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Keenan Yakola, Seal Island Supervisor

Meet Keenan, Project Puffin Supervisor on Seal Island

We’re pleased to introduce Keenan Yakola, Project Puffin’s Supervisor on Seal Island! He’ll be living amongst the puffins and other seabirds throughout the summer, and we’ll learn a lot from him about the research his team is conducting, and what it’s like to live and work on Seal Island. He’ll contribute blog posts and hop on the Puffin Burrow Cam comment board to chat and answer your questions. He’s also an experienced photographer, and he’ll share his own stunning pics of some of our favorite birds! Let’s meet him:

“For the first 20 years of my life my family spent a couple weeks each summer vacationing on the coast of Maine at Popham Beach, just a stone’s throw away from Pond Island, which is managed by Project Puffin. I spent my days there out in nature with my grandfather learning about the fish, birds, geological features, and especially the ocean.

My senior year of high school was when my interest in birds was sparked, when given the opportunity to complete an independent study course at Wellfleet Bay Audubon on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. It was then that I learned that careers in wildlife biology and particularly ornithology could be found all over the world, and this simply fascinated me. Since then I have spent time working with shorebirds and songbirds on Cape Cod, Tanzania, the Peruvian Amazon, the slopes of the Andes, and I am now starting my second year with Project Puffin! I also just graduated with a degree in Natural Resource Conservation for the University of Massachusetts Amherst at the beginning of the month!

Atlantic Puffin by Keenan Yakola

Atlantic Puffin by Keenan Yakola

Growing up on a small beach town on Cape Cod, MA the ocean has always been in my blood. Project Puffin has been a great fit so far due to my love of both seabirds and the ocean. I spent the summer of 2014 on Eastern Egg Rock as a resident research assistant. This was where the project first began in 1973, inspired by one of my most important mentors, Dr. Stephen Kress.

This coming summer will be my first as an Island supervisor and I have moved to Seal Island National Wildlife refuge. My responsibilities will be a bit different this summer but I am looking forward to a new challenge. This year I will be in charge of the daily operations of the Seal Island research station and island. My duties include managing the many different seabird research projects, creating daily work schedules for the island’s interns and volunteers, overseeing data collection and database entry, and training the staff the on specific skills that they will need to collect data in the field on a daily basis. Other things that I must focus on include prioritizing the safety of the island’s birds and those working on the island, minimizing disturbance, maintaining blinds and other structures, and coordinating logistics with our mainland headquarters.

My personal research interests are to better understand long-term changes in the diet of our nesting terns species since Project Puffin first began. I would also like to see if climate change is affecting both the prey species and in turn affects the growth and development of the tern chicks. My goal is to continue to work with Project Puffin while also striving to complete my Masters and or PhD.

People often ask me what it’s like to live on island and work with birds for a summer and there are so many ways to answer this. However, I think that the easiest way to do so is this… How many places can you go in the world where humans are the minority and another species are the majority? Being surrounded by the crashing waves and hearing the calling birds instead of car horns, you feel at peace. It gives me hope that my grandchildren and all of yours will be able to enjoy the sights of sound that the Gulf of Maine has to offer. Over the next couple months my goal will be to share my love of the magnificent birds nesting here, the terrific people of this project, the island, and our arduous conservation efforts.”

Thanks, Keenan! It’s nice to meet you. We’ll hear much more from Keenan and other researchers throughout the seabird season.

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