Restoring Endangered Species: Lessons From Puffins and Terns

Humans have devastated seabird colonies in many parts of the world by excessive hunting for food and feathers and introducing mammals such as cats and rats to othrwise secure nesting sites.

Worldwide, 23% of all seabird species are now globally threatened as marine pollution, coastal development, and rising sea levels due to climate change take their toll. Although seabird nesting islands seem safe due to their remoteness, they are intimately connected to human activities. For example, Maine's seabird nesting islands are affected by large populations of Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls that benefit from garbage and fishing waste hundreds of miles away. As populations of these scavengers increase, they deter smaller migratory seabirds such as puffins and terns from nesting on many of their historic nesting sites. Ironically, Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons, the products of other successful wildlife restoration programs, now threaten rare Maine seabirds such as Great Cormorants and Roseate Terns.

Last November, Dr. Stephen Kress, the Director of the National Audubon Society's Seabird Restoration Program and the founder of Project Puffin in 1973, reviewed the techniques that he and others have developed on Maine's coastal islands that have lead to the restoration of puffins and terns on their historic nesting sites. Techniques developed in Maine have been adopted worldwide. For example, in Vermont, social attraction and the use of tern decoys, techniques developed in Maine, have been critical to the success of Audubon Vermont's Common Tern Restoration Project on Lake Champlain.

Dr. Kress entertained a large audience at the Billings Center on the UVM campus, describing the evolution of Project Puffin and the many obstacles he encountered in the process of re-introducing puffins to Maine. Despite the success of the program on East Egg Island and Seal Island, Dr. Kress emphasized that many challenges to the puffin population persist and that without human intervention these colonies would in all likelihood fail. The audience applauded his commitment to the seabird restoration program and responded enthusiastically to his plea for continued support of Project Puffin.