Thursday, June 11, 2015

Stephen W. Kress

Stephen W. Kress is the National Audubon Society’s Vice President for Bird Conservation and director of the Audubon Seabird Restoration Program and Hog Island Audubon Camp. He is the author of Project Puffin: The Improbable Quest to Bring a Beloved Seabird Back to Egg Rock.

From his Q & A at the Yale University Press blog:

YUP: When you first started out, eminent ornithologists posed the question to you: why bother bringing puffins back to Maine since people could go see puffins in Iceland where they are still very abundant? Now that you have re-established the puffins, what is the most important reason for people to still pay attention to the bird, other from the fact they are colorful and charismatic?

SK: The threats that affect birds such as puffins today are far greater than the gunner’s bullets that nearly wiped out Maine puffins one hundred years ago. Because puffins are at the absolute southernmost end of their known breeding range in North America, it is likely to be one of the birds to best gauge climate change in our oceans. Because the forage fish which puffins rely on to raise their chicks are sensitive to ocean temperatures, we can learn about climate change by observing the foods which puffins feed their chicks. These observations can also inform us about the state of many ocean fish that are important to people as well as puffins. Many of these species are now vulnerable to commercial overfishing.

We already know that lobsters as a species have moved more than forty miles north in the last decade with warming waters. Puffins can’t move with the changing ocean temperatures because they are linked to land where they must nest on just a few islands that provide for their special needs. It is no surprise that in recent years we are also seeing puffins bring in fish for the chicks more known in mid-Atlantic waters. The concern is that while some species are edible, nutritious and the right shape for chicks, other species are not. The same fish are also used for livestock feed, fish farming, and even nutritional supplements in unsustainable ways. Puffin adults are amazingly adaptable to catch whatever is available. The big question is what will be available in the coming decades.

Because puffins are so charismatic, they capture the plight of other seabirds and the health of the seas. I believe that they can help to engage more people with protecting oceans from climate change, pollution and overfishing. Puffins are the pandas of the sea and among...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue