Warmer Ocean Threatens Puffin Population Skip to content

Warmer Ocean Threatens Puffin Population

By Steindor Gretar Jonsson

Photo: Photo: Susanne Jutzeler. A pair of puffins on a grassy knoll.

Rising ocean temperatures in the south of Iceland could impact the area’s puffin population, according to a RÚV report.

Iceland is home to the majority of the world’s Atlantic puffin population. The largest colony is in Vestmannaeyjar, the islands south of the coast of Iceland. The locals have a tradition where the children help rescue puffin fledglings who have become confused on their way to the sea and land in the village instead.

Warmer ocean temperatures

Director of the South Iceland Nature Research Centre Erpur Snær Hansen has noted that measurements this year show that ocean temperatures could be the highest so far this century. “You can see that the first months this year are very warm,” he said. “The warm period in the Atlantic Ocean began in 1995 and peaked in 2003. Temperatures went down after that, but are now rising again.”

The puffin population, much like other seabird populations, is dependant on the availability of food in the ocean. Warm waters are not good for sand eels, who are very important for the puffins’ diet. If there is a scarcity of sand eels, it affects both the adult puffins and their fledglings as they leave their nests.

Fledglings are weaker

“They’re laying their eggs later and fewer individuals lay eggs,” Erpur added. “It’s a big factor here on the islands in years like this when a half of the population doesn’t lay eggs. It’s all connected and the fledglings are slow to grow up, leave their nests later, and are weaker, which is very bad as their chance of survival is dependant on this time in their lives.”

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