While my family holds down the front in Florida I am working for the Fish & Wildlife Service at the Maine Coastal Islands NWR on Metinic Island as a seabird researcher. The island is about 300 acres, about 6 miles off the coast near Rockland, Maine and serves as an important nesting habitat for seabirds such as Common, Arctic, and endangered Roseate Terns, Guillomots, Leach’s Storm Petrels along with a wide variety of passerine species.
The gulf of Maine is a very important area for palegic birds. Due to a history of human disturbance (from hunting, development, and indirect actions such as over-fishing) many of the bird species that find their way to the gulf of Maine have dramatically declined in numbers, some, like the Roseate tern are near the brink of extinction.
The Maine Coastal Islands NWR conserves critical offshore habitat for wildlife use. They own more than 50 coastal islands totaling more than 8,100 acres, guaranteeing safe nesting habitat for many different kinds of birds that travel to this region from around the world. Their work is critical for wildlife conservation and environmental research.
However, the refuge cannot completely protect the islands from human hands. They cannot stop the hundreds of pounds of marine debris that wash upon their many miles of shoreline every day. This debris is a hazard to wildlife and one of the most difficult to control.
Metinic Island is also not safe from marine debris. After cleaning beaches off the coast of Hutchinson Island, Florida and Assateague Island, Virginia I have been able to witness the wide variation of marine debris that wash ashore in these very different areas. There are many factors that effect what exactly washes up on a shore (currents, locational variations, winds, etc.) and can cause some locations to never see a certain type of debris. This can lead to locals that are unaware of other marine threats, but that does not mean it is not out there in mass numbers littering the ocean and lands.
There is one type of debris that we always seam to find no matter where we go – balloons. They wash up frequently on the coasts of Florida, made up 90% of the debris that washed up on Assateague, found their way to forests in many locations, and now after exploring Metinic we have found that they have also infiltrated the gulf of Maine. My co-worker and I live in a cabin with no running water and solar electricity on the island, there are no roads or stores here, but yet debris can be found from the middle of the island to the edge of it’s shores.
Plastic bottles are the most common type of debris, particularly Gatorade and Powerade for some unknown reason, along with many old lobster traps, and hundreds of old lobster buoys. The small fresh water streams that flow from the highest point of the island to the ocean carries many of the debris that has blown inland on the island back to where it came from.
We have been on Metinic Island for one week. We have been collecting debris since arriving and will continue until the day we step off it’s beautiful shores. In this past week we have found 3 mylar balloons (still inflated) and 5 latex balloons with plastic ribbon. All were found at least 10 yards inland, all the mylars were caught up in bay berries where sparrows and swallows often nest. These balloons are proof that the gulf of Maine, like most areas, is not safe from balloon litter or other marine debris.
Through our clean-up efforts I hope to discover the raw numbers of the debris that washes up on this amazing island and relay the information to officials. Due to outdated regulations we are not allowed to remove any lobster buoys or lobster traps that wash ashore without going through a long and tedious process prior to their removal. Hopefully with the data collected concerning the numbers that are currently on the islands’ shore something will be done about this ‘untouchable’ debris.
Metinic Island is a glorious place that is so very important to wildlife, we hope by the end of our summer, its shores will be covered with life and free of the years of human debris that has stolen its beautiful shores.