It’s Essential That We Protect the Atlantic Puffin’s Wintering Grounds

Audubon scientists recently discovered that the puffins overwinter at New England’s biodiverse coral canyons, a habitat deeply in need of protection.

Atlantic Puffins might be small birds, but they’re far from inconspicuous. During breeding season, the colorful seabirds gather in the hundreds or thousands on cliffs and offshore islands, generating a cacophonous ruckus as they ferry fish from the sea to their chicks and chatter amongst themselves.

And yet, outside of their busy but brief breeding season, no one knew where puffins went. The otherwise boisterous birds pulled off a vanishing act—disappearing at the end of each summer only to reappear the following year.

Their destination was discovered earlier this year, when Audubon scientists successfully tracked Atlantic Puffins to their wintering grounds south of Cape Cod. There, beneath the waves, lie undersea canyons and mountains riddled with cold-water reefs, which support a vast food web stretching from the deep sea to the water’s surface. Called the New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts, it’s this rich food source that puffins rely upon all winter long.

In a new article in the Huffington Post, Audubon CEO David Yarnold describes the significance of the area to puffins and other marine life:

This is one of the most pristine biodiversity hot spots on the planet, a place remarkably free from human disturbance. It’s not only the winter home to the threatened Atlantic Puffins, but hosts whales, porpoises, tuna, sailfish and countless other sea creatures and ocean fauna. And those are just the seafaring creatures we know about. Much remains unexplored in this aquatic wonderland.

With the discovery of the Atlantic Puffin’s winter grounds, Audubon joined a group of scientists, conservationists, politicians, and others urging President Obama to designate New England’s coral canyons as the first Marine National Monument in the Atlantic Ocean. Yarnold explains why even critics should get behind the effort:

Some commercial fishers oppose the national monument designation, saying it would hurt their business if they are not allowed to fish these waters.

We believe protecting this underwater biodiversity hot spot would have exactly the opposite effect. Rather than hurt commercial fishers, protecting this highly diverse undersea world will help improve declining populations of lobsters and commercial fish in the overfished waters off the New England Coast.

Fishers have experienced declining hauls for years due to overfishing and climate change that is shifting the patterns of fish populations.

When fish and other sea creatures have a safe haven as diverse as the New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts, they grow and repopulate the seas for hundreds of miles, bolstering populations with more and healthier fish.

Fishermen could use their fishing grounds repopulated—and so could Atlantic Puffins. As waters warm, the fish they feast on are migrating north with the cold water. Protecting New England’s coral canyons could help ensure food sources for puffins and other wildlife as they adapt to the changing climate.

 Read the full Huffington Post article here.


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