June 08, 2018

By Rick Smith, Bird Keeper

Rick started his career in the 1980s at the former Aquatic House at the Saint Louis Zoo. Although he has a degree in fisheries and has worked with many fish species, Rick has primarily worked with birds. He has volunteered five times for Project Puffin and is looking forward to the work in 2018. Having spent many summers as a child along the coast of Maine, Rick fell in love with marine ecology. He has found Project Puffin to be a perfect place to help keep the drums of marine conservation beating.

As we celebrate World Oceans Day on June 8, I would like to share my ocean interest.  Below is a short essay on Project Puffin.

I first volunteered for Project Puffin in 1994. The National Audubon Society started Project Puffin in 1973 in an effort to learn how to restore puffins colonies to historic nesting islands in the Gulf of Maine. Today, Project Puffin refers to the active seabird restoration programs for puffins and other Maine seabirds, as well as many public education programs. In Maine and beyond, Project Puffin is also known as Audubon’s Seabird Restoration Program, as it actively works to share restoration methods to benefit rare and endangered seabirds worldwide. It also aims to  build a culture of seabird conservation and appreciation.

Over the years, I have been to three of the seven islands in the Gulf of Maine. This year, I will be heading for a new destination — Stratton Island, where there are a large variety of birds, especially nesting seabirds. As a volunteer, I will participate in daily field research with the tern colonies on this island. The data to be collected will include nesting records, feeding surveys, chick growth surveys, weather records, ocean water testing, habitat study/plant identification, and monitoring the fishery operations nearby.

While working with Project Puffin this year, I also will help with maintenance of the field station. My duties include three-hour bird blind observations, bird banding, chick measurements, avian census counts, marine mammal census counts, and predator control. All of the research data is analyzed by our island supervisors. At the end of the season, this data is reviewed to give us an insight on how these bird species are faring year to year.

Daily volunteer duties also include preparing meals and upkeep of the research facility. Living on a seabird island is quite rustic. There is one small structure for research and preparing meals. All island staff sleep in tents. There is no running water, so showers and dishwashing are done using salt water or rain water. We have our own compost restroom facility. All of our supplies and personal transportation are usually done via lobster boat or U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service patrol boat. This opportunity to work with the seabirds is the worth the sacrifice of typical amenities. 

In addition to my avian interests, I also love fish. When there is free time, I will go snorkeling or fishing in the frigid 50 degree waters. I want to know everything that is above and below these waters. I’m fascinated as I watch the island life unveil its secrets.  These islands, with the fauna living there, have become a paradise to me. Even during the winter, I will read research papers about the Gulf of Maine and its diverse ecology.

The project is supported by many Association of Zoos and Aquariums institutions. This project is my passion and has helped me to develop both professionally and personally. I share my Project Puffin experiences and conservation messages daily with Zoo visitors. The pictures here are from my volunteer visit to Seal Island in 2016.

Click on a picture to see a larger image.

Categories: Conservation, Our Staff
Tags: Maine, Puffins