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This week’s topic examines climate change influences on Atlantic puffins, which are seabirds that inhabit rock crevices and ground burrows in the immediate vicinity of seashores in regions of the North Atlantic.

A recent article for reference, titled Climate change is causing problems for puffins (Bever, 2021), provides a glimpse of the issues faced by Atlantic puffins in coastal Maine.A puffin on Eastern Egg Rock | Photo by Brian Bechcard/Maine Public

While 60% of the Atlantic puffin population can be found in Iceland (Audubon Project Puffin, 2019), where there’s also the single biggest colony numbering roughly 4 million birds, there’s also well-established colonies elsewhere.  Atlantic puffins also inhabit locations in eastern, coastal Canada such as Newfoundland during breeding season as well as the United Kingdom, western France and coastal Maine in the U.S.

With regard to the Atlantic puffin populations in Maine, approximately 1,300 puffin breeding pairs are known to inhabit and raise offspring on seven different coastal islands (Union of Concerned Scientists, Jackson, 2019) .  Of those seven coastal islands, Matinicus Rock, Eastern Egg Rock and Seal Island are seasonal homes to the largest colonies in the state (Maine Dept. of Inland Fisheries, 2013).

Climate change has been having an adverse effect on many species of wildlife over recent decades, and its unfortunate influence on the Atlantic puffin is no exception.  Increasing ocean temperatures in the North Atlantic Ocean during the last decade has arguably been a catalyst for population decline (University of Massachusetts Amherst, 2020).  Another is factor contributing toward the Atlantic puffin’s population decline is excessive rainfall that washes out their burrows or the floods the crevices where they raise and feed their young.

Atlantic puffins eat primarily fish, and crustaceans in lesser amounts.  With climate change producing warmer ocean temperatures, fish like herring, haddock and hake either swim in deeper waters or move further northward in the North Atlantic Ocean for their own survival.

The consequence of increasing ocean temperature is that their food resources have become less abundant, so they’re forced to either dive deeper or fly away from their breeding grounds much farther to find fishing opportunities (Yale Climate Connections, Harrington, 2020).  A further consequence is that the Atlantic puffin population is in decline, as their colonies have reduced in number at least the past two years.

While climate change in itself has advanced to a level of genuine concern, it’s already heading toward a crisis for future Atlantic puffins in Maine and elsewhere in their North Atlantic region.

Puffins in the North Atlantic