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Gulf of Maine Times

Vol. 4, No. 2


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Gulf islands feeling pressure of their growing popularity (cont'd)


Popular and vulnerable

People are drawn to islands by their remoteness and beauty, but the more people flock to a particular island in search of seclusion, the less likely they are to find it there. Government and private island owners are working to prevent overuse that can ruin the island experience for people, damage important habitat, and disturb species that live there.

During the spring and summer, numerous islands in the Gulf serve as seasonal nesting grounds for migratory and other birds - some of them endangered. Species found on the region's islands include puffins, guillemots, razorbill auks, eider ducks, and several tern species, along with cormorants, gulls, herons, peregrine falcons, and bald eagles. Islands can also be important resting spots for seals or home to rare plant species.

As more kayakers and other boaters visit Maine's coast, island habitats are feeling the effects of increasing traffic, according to Rachel Nixon, Manager of the Maine Island Usage Management Project at the Maine Island Trail Association (MITA). An island conservation and stewardship organization, MITA manages a 325-mile/523-kilometer-long waterway consisting of publicly and privately owned islands that are accessible only by boat.

Nixon said soil erosion is one of the biggest problems popular islands suffer. "The soil is so shallow, once it's lost, it's lost," she said, describing other problems as "renegade" camp fires built in vulnerable areas, trampling and cutting of vegetation, and unsightly and unhealthy deposits of human waste. 

Organizations that manage islands say they are trying to determine how much traffic, activity, and development the islands can sustain without suffering habitat damage. Some people believe that making greater numbers of islands accessible to the public will relieve currently overwhelmed areas. Others would rather concentrate use on islands where visitation is already occurring, allowing other islands to remain undisturbed.



Photo: Suzy Fried/Gulf of Maine Times
On Machias Seal Island, a bird sanctuary at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy, carefully supervised human visitors stick to established pathways to avoid damaging tern nests.