Collapse in Puffin Nesting in West Iceland Skip to content

Collapse in Puffin Nesting in West Iceland

Puffin nesting has failed all around the country this year. Studies show that the condition of the nesting grounds by Faxaflói, off Reykjavík, and Breidafjördur in west Iceland is the worst—on Ellidaey island in Breidafjördur only one puffin is sitting on an egg.


Puffins. Photo by Páll Stefánsson.

“When we arrived to Breidafjördur we were at a loss,” exclaimed biologist Erpur Snaer Hansen in an interview with Morgunbladid.

He is currently examining the condition of puffin burrows around the country with his associate Marinó Sigursteinsson and two British volunteers.

When the team studied the conditions of the puffin colonies on Breidarfjördur it turned out that on Ellidaey there were only four eggs in 40 burrows, three of which had turned cold.

“It’s as if 90 percent of puffins decided to skip the nesting season this year. The situation is tragic,” Hansen commented, saying it is obvious that there is a lack of sandeels elsewhere other than around the Westman Islands.

The condition of the puffin colonies in north Iceland is all right, where the puffin finds capelin to feed on. This applies to the islands Grímsey, Drangey, Lundey on Skjálfandi, Vigur in Ísafjardardjúp and Grímsey in Steingrímsfjördur.

The team has yet to examine the situation of puffins in the east and southeast. “We haven’t been to Ingólfshöfdi and Papey yet, which failed completely last year, and we expect that to happen again,” Hansen predicted.

“It is as if the situation is much worse now than it was during the last warm period between 1930 and 1960. There hasn’t been such an extreme collapse before,” he stated.

The ocean temperature in Icelandic waters has been increasing since 1996, which might contribute to the lack of sandeels, the puffin’s primary food.

Hansen pointed out that 25 percent of the biomass of seabirds in the North Atlantic reside in Iceland. “People might not realize the significance of this; every fourth bird in Iceland is a puffin.”

The team’s next destination is Borgarfjördur eystri in the East Fjords and from there they will continue southwards to Ingólfshöfdi.

Click here to read more about the condition of puffins and other seabirds in Iceland, and here to read about a decline in the ptarmigan stock.

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