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Anchorage, AK, United States

Sigler M.F.,National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration | Harvey H.R.,University of Maryland Center for Environmental science | Ashjian C.J.,Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution | Lomas M.W.,Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences | And 3 more authors.

The Bering Sea is one of the most productive marine ecosystems in the world, sustaining nearly half of U.S. annual commercial fish catches and providing food and cultural value to thousands of coastal and island residents. Fish and crab are abundant in the Bering Sea; whales, seals, and seabirds migrate there every year. In winter, the topography, latitude, atmosphere, and ocean circulation combine to produce a sea ice advance in the Bering Sea unmatched elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere, and in spring the retreating ice; longer daylight hours; and nutrient-rich, deep-ocean waters forced up onto the broad continental shelf result in intense marine productivity (Figure 1). This seasonal ice cover is a major driver of Bering Sea ecology, making this ecosystem particularly sensitive to changes in climate. Predicted changes in ice cover in the coming decades have intensified concern about the future of this economically and culturally important region. In response, the North Pacific Research Board (NPRB) and the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) entered into a partnership in 2007 to support the Bering Sea Project, a comprehensive $52 million investigation to understand how climate change is affecting the Bering Sea ecosystem, ranging from lower trophic levels (e.g., plankton) to fish, seabirds, marine mammals, and, ultimately, humans. The project integrates two research programs, the NSF Bering Ecosystem Study (BEST) and the NPRB Bering Sea Integrated Ecosystem Research Program (BSIERP), with substantial in-kind contributions from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Source

Madison E.N.,U.S. Geological Survey | Piatt J.F.,U.S. Geological Survey | Arimitsu M.L.,U.S. Geological Survey | Romano M.D.,U.S. Geological Survey | And 6 more authors.
Marine Ornithology

The Kittlitz's Murrelet Brachyramphus brevirostris is adapted for life in glacial-marine ecosystems, being concentrated in the belt of glaciated fjords in the northern Gulf of Alaska from Glacier Bay to Cook Inlet. Most of the remaining birds are scattered along coasts of the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands, where they reside in protected bays and inlets, often in proximity to remnant glaciers or recently deglaciated landscapes. We summarize existing information on Kittlitz's Murrelet in this mainly unglaciated region, extending from Kodiak Island in the east to the Near Islands in the west. From recent surveys, we estimated that ~2400 Kittlitz's Murrelets were found in several large embayments along the Alaska Peninsula, where adjacent ice fields feed silt-laden water into the bays. On Kodiak Island, where only remnants of ice remain today, observations of Kittlitz's Murrelets at sea were uncommon. The species has been observed historically around the entire Kodiak Archipelago, however, and dozens of nest sites were found in recent years. We found Kittlitz's Murrelets at only a few islands in the Aleutian chain, notably those with long complex shorelines, high mountains and remnant glaciers. The largest population (~1600 birds) of Kittlitz's Murrelet outside the Gulf of Alaska was found at Unalaska Island, which also supports the greatest concentration of glacial ice in the Aleutian Islands. Significant populations were found at Atka (~1100 birds), Attu (~800) and Adak (~200) islands. Smaller numbers have been reported from Unimak, Umnak, Amlia, Kanaga, Tanaga, Kiska islands, and Agattu Island, where dozens of nest sites have been located in recent years. Most of those islands have not been thoroughly surveyed, and significant pockets of Kittlitz's Murrelets may yet be discovered. Our estimate of ~6000 Kittlitz's Murrelets along the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands is also likely to be conservative because of the survey protocols we employed. Source

Burke C.M.,Memorial University of Newfoundland | Montevecchi W.A.,Memorial University of Newfoundland | Wiese F.K.,North Pacific Research Board
Journal of Environmental Management

