What can 30 years of research and monitoring on Maine seabirds teach us? That the marine environment is changing fast. That ocean birds may be failing to adapt. That the scope of few marine threats – from ocean warming and offshore energy development to competition from commercial fisheries - could have been foreseen when Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge staff began studying the birds in the early ‘80s.
The refuge, made up of more than 50 islands in the Gulf of Maine, uses data from research and monitoring to manage Maine seabird colonies and try to stem the birds’ decline.
Arctic tern. (Photo: USFWS)
Consider the Arctic tern. Its 36,000-plus mile-per-year migration from its wintering grounds in Antarctica to its Maine breeding grounds is the world’s longest; the little bird makes the equivalent of three round trips to the moon in its 30-year lifetime. Small light-sensing units called geolocators have been used to document the distance flown. But over the last five years, counts of Arctic terns in Maine have dropped by 42 percent, from 4,224 pairs in 2008 to 2,467 pairs in 2012. “There are fewer pairs of Arctic terns breeding in the Gulf of Maine, and those terns that do breed are producing fewer chicks. They’re doing very poorly,” says refuge biologist Linda Welch.