Maine’s puffin colonies recovering in the face of climate change

EASTERN EGG ROCK, Maine (AP) — On distant islands off the Maine coast, a novel fowl held its personal this 12 months within the face of local weather change.

Atlantic puffins — clownish seabirds with colourful payments and waddling gaits — had their second consecutive rebound 12 months for fledging chicks after struggling a catastrophic 2021, mentioned scientists who monitor the birds. The information flies within the face of environmental traits, as scientists have mentioned warming waters off New England jeopardize the birds as a result of that reduces the form of fish they should feed their chicks.

One fish, although — the sand lance — has remained in abundance this 12 months, permitting puffins to thrive, mentioned Don Lyons, director of conservation science at Nationwide Audubon Society’s Seabird Institute in Bremen, Maine. He mentioned it’s an indication the influence of local weather change on ecosystems is just not at all times as tidy as we predict.

The encouraging information comes because the Audubon Society is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary of tending to Maine’s puffin colonies, which it restored from just some dozen pairs. There at the moment are as many as 3,000 birds, and the inhabitants is steady, Lyons mentioned.

“This year is a good example of how complex things are. We can’t boil it down to one variable,” he mentioned. “We still have a lot to learn.”

The puffins — also referred to as “clowns of the sea” or “sea parrots” — nest in burrows and feed their chicks small fish corresponding to herring. Two years in the past, the colonies suffered one in all their worst years for copy in many years as a consequence of a scarcity of these fish. Solely a couple of quarter of the birds had been in a position to elevate chicks that summer season.

Audubon and different conservation teams have tied the fish scarcity to warming ocean temperatures. The Gulf of Maine, which has puffin colonies on its islands, is warming sooner than many of the world’s oceans, and a few latest years have been particularly heat. The early a part of this summer season seems to have been “still unusually warm,” mentioned David Reidmiller, local weather heart director at Gulf of Maine Analysis Institute in Portland, Maine.

About two-thirds of the puffins fledged chicks final 12 months, Lyons mentioned. The birds didn’t equal that quantity this 12 months, he mentioned, however they once more had a greater 12 months than 2021 regardless of a lower than supreme summer season of sizzling, wet situations.

The puffins’ skill to breed regardless of environmental modifications speaks to the resiliency of seabirds, mentioned Invoice Sydeman, president and chief scientist of the Farallon Institute, a marine preservation group based mostly in California. Nevertheless, the long-term risks posed by local weather change — corresponding to deadly warmth waves, lack of meals, lack of islands to sea stage rise and incapability to breed — stay existential threats to puffins and lots of different seabirds, he mentioned.

“The problem with climate change is these breeding failures and low breeding productivity years are now becoming chronic,” Sydeman mentioned. “There will be fewer young birds in the population that are able to recruit into the breeding population.”

Maine’s puffins are the one breeding Atlantic puffins within the U.S. Worldwide, the species lives within the North Atlantic from Maine and Canada to Europe. Different international locations with giant puffin populations, corresponding to Iceland, have seen the birds decline in quantity in latest many years.

The Maine puffin inhabitants as soon as dwindled to solely about 70 pairs on tiny Matinicus Rock. Hunters who pursued the birds for his or her meat and feathers had practically wiped them out by the early 1900s. Stephen Kress, an Audubon ornithologist, sought to develop puffin colonies beginning within the Nineteen Seventies by relocating chicks from Canada to Japanese Egg Rock, one other tiny island.

At the moment, puffins dwell on Matinicus in addition to Japanese Egg Rock, Seal Island and Petit Manan Island. On a latest journey to Japanese Egg Rock, positioned off St. George, dozens of puffins delighted tour boats as they took off in flight and dove into the water in pursuit of fish.

The grownup birds within the colonies seem pretty strong, and it is “seemingly the inhabitants is steady, and it might nonetheless be rising,” Lyons mentioned.

The results of local weather change on seabirds have been a spotlight of scientific inquiry in recent times. Curiosity within the topic has accelerated due to die-offs of among the puffin’s auk household kin, such ascommon murres and Cassin’s auklets off the West Coast.

The challenges confronted by seabirds make profitable breeding seasons particularly essential, mentioned P. Dee Boersma, a College of Washington professor of biology and director of the college’s Middle for Ecosystem Sentinels.

“What that means is we should be more cautious and concerned about reproductive failures and things like that to make sure that in good years everyone that wants to has a chance to breed, and do well,” Boersma mentioned.


Comply with Patrick Whittle on X, previously Twitter: @pxwhittle


Related Press local weather and environmental protection receives help from a number of personal foundations. See extra about AP’s local weather initiative right here. The AP is solely answerable for all content material.

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