A visit from a long-term friend of Cooper Island

By George Divoky

Cooper Island has provided me with a place to conduct a long-term study of an Arctic seabird and also a place where I have been fortunate to establish some long-term friendships. In June 2001, photographer Joe McNally visited the island to obtain images to accompany the New York Times story Darcy Frey was writing about the Cooper Island research. Joe’s week on the island in 2001 started with him being sick in his tent for the first two days but, after he and I had spent a week walking through the guillemot colony and chatting back at camp, ended with a friendship that has lasted 18 years.

While Darcy’s story and Joe’s photos were scheduled to appear in the autumn of 2001, events in mid-September altered that scheduling, as the Times and the rest of the media focused on stories about 9/11 for the remainder of the year. To have 2002 begin with a break from events of the fall of 2001, the New York Times Magazine ran the Cooper Island story the first Sunday of the new year with Joe’s picture of me standing on sea ice as the cover photo.  

Photo by Joe McNally

Over the past 18 years, whenever Joe and I have been able to meet, I told him I hoped he could return to Cooper Island someday to document how continuing warming has changed the Arctic since 2001. That all seemed like a pipe dream until recently when Joe arrived by boat from Utqiaġvik to spend a few days on the island to revisit the Black Guillemot colony and discuss my observations and thoughts about my 45 years of study.

Joe’s career in photography has taken him to many amazing places and his choosing to return to Cooper Island meant a great deal to me. This year’s visit came after almost four weeks alone on the island and the camaraderie of Joe and crew was an excellent way to end my solitude. Observing and documenting a melting Arctic can be disheartening but Joe’s desire to help me tell the Black Guillemot’s story – and the chance to renew our long-term friendship – raised my spirits as I approach the midpoint of this field season.

Joe and George in the cabin on Cooper Island. Photo: Joe McNally

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