Sep 15, 2023
2021 was the pits for Maine’s puffin population.
That year, only a quarter of the state’s mated pairs of the colorfully-beaked birds were able to raise a chick to adulthood. This number was down from two-thirds in a normal breeding season. The culprit was climate change. Warming oceans threaten species of small fish the puffins rely on for food. As a result, many fledgling puffins starved. And the Atlantic Ocean has only gotten warmer. Researchers and conservationists have been afraid the chick downturn would persist into 2022 and 2023.
Thanks to one tiny type of fish, the sand lance, puffins have persevered.
Sand lances have proven very plentiful this year. Their booming numbers have kept puffin colonies fed. Newly-hatched chicks have ample food. Now, puffins are no longer down to just a few dozen mated pairs. There are more than 3,000 along Maine’s coast, reports Don Lyons. Lyons is the director of conservation science at National Audubon Society’s Seabird Institute. It's housed in Bremen, Maine.
"It’s likely the population is stable,” Lyons told The Associated Press (AP). Lyons also said, "and it could still be growing."
Lyons warned that the puffins’ resiliency can’t be boiled down to one reason. But Lyons did state abundant food has helped. Lyons also said the ongoing efforts of monitoring programs like Audubon’s have helped too. Environmentalists hope the puffins’ success will encourage people to take steps to ensure that future years can be equally fruitful.
P. Dee Boersma is a University of Washington professor of biology. She told the AP, “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.”
Photo from Unsplash courtesy of Anina Huber.
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