Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Protecting Iceland's Puffins

Puffins have become a symbol of Iceland. These adorable little creatures return to the island every summer to socialize, mate and nest. Their homes on the sea cliffs are a favorite site for visitors. But with Iceland's booming tourism industry, much of the tiny Nordic nation’s flora and fauna has begun to suffer. We need to be careful and make sure that we take care of Mother Nature's most precious creations and creatures.

An Atlantic puffin gazes into the distance. Iceland wants to protect this almost-endangered species

The Atlantic bird gets its name from the puffed-up appearance of its chest. They are easy to spot due to their brightly colored orange beaks and feet. Think of them as penguins with flair. Like certain species of penguins, they only lay one egg per year. They spend a large part of their lives out at sea but during their reproductive years, return home every spring and summer. The breeding colonies they form from April to September are where they search for a partner to pair up with. While Atlantic puffins do not always mate for life, they are generally monogamous once they've found the love of their birdie lives.

Around 60% of Atlantic puffins breed in Iceland and many travel to other parts of Scandinavia as well as the UK. Over the years, population numbers have been dropping drastically. Some even say the bird could be extinct within the next hundred years if dramatic steps are not taken. They've even started showing up on lists of endangered animals.

Wild Puffins in Dyrholaey, Iceland overlooking the ocean

So what's causing the decrease in the number of Icelandic puffins? Well first, the low reproductive rate of one egg per year already puts the birds at a distinct disadvantage. It can take them a long time to recover from significant changes to their environment. The second reason is predators, and I don't mean like the one in the movie. Puffins are prey to hunters from both humanity and the animal kingdom. Controls are now kept on puffin hunting by humans, but they are still under threat by some animals such as rats. The fact that puffins spend two-thirds of their life at sea is also a problem because sometimes they come into contact with pollution and contaminated waters. The extreme weather, change in water temperature and lack of food caused by climate change have also been factors in the falling puffin population.

Conservation is extremely important and we need to do everything within our power to protect these elegant creatures. By introducing measures such as sustainable harvesting, protection from predators and tracking and monitoring, we can hopefully begin to reverse the trend of declining puffin populations in Iceland. We also need to continue the path toward making sure that climate change is something that does not destroy our home, planet Earth.

Iceland24
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