Watershed Loon Banding

Common Coast Research & Conservation call to action, June 2010

With over 3000 miles of shoreline and an abundance of 11,000 inland lakes, water is a way of life in Michigan. It supports our livelihoods, provides recreation, and defines character. Living in close proximity to water we also understand its vulnerability. Invasive species, development, and pollution all threaten the integrity of our water resources.

The health of our aquatic systems is often measured by the life it supports. The Common Loon, an iconic symbol of wilderness that inspires admiration among naturalists and artists alike, is a sentinel of environmental health. In Michigan, the loon is designated Threatened with fewer than 800 breeding pairs remaining. The factors that challenge the future survival of this revered species are the same that threaten the integrity of our lakes. Fortunately, concerned citizens and scientists have worked diligently over the past two decades to stabilize loon populations for which their efforts appear to be working. Loons respond to conservation. Shoreline protection, pollution reduction, and public education all play a part in maintaining, and in many instances enhancing loon populations in Michigan.

Unfortunately, not all threats have solutions. Driven by the proliferation of invasive species the reemergence of botulism on the Great Lakes has now killed over 15,000 loons during the past 10 years. Now we are witnessing the Gulf oil spill unfold as an unprecedented catastrophe that casts an uncertain light on the future of Michigan loons. In the fall, the entire breeding population of loons will return to the ocean. We know from banding recoveries that Michigan loons utilize both the Gulf and the Atlantic Coasts, however the proportion of those wintering on each is yet unknown. This critical question needs to be addressed to understand the implications of this unprecedented event upon our population of breeding loons.

Over the past 20 years, monitoring by Common Coast Research & Conservation indicates that adult loons exhibit very high annual survival rates of over 95%. As a means of comprehending the emerging threat to loons we propose additional banding in Michigan and subsequent monitoring to determine if survival rates decrease. In addition, new technology such as miniature archival tags are now available to track loons when they are away from their breeding lakes recording precisely where they migrate and spend the winter. Understanding the consequences of the Gulf oil spill on loons will prove critical to all future conservation efforts in Michigan. Please support this research to protect loons and assure they remain a welcomed presence on our
northern lakes.

Joseph Kaplan
Common Coast Research & Conservation

Entire proposal.