Petroleum exploration and production on the Grand Bank of eastern Canada overlaps with productive marine habitat that supports over 40 million marine birds annually. Environmental assessments for oil and gas projects in the region predict insignificant adverse effects on marine birds from oil spills, incineration in platform flares and collisions. Limited baseline data on seasonal occupancies and a failure to quantify the nature and extent of marine bird attraction to platforms and related mortality undermines these assessments. We conducted 22 surveys to offshore platforms on the Grand Bank during 1999-2003 to measure avian associations with platforms and to determine the level of monitoring needed to assess the risks to marine birds. We document seasonal shifts in marine bird occurrences and higher densities of auks (fall) and shearwaters (summer) around platforms relative to surrounding areas. The limited temporal and spatial coverage of our surveys is more robust than existing industry monitoring efforts, yet it is still inadequate to quantify the scale of marine bird associations with platforms or their associated mortality risks. Systematic observations by independent biologists on vessels and platforms are needed to generate reliable assessments of risks to marine birds. Instead, the regulatory body for offshore oil and gas in eastern Canada (Canada - Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board; C-NLOPB) supports industry self-reporting as the accepted form of environmental monitoring. Conflicting responsibilities of oil and gas regulatory agencies for both energy development and environmental monitoring are major barriers to transparency, unbiased scientific inquiry and adequate environmental protection. Similar conflicts with the oil and gas regulatory body in the United States, the former Minerals and Management Service (MMS) were identified by the U.S. President as a major contributor to the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The MMS has since been restructured into the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, (BOEM) with separate departments responsible for drilling leases and the regulation of drilling activities. Similar restructuring of the oil and gas regulatory bodies in Canada is needed for better public information, scientific investigation and environmental protection in the offshore. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd. Source

Arimitsu M.,U.S. Geological Survey | Piatt J.F.,U.S. Geological Survey | Romano M.D.,U.S. Geological Survey | Romano M.D.,National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration | And 2 more authors.
Marine Ornithology

The Kittlitz's Murrelet Brachyramphus brevirostris is a candidate species for listing under the US Endangered Species Act because of its apparent declines within core population areas of coastal Alaska. During the summers of 2006-2008, we conducted surveys in marine waters adjacent to Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska, to estimate the current population size of Kittlitz's and Marbled murrelets B. marmoratus and examine seasonal variability in distribution within coastal fjords. We also evaluated historical data to estimate trend. Based on an average of point estimates, we find the recent population (95% CI) of Kittlitz's Murrelet to be 716 (353-1080) individuals, that of Marbled Murrelet to be 6690 (5427-7953) individuals, and all Brachyramphus murrelets combined to number 8186 (6978-9393) birds. Within-season density estimates showed Kittlitz's Murrelets generally increased between June and July, but dispersed rapidly by August, while Marbled Murrelets generally increased throughout the summer. Trends in Kittlitz's and Marbled murrelet populations were difficult to assess with confidence. Methods for counting or sampling murrelets varied in early decades of study, while in later years there is uncertainty due to highly variable counts among years, which may be due in part to timing of surveys relative to the spring bloom in coastal waters of the Gulf of Alaska. Source

Artukhin Y.B.,Russian Academy of Sciences | Vyatkin P.S.,Russian Academy of Sciences | Andreev A.V.,Russian Academy of Sciences | Konyukhov N.B.,RAS Severtsov Institute of Ecology | And 2 more authors.
Marine Ornithology

The Kittlitz's Murrelet Brachyramphus brevirostris is one of the rarest seabird species in northeastern Asia. The species is widely distributed in the Chukchi and Bering seas, where it is observed from de Long Strait to Kamchatsky Bay and also in the northern Sea of Okhotsk. However, the species' Asian breeding range is not well documented. All four nests found historically in the region were located in inland alpine habitats. The species' wintering areas are also poorly documented; the northern boundary of winter distribution lies along the Sireniki polynya near the southern coast of Chukotka Peninsula. Migrating and wintering birds have also been recorded near northeastern Sakhalin and the islands of northern Japan. We provide an overview of the known distribution and conservation status of the Kittlitz's Murrelet population in the Russian Far East. Our assessment is based on at-sea surveys conducted from the 1970s to the early 2000s, with a total survey distance of >10 000 km. These surveys covered the presumed main potential breeding area of the Kittlitz's Murrelet in our study area. In the Bering Sea, highest densities were observed in the coastal waters of the eastern and southern parts of the Koryak Highlands and southern Chukotka Peninsula. In the Sea of Okhotsk, the species occupies roughly 500 km of coastline from Amakhton Bay to Tavatum Bay, with a total estimate of roughly 500 breeding pairs. The Asian coast likely supports a larger proportion of the global population of Kittlitz's Murrelet than previously acknowledged, and an expansion of surveys, research and monitoring of this species in Asia will be important for its conservation. Source

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