Jenny Howard and her small team of interns spend summers on Seal Island off the coast of Maine in an effort to monitor and help the fledgling puffin population there. Howard has been at it for the last three summers and her efforts have helped restore the populations of several sea bird species including the arctic terns, great black-backed gulls and Atlantic puffins.
Seal Island is a national wildlife refuge situated about 21 miles off the Rockland, Maine coast and was once owned by the U.S. Navy who used the location for bombing practice. Live ordnance can still be found on the rocky terrain.
Life on the island may seem idyllic but it comes with its own set of hardships. The volunteers, who live on the island in a group of four or five, sleep in tents and use solar heated water to take tepid showers when they can. There is no electricity on the island except for two solar powered lights, and therefore, no refrigeration. The crew brings in what they can carry in their backpacks – clothes, canned and dried foods and supplies. Water and food are brought in every ten days by a local lobster fisherman who sometimes brings fresh lobster too.
Howard supervises the crew for Project Puffin, a seabird restoration project associated with the National Audubon Society. They monitor and look after nine species of seabirds in the summertime when the birds breed.
The primary focus is on the puffins who were hunted for their feathers and as food 150 years ago until none were left on the island. Dr. Steve Kress who created Project Puffin is responsible for the reintroduction of the puffin to the island 40 years ago.
The daily routine consists of counting the paired seabirds for three hours starting before daybreak. Later, they record wind direction, air temperature and sea surface conditions in order to monitor the habitat.
A single cabin is used for cooking, data collection and data entry and houses a small library containing books left by past volunteers. It doubles as a shelter during inclement weather.
Howard says the best part of her day is playing with the birds. She loves seeing a baby chick and the work she does is all the satisfaction she needs.