[POSTPONED] Annual Seattle Update – Tuesday March 17th

Watching the Arctic Melt Away

We regretfully have to postpone our annual Seattle update due to increasing concerns about the COVID-19 coronavirus and our patrons’ health, including the recent decision by Town Hall Seattle to suspend in-person attendance for all events.

Reporting to our followers at our Seattle annual event is a yearly highlight for George. This is also Friends of Cooper Island’s main fundraising event for the year, with paying for the venue a major expenditure. We are postponing (rather than cancelling) in part to save some of our Town Hall rental, as well as to be able to share the events of last field season with all of our supporters. While we hope to be able to reschedule our event before the start of the 2020 field season – George’s 46th year on Cooper – we realize we may have to wait until next fall. An announcement about the rescheduled event will be posted to this website and sent to our mailing list. If you are not yet on our mailing list and want to be please email us at info@cooperisland.org.

Whenever our update and event can take place, we still plan on including a presentation by photographer, Joe McNally, who took the 2002 NY Times Magazine cover shot of me standing on sea ice just north Cooper Island.

Joe returned to Cooper Island this past July and retook his shot from 2001, but instead of George standing on sea ice that extended to the horizon, he was standing in water with no ice in sight. Joe will also be showing a video he produced about his 2019 visit.

Donor-supported climate change research and outreach has never been more important and we thank you for your interest and support of our work. We would be grateful for your usual support as we continue to prepare for the 2020 field season. Hoping to see many of you at our rescheduled event to share our recent findings from a melting Arctic.

Talking climate change at CES in Las Vegas

My three months on Cooper Island every summer for the past 45 years is characterized by long periods (up to 6 weeks) of being alone and with little dependence on the technological gadgets and infrastructure that dominate the lives of those living on the grid in the early 21st Century. The isolation and simplicity of my field camp are welcome perks of my study of an Arctic bird.    

My experience this past week could not have been any more dissimilar to my field seasons as I attended the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.   As if Vegas itself wasn’t enough to cause a cultural whiplash, the CES is the nation’s biggest convention, with over 170 thousand attendees.  During an average summer on Cooper I might see 20 people over a 90-day period.

I was at CES because of a NY Times Magazine cover photo taken by Joe McNally in 2001 and his return visit to Cooper this past summer. Joe is a Nikon Ambassador and talked Nikon into backing his recent visit with a video crew to document his retaking of the 2001 shot of me standing just off the North Beach of Cooper Island. As part of Nikon’s series of presentations in Las Vegas, Joe and I were on a panel discussing his visits, my work, and climate change with Mike Corrado for 45 minutes before a screening of the video. That conversation including the video is now online with the video also available here.

The response from those attending the CES session was especially gratifying – both for the appreciation of my research and outreach efforts, and the clear concern expressed about the ongoing climate crisis.

I have been very fortunate in having my research on the Black Guillemots of Cooper Island attract the attention of those wanting to inform the public about global warming – from the Late Show with David Letterman, to the NY Times Magazine, to the UK’s Royal National Theatre. The experience in Las Vegas was certainly unique and I thank Joe and Nikon for helping me make sure – What happens on Cooper Island doesn’t stay on Cooper Island.

An old friend returns for a new picture

This past summer the Cooper Island field camp was thankful to have a return visit from photographer Joe McNally. Joe has been taking photos longer than I have been studying Cooper Island Black Guillemots and his website shows both the quality and scope of his work. His visit in 2001 took place before we had a cabin and was for the purpose of obtaining photos for a New York Times Magazine story being written by Darcy Frey, who had visited the island earlier that year. Joe and I had a great time during his week on the island and have stayed in touch ever since.

In January 2002 I opened the Sunday NY Times to find the magazine cover was a photo Joe had taken of me standing just off Cooper Island’s North Beach in early July. Joe’s cover photo and Frey’s 12-thousand word story gave national prominence to what had been an obscure 27- year study of an Arctic seabird. More importantly, a national story about climate change was a rarity in 2002 and I have been told by many people that the article and Joe’s photo was what first made them aware of the realities of global warming.

Whenever Joe and I have chatted since his first visit, I have mentioned that should he return to Cooper Island, he would not find the island surrounded by ice as he did in 2001. During the almost two decades since his visit the pace of Arctic climate change has greatly increased as the region continues to warm. The loss of sea ice has resulted in the high mortality of Black Guillemot nestlings, as parents are unable to find their preferred ice-associated prey, and regular visits by polar bears, stranded on land as their sea ice habitat melts.

I have always hoped Joe might return to Cooper Island but told him that if he were to return and try to retake the cover photo I would now be standing in water and not on sea ice. Given Joe’s work schedule and international prominence I never thought he would be able to work in a return visit, but with the help of Nikon he arrived by boat in early July last summer bringing a film crew to document his attempt to retake the 2001 image of me standing on the ice.

The 2001 and 2019 images tell the story of Arctic climate change as much as my 45-year database on an Arctic seabird. Joe and his crew made a video documenting his recent visit and our efforts to get the 2019 image. The video has some great aerial shots of the island and also documents why Joe is such a great photographer. He is able to ignore the frigid waters sloshing into his boots while taking the shot of me standing in the ocean wearing hip-boots.

Can’t thank Joe enough for his continuing friendship and interest in my work. 18 years after his first visit he is still helping me tell the story of the Cooper Island Black Guillemots and the increasingly warmer Arctic.

Friends of Cooper Island