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Why Conserve Tern Populations?

I sit on the deck of an aluminum boat rolling back and forth. The boat surges forward, pushing through the waves and crashing whitecaps. Another wave breaks over the rail of the boat, making wet splatters on our clothes. I, and six other students from Shoals Marine Lab (a research field station on Appledore Island in the Gulf of Maine’s Isles of Shoals) are headed to nearby White Island. We’re going to learn about a tern conservation program operated by Shoals Marine Lab’s researchers and technicians.

View from the boat ride to White Island. White Island a small island within in the Isles of Shoals home to a large tern conservation program.

Terns are a small seabird, with greyish-white plumage. White Island’s colony of common terns all have orange beaks with black tips and a black cap of feathers on their head.

Long ago, when people hungered for clothing and fashion made with bird feathers, a booming millinery trade decimated the tern. Today, common terns face many threats, including habitat loss, plastic pollution, being killed as fish by-catch, climate change.

Currently, common terns are listed as a federally protected species. Because humans also value the conservation of terns, people have decided to intervene,

Interestingly, terns only existed on their own on White Island until the 1950s. Since then, White Island has been managed to preserve a colony of terns within the Isles of Shoals, and a larger network of tern colonies in the Gulf of Maine. Because gulls may prey upon young tern chicks and displace tern habitat, White Island’s conservation team actively removes gulls and protects the colony and its nests from predators.

Because of these diligent efforts, White Island has become one of the biggest and most successful tern restoration programs in the Gulf of Maine.

Banding a Common Tern