It was a refreshing change of pace to wake up after the sun has come up. After weeks of doing surveys early in the morning, I got a little break, I got to do surveys not so early in the morning. Last Thursday, I volunteered with USFWS, Audubon of Portland and OSU to do monitoring a little south of where I usually do my surveys in the town of Yachats (Ya-Hots) at Cape Perpetua. The surveys are part of a study being done by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) in collaboration with the organizations mentioned above to quantify the success and effectiveness of the Cape Perpetua Marine Reserve/Marine Protected Areas (MR/MPA). What are MR/MPA? Marine Reserves are sections of the coast and state waters that are appropriated as “no take” and prohibit extraction practices. Marine Protected Areas are very similar to Marine Reserves except that they are protected for specific conservation reasons and therefore certain extraction practices are allowed in those areas. MR/MPA are essentially off limits to commercial fishing and collection. Cape Perpetua Marine Reserve/Marine Protected Area is the largest of these protected areas, and unique in that it is also a “Seabird Protection Area,” where foraging fish hunted by seabirds are also under special protection. ODFW is focused on monitoring the the benthic habitats and life underneath the water which in many ways affects all other animals associated with the sea. A great indicator of how things are doing ‘down there’ is to look at how things are doing around the seabird colonies.
That’s were we come in — we contribute to the study by monitoring the seabird Pelagic and Brandt’s Cormorants, Pigeon Guillemots and Rhinoceros Auklets that fish, breed and live in these MR/MPA. Our monitoring trip took us down to the Sea Lion Caves, a popular tourist attraction of the 101 HWY close to Heceta Head. We headed through the gift shop and out the back towards the caves. A short elevator ride down and we were there. A sea cave about 40 feet deep into the headland where Stellar’s Sea Lions were hauled out and the squeal of the Pigeon Guillemots echoed loudly. That morning was my first time seeing Rhinoceros Auklets! Very similar to the other Auks I have seen since being on the coast, they have a football shaped body with rapid wing flapping in flight, but unlike other Auklets, their bill-plates protrude outward making them look like they’re sporting a horn. We did a count of PiGu’s and Rhinos and head to the opposite side of the caves where a cliff with nesting CORMs was visible. We counted for eggs and chicks and then moved on back up the elevator and over to the next site. It was quite the day, monitor 5 plots with about 20 nests each. At the end we thank all the volunteers who help with the monitoring and headed on back to Newport. This will be the routine from now until the chicks have fledged, with more frequency as the cut-off date for successful fledging creeps closer. The data gathered at these sites will be used as baseline data to be referenced in the future when discussing the ecological success of the MR/MPA and Seabird Protection Areas. I’m excited to be part of the teams that gather this data both at Yaquina Head and Cape Perpetua. Hopefully this season will bring lots of successful seabird chicks!