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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

Read more coverage and field reports at

Field Season Update: 75 active nest sites

Mandt’s Black Guillemots roosting on roof of Cooper Island cabin, which was added to the field camp in 2003 for additional protection from polar bears. Image Credit: Mike Morrison

Luckily the first week’s tedium of camp housekeeping was balanced with daily indications that the Black Guillemot’s 2019 breeding season would not be a repeat of last year, when colony size and productivity had major decreases related to the poor survival and breeding condition of adults. Of the 75 nest sites occupied last year, only 25 had pairs that incubated eggs. This year a similar number of nests are occupied but all of those have birds diligently attending eggs.

Read the full post on Proteus.

Canary in the Climate Mine: Arctic Seabird’s Future Is on Thin Ice

Oceans Deeply  recently had a story about our work and the poor 2017 breeding season after an October interview with George Divoky.   Oceans Deeply is part of News Deeply  – an “award-winning new media company dedicated to covering the world’s most important and underreported stories.”

The story was written  by Jessica Leber and illustrated with photos by Joe McNally, who visited the island in 2001 to obtain images for Darcy Frey’s New York Times magazine article on the early effects of climate change being seen at the Black Guillemot colony.

jm 02Joe McNally/Getty Images

The Oceans Deeply story also contains information from the online video of George’s talk to the Oceans17 conference,  held by the Marine Technology Society and the IEEE Oceanic Engineering Society, and conversations with our collaborators on the  SENSEI (SENtinels of SEa Ice) project looking at behavioral and demographic responses of seabirds and seals to changes in sea ice in the Arctic and Antarctic.