It’s summertime again! The leaves are green, the sun is out, it’s finally warm, and everyone seems to be in pretty high spirits! I am looking forward to getting my second dose of the COVID vaccine this month and going to visit my family. While I wait to see them though, I am enjoying my favourite part of the year: fieldwork season! The seabirds have returned to breed in Newfoundland so now is the time when I do all my data collection for my thesis. I work mostly on Gull Island in Witless Bay. There are lots of species that breed there including the Atlantic Puffin, Black-legged Kittiwake, Common Murre (known locally as ‘Turre’), Herring Gull, and my study species, the Leach’s Storm-Petrel. If you’ve never been, or will be new to Newfoundland, I highly recommend visiting and going on a boat tour. It’s like another world!
My Master’s, and soon my PhD project, have been about behaviour and conservation of these seabird species. Even though the causes for their global population declines are very complicated and relate to many different factors, what I find interesting is that some of these risk factors could be significantly reduced by just talking about the issue with individuals who live near these seabird colonies. For example, Leach’s Storm-Petrels are attracted to light. Many people in coastal towns leave their porch lights on all night, so talking to them about the birds and asking them to turn their lights off can reduce the amount of light we are putting into the environment, and therefore attract fewer birds. What I am continually impressed by is that when we talk to local people about this problem, they are so eager to help! Many of them are aware about the birds being stranded and are concerned about them, but do not know how to help. Community outreach is a very important tool for communicating science and bringing about positive environmental changes.
Communicating with local people can also greatly benefit your own knowledge and research! I am not from Newfoundland and although I have worked with seabirds for many years, I have been learning so much from local people about seabird behaviour. The residents of small coastal towns that I have spoken to have lived there for many years and observed the changes in nature all around them. Some of their insights fuel new questions and are guiding future experimental design. I encourage you to engage with the community you are now a part of and to share your research findings and your passion for your field with those around you. You may be surprised by how much you learn.