population currently at DoAG railyard to Cocos Island and whether or not it will lead to a successful establishment of the ko’ko’ population. Over the past few years, the biologists at the Department of Agriculture have noticed a decline in the mating birds, leaving the older adults who are no longer able to reproduce and/or the chicks and juveniles who have yet to reach the mating stage.” 


However, the habits of the ko’ko’ bird are not the only things being tracked by the trail cameras. Data involving the invasive brown tree snake along with monitor lizards, otherwise known as hilitai in CHamoru, are also being collected to assist Anderson and her team with species removal. 


“The number one issue regarding the successful establishment of the ko’ko’ population on Cocos Island is predation. The trail cameras [help to] detect hilitai on the island which helps us monitor their population and preferred areas for monitor lizard removal to then take place.” 


Looking ahead to the new year, Anderson remains hopeful in achieving the goal of increasing the ko’ko’ population with the data her team collects through the consistency of daily surveys, studying data captured on trail cameras, and removal of predatory species affecting the ko’ko’. 


As for goals for herself as a new Navigating Home fellow, Anderson had this to say: 


My main goal as a new fellow for the NSF Navigating Home Early Career Program is to work with our partners and to spread awareness of all the conservation work that is ongoing and the potential for new conservation projects as our environment, our island, faces the ever-changing effects of climate change.” 

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