Seabird Conservation Along Canada's Atlantic Coastline
By Dr. Kathleen Blanchard & Hank Tyler
In addition, summer interns have gained firsthand field experience. Many interns since 1978, the Quebec Labrador Foundation (QLF) has been promoting community- based conservation of seabirds along Canada’s Atlantic coast. QLF is a cross-border Canadian and American nongovernmental organization with regional programs focused both on New England and Atlantic Canada, as well as international programs. Regionally, QLF conducts environmental education youth programs, biodiversity research and fieldwork, and local cultural heritage preservation. Their Biodiversity Conservation program follows in the tradition of QLF’s pioneering Marine Bird Conservation Program, which ran for two decades beginning in 1978, and specifically focused on seabirds.
The area’s cold, nutrient-rich waters support robust fisheries that seabirds depend upon for food. During the late spring and summer months, hundreds of thousands of seabirds nest on rocky islands. Guillemots, Murres, Puffins, Auks, Cormorants, Gannets, Petrels, Eider Ducks, Terns and Gulls are the more common names for seabird species but in fishing communities of Newfoundland and Labrador one still hears colorful names such as Tinker, Turr, and Tickle-ace. The Atlantic Puffin is the iconic species generally associated with Atlantic Canada’s rocky shores.
Dr. Kathleen Blanchard has been directing QLF’s biodiversity programs, monitoring seabird populations and conducting educational programs in the region since the late 1970s. Interns – university graduate and undergraduate students – work during the summer in remote coastal villages to promote an understanding of environmental issues from the context of local culture. School children, young adults, parents and grandparents are involved in these community-based environmental endeavors. Some of the summer interns assist Kath Blanchard in visiting offshore rocky islands to count seabirds and monitor their populations. The program has become a model for how to apply community-based methods, education and stewardship to conventional strategies for wildlife management that can be shared and implemented worldwide.
During the past three decades, the marine environment has changed. Fishing pressure has caused steep declines in fish populations, especially cod. Near shore water temperatures have increased slightly, adversely affecting the cold water fish populations that seabirds depend upon for their food. Seabird populations in the region have fluctuated over time, but unfortunately the global trend for seabird populations is one of severe decline. As seabirds from Canada’s Atlantic coast utilize vast stretches of open ocean, international efforts are needed to reduce threats such as plastic pollution, bycatch, and overfishing of forage species, as well as to restore the health of marine ecosystems more generally.
Many benefits from the community-based education program can be seen. A whole generation of coastal residents have become much more aware of the environmental values of their coastal habitats as well as of the significant seabird nesting colonies. In addition, summer interns have gained firsthand field experience. Many interns study biology and environmental sciences, and after graduating from universities have gone on to full time work in environmental fields around the world. QLF will hold its Second QLF Alumni Congress in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain from 13–16 November 2016 (see: www. qlf.org/congress2016). The Congress will convene QLF Alumni – former volunteers, interns, staff, fellows, and members of the Governing Boards – from about forty countries worldwide to share knowledge, experiences, and best practices across borders. Dr. Blanchard will be moderating a panel discussion at the Congress on biodiversity conservation in the era of climate change, based upon her experience along Canada’s Atlantic coast. Creating models for stewardship of natural resources that can be shared worldwide is one of QLF’s missions. Ten years after QLF’s first Alumni Congress was held in Budapest, Hungary, QLF Alumni from around the world are ready to gather again to convene across cultural, political and geographic borders to share conservation models, best practices, and to make a lasting contribution to a more sustainable global community.
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