Can you imagine spending three months on a small island, two miles off shore and only going home once? That’s just what SBE student David Bridges did this summer while he was interning for the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge. David was selected with a small group of interns to live on land owned by the organization in order to help with research on sea birds. Many species of sea birds, such as Guillemots and Atlantic Puffins, are in danger of colony collapse due to over-hunting for feathers in the early 1900s. The staff who live in these remote bird habitats are there to collect data and oversee the bird populations.
Bridges was living in an old lighthouse on Petit Manan, a 10-acre island without running water. Many of the bird species were ground nesters that were easily disturbed by human activity. This confined Bridges and his research partners to a small area of living space. Food rations were brought by boat once a week. “It was an intense experience,” said Bridges. “It puts a lot of things into perspective, like what you need, and don’t need, to be happy.”
Bridges and his research partners would climb the lighthouse and count birds every morning and night. During the day, they would observe the birds under camouflage blinds and enter data into a database on their solar-powered computers. Some variables recorded were numbers of nesting pairs, what type of fish species they ate, and general behavior. They found that there were almost 2,000 nesting pairs of birds on the island.
Bridges found out about the internship through SBE Professor Rebecca Holberton, who collaborates regularly with the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Bridges said he would recommend the internship to anyone wanting fieldwork experience. “It’s a great first field job,” he said. “It shows you can do it.” Bridges hopes this will open up opportunities for conservation fieldwork in the future. “There is a tight network of people in the conservation sciences, so it’s great for networking.” Bridges is a fourth year biology major and aspires to attain a Ph.D. in animal behavior someday.