Science Excellence



Rachel Carson Award for Scientific Excellence (Group) – 2012


Atlantic Puffins. Credit: USFWSThe staff at Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuges Complex is fully engaged in landscape-scale, collaborative science to better protect and manage the migratory birds of the Gulf of Maine. Many of their focal species breed nowhere else in the United States and threats from climate change and offshore energy development threaten the long-term viability of species such as Atlantic puffin, razorbill, and Arctic terns. Monitoring efforts on all Maine’s managed seabird nesting colonies, collected by the Refuge and its partners through standardized protocols for over 25 years, have already documented significant changes in diet composition, accompanied by declining productivity and growth rates in seabird chicks. Changes in the marine ecosystem are already having dramatic effects on the reproductive success of these birds. Unfortunately, understanding threats and limiting factors for these birds presents special challenges; they forage in the ocean and little is known about their migration patterns and wintering areas.

At the same time, the coastline of Maine has been ranked as an excellent or outstanding wind resource area by the Department of Energy. By 2020, the State of Maine hopes to establish 5 gigawatts of wind power capacity, with a portion of that coming from large offshore wind facilities. The number of turbines discussed for these developments may add up to 1,000 individual towers standing up to 650' tall, including the blades. Those interested in streamlining permitting for these projects have been pressing the Service to point to the least harmful locations. Although the Refuge and its partners have detailed information about nesting locations of seabirds, there was almost no knowledge of important seabird foraging locations or migration pathways of seabirds, songbirds, or bats. Through a wide variety of projects involving newly available equipment and technologies, and involving a multitude of undergraduate students, graduate students, and collaborations with other researchers, the Refuge has been successfully gathering the data necessary to assist in guiding future offshore development away from areas of high resource value to trust species.

The Refuge has also been working with staff in the Migratory Bird Program to implement an integrated ecosystem research project: the Gulf of Maine Integrated Ecosystem Research Project (GOMIERP). This project, which relies on the scientific expertise of collaborators from many different agencies and universities in a broad range of fields, seeks to understand how environmental and anthropogenic processes, including climate change, affect trophic levels and the relationships among the trophic levels. The focus of GOMIERP is on fish and fisheries, marine mammals, and seabirds within the Gulf of Maine.

The staff at Maine Coastal NWR Complex sees that, in the face of today’s challenges, the way forward is to excel in science, to collaborate with partners, and to engage in landscape level approaches.


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Last updated: September 23, 2014

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