Newswise — Portland, ME— Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI) announces the publication of the scientific paper Restoration of common loons following the North Cape Oil Spill, Rhode Island, USA in the journal Science of the Total Environment (now available online). This loon restoration study, conducted in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over a 15-year period, resulted in the acquisition or conservation easements of nearly 607,028 ha (1.5 million acres) of Maine forests and waters to support the protection of 119 loon pairs in perpetuity.

“Oil spills are a widespread problem in the marine environment and can have extensive acute and chronic adverse impacts to resident and migratory animals,” says BRI executive director and chief scientist David Evers, Ph.D., principle investigator on the project. “This study enhanced our ability to evaluate restoration effectiveness.”

In January 1996, the tank barge North Cape, carrying 94,000 barrels (3.9 million gallons) of home heating oil, struck ground off Moonstone Beach in South Kingstown, Rhode Island. An estimated 828,000 gallons of oil were released into the coastal and offshore environments. This spill killed 402 loons—the equivalent of 2,920 loon-years, or the total loss of a species as measured through dead adults and the young that these birds might have produced over their expected lifetimes.

Common Loons wintering in the coastal waters of Rhode Island migrate north to breeding habitats in Maine. Loon surveys were conducted on 70 lakes in four regions of Maine and reproductive data was collected from 184 loon territories. 

“The North Capestudy sets an important precedent for scaling restoration due to other oil spills,” says Evers referencing the tank barge Bouchard 120, which spilled 98,000 gallons of oil into the coastal waters of Massachusetts and Rhode Island when it hit a bedrock ledge in Buzzards Bay in 2003.

The loon study builds on a history of collaborative and independent research by BRI and the USFWS to better understand wildlife and ecosystem health and to inform the public and other stakeholders about these findings. 

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Biodiversity Research Institute, headquartered in Portland, Maine, is a nonprofit ecological research group whose mission is to assess emerging threats to wildlife and ecosystems through collaborative research and to use scientific findings to advance environmental awareness and inform decision makers. BRI supports ten research programs within three research centers including the Center for Waterbird Studies.

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