Cooper Island is a barrier island of sand and gravel roughly 4 miles long. It is located just off the coast of Alaska's North Slope, 25 miles east of Point Barrow.
Cooper Island is the largest Black Guillemot colony in Alaska, and the most northerly breeding site for Horned Puffins. The Arctic Tern colony on the island was, until recently, the largest on the northern coast of Alaska. From midsummer to fall, the islands beaches and adjacent waters host many oceanic and nearshore migrants. Cooper Island is also the site of a long-term biological research station. Information on the breeding behaviour and productivity of the Black Guillemot population has been recorded at this site for 30 years. Extended data sets of this nature are rare in Alaska, especially in the Arctic, and this work has proven to be invaluable in monitoring long-term cycles and trends in Arctic avifauna related to climate change and other atmospheric variation.
The Army Corp of Engineers is evaluating Cooper Island as a source of sediments for use in coastal restoration projects. The Bureau of Land Management has included Cooper Island in oil and gas lease sales and exploration is occurring both on land and sea near the island. Rapid erosion of the east end of the island has been observed and documented by researchers at the University of Colorado.
Cooper Island was claimed by Great Britain in the mid-19th Century and later turned over to Canada with the rest of the UK?s North American Arctic holdings. However, the United States has ignored that and claims sovereignty. The Bureau of Land Management has included Cooper Island in recent oil and gas lease sale proposals.
Cooper Island is a long, flat, barrier island of gravel and sand, with little vegetation. Areas of the island are strewn with large driftwood logs and other beached items cast up by winter storms. Black Guillemots usually nest in crevices in talus and other rocky areas. On Cooper Island, however, Black Guillemots, and more recently Horned Puffins, nest under naturally scattered beach litter, man-made structures, or deliberately placed nest boxes.
Based on the presence of house sites, indigenous people once lived on the island. An old military camp from the 1950s is still present. Currently, however, the only human use of Cooper Island is the ornithological research field station that is occupied from approximately June 1 to September 10.