"The international community has been watching this project," says Dr. Stephen Kress who began seabird restoration here in 1973; "The steady increase in the numbers of puffins over the past ten years demonstrate that the birds are finding enough herring and hake for themselves and their chicks. The colony is healthy, and this is a great sign, another milestone."
Puffins are sensitive indicators to the quality of marine habitats as their populations fluctuate with changes in fish stocks. For this reason, puffin colonies from the British Isles north to Iceland are being affected by inadequate fish stocks due to global warming. Increases in Maine puffin populations at Eastern Egg Rock and other mid-coast colonies suggests ample supplies of key fish stocks such as Atlantic Herring.
Kress founded the Seabird Restoration Program thirty five years ago for the National Audubon Society when his team began translocating puffin chicks from Newfoundland to this seven acre island where puffins disappeared by 1885 due to excessive hunting. Five puffin pairs nested in 1981, eight years after moving the first puffin chicks to the island. Although the colony slowly increased, it wasn't until 1999 that thirty pairs nested.
"Since then," says Kress, "we've seen a jump of between seven to ten pairs each summer. With one hundred and two pairs on the island now producing chicks, we've essentially come full circle because that's how many chicks we were bringing down each summer from Newfoundland." In total, 954 puffin chicks were moved to the island between 1973 and 1986.
The Seabird Restoration Program brought an additional 950 puffin chicks to Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge in Penobscot Bay between 1984 and 1989. Now, about 330 pairs of puffins nest there. Additionally, Audubon has managed the only surviving puffin colony in Maine since the early 1900's, on Matinicus Rock, and there are now about 300 nesting pairs. Both Seal Island and Matinicus Rock are managed in cooperation with the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Eastern Egg Rock is owned by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. A small puffin colony also nests on Petit Manan National Wildlife Refuge near Milbridge, Maine.
The public can visit the Eastern Egg Rock puffins on daily eco-tourism cruises from nearby ports. Information on these trips and on the Seabird Restoration Program can be accessed by visiting www.projectpuffin.org or Project Puffin Visitor Center at 311 Main Street in Rockland, ME.
Contact: Pete Salmansohn, Education Coordinator (207) 529-5828