Over a third of the Chukchi coast in northwestern Alaska is protected by a chain of barrier islands. Along with the associated lagoons, this system of barrier islands is vital to the birds, mammals, and fish in the region; however, these landscapes are under threat from rising seas and increased storm surges. The loss, or periodic inundation of these barrier islands, in addition to the presence of new boreal predators moving north in concert with a changing climate, creates a hazard for the animals that live along this coast.
In early June 2016, we set up our base camp on a barrier island just north of Icy Cape on Kasegaluk Lagoon in the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska. This lagoon has been designated a ‘Special Area’ due to its importance to beluga whales, polar bears, walrus, sea ducks, and shorebirds. The Kasegaluk Lagoon has the highest abundance and diversity of bird life of all Arctic Alaska coastal lagoons.
Our efforts to study the breeding ecology of eiders, supported by the Wilburforce Foundation, will help prioritize specific areas along the barrier islands that are critical for the long-term health of the species.