The Fall, Rise, Fall of the Atlantic Puffin

This article discusses the fate of the Atlantic Puffin. More than 100 years ago, hunters nearly wiped out the Gulf of Maine’s Atlantic puffins. Climate change may finish the job.

In 1970, Stephen Kress, then a budding scientist in his mid-20s, drew up plans for an improbable scheme: to reintroduce the Atlantic puffin to its former range.

Success came slowly. Now in its 45th year, Project Puffin, a program of the National Audubon Society run by Kress, has brought the puffin back to the Gulf of Maine. More than 2,000 Atlantic puffins now nest on five islands, including at least 1,000 on Seal Island.

But today, Maine’s puffins are under threat once more. And there’s little that Kress can do to avert their plight.

The Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99 percent of the ocean, an oft-cited statistic from a 2016 report. Nick Record, an ecologist at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences who worked on the report, says his latest research suggests the reality is more dire. The water coming through the Northeast Channel is actually warming twice as fast as was reported in 2016, Record says.

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