Maine is home to the largest population of loons in the Northeast, but they still need our help to thrive. The Maine Loon Restoration Project is a five-year project, funded by a natural resource damages settlement from the Bouchard Barge 120 oil spill, that aims to give Maine loons better chances for breeding success and reduce threats to their survival. Funding was provided by the US Fish and Wildlife Service on behalf of the Bouchard Barge 120 Buzzards Bay Oil Spill Trustees.
The Maine Loon Restoration Project aims to increase loon nesting success and decrease loon mortality by engaging volunteers in four efforts:
- Placing artificial nests (rafts) and monitoring nesting success on rafts;
- Expanding Fish Lead Free programs to reduce lead tackle use and loon lead poisoning;
- Launching a Look Out for Loons Program to reduce disturbance to nesting loons and decrease loon mortality through education and outreach, as well as signage at highly disturbed nests. The project engages teams of volunteers all over the state to help with many different education, outreach, and management activities.
Watch this video (recording of a webinar) for an overview of the program.
On the afternoon of Sunday, April 27, 2003, just south of Westport, Massachusetts, an oil tanker operated by the Bouchard Transportation Company passed on the wrong side of a navigational marker and struck rocks underwater, gouging a 12-foot hole in its hull. In the hours that followed, 98,000 gallons of heavy #6 fuel flowed into Buzzards Bay.
Oil washed up along 100 miles of beaches, rocky shoreline, marshes and tidal flats. 76 loons were found dead and 128 oiled loons collected, of which only 9 survived. More oiled loons continued to be found over the following summer.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) estimated that 531 Common Loons over-wintering or migrating through the area of the spill died as a result of the spill. Eighteen years after the spill, in 2021, a settlement was reached with the company responsible for the spill through Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Program (NRDAR). The natural resources damage settlement from this spill, announced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on June 16, 2021, has led to funding for restoration of loons on their breeding grounds, and Maine Audubon is pleased to be one of the funding recipients. Maine Audubon’s proposal for the five-year Maine Loon Restoration Project, A Comprehensive Approach by Maine Partners to Restore Common Loon Losses Resulting from the B-120 Oil Spill, was awarded $825,445. This project is a collaboration between Maine Audubon, Maine Lakes, Lakes Environmental Association, and the Penobscot Indian Nation, in collaboration with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
• Read more about the grant funding here
The goal of the raft program is to increase the number of loon chicks hatched through placement and monitoring of nearly 100 loon nesting rafts through 2025 in territories with low nesting success. When used in the right ways and right situations, rafts have been helping loon pairs hatch chicks for more than 50 years. They can be a great tool for loons that consistently fail to produce chicks–but rafts must be used correctly and in the right situations or they can actually hurt the chances of a successful nest.
Before placing a raft, it’s important to consider if loons on the lake are actually in trouble. Loons aren’t successful at nesting 100% of the time. Just because they don’t hatch chicks every year, doesn’t mean they need our help. And rafts can only help with certain problems like water level changes, loss of nesting habitat, and predation from land animals. We’re working with local residents to identify loon pairs that are failing to hatch chicks year after year and to figure out what’s causing the problem. When we find a pair that is a good candidate for a raft, we’re helping to build and place rafts out on the water and teach volunteers how to monitor and maintain them. Check out our Common Loon Nesting Rafts guide for more details.
If you think your lake is a good candidate for a raft, email email@example.com for more information.
For more information on raft building and placement, watch this video! In this video, we provide an overview of: how to tell if a raft might be right for your pond; how to build the two types of loon rafts that we use in this project (Cedar and Modular); and how to choose a good spot for a raft.
Placing a raft involves much more than just placing a raft. Proper placement, monitoring and maintenance are important! Rafts are a serious investment of time and take active management. Rafts are placed in the spring and need to be taken out of the water and properly stored every fall. Throughout the season, volunteers will monitor the loons and rafts, collecting detailed data on a loon pair’s nesting activity, success hatching chicks, chick survival, and use of the rafts.
For those placing rafts or considering a raft for next year, we hold online on how to monitor your raft and a nesting loon pair. Missed it? Watch the recording of the monitoring webinar here on YouTube.
We also provide on-site and on-the-water monitoring training during lake visits or when we visit your lake to help deploy your raft.
In addition, you will need to review and familiarize yourself with the resources below before beginning loon monitoring. Be sure to print out copies of the survey form and reference sheet to bring on the water with you for your survey. In addition, use the resources below to learn how close is too close when you’re surveying nesting loons.
How Close Is Too Close? Brochure on loon stress behaviors and how to know if you’re too close to a loon
Additional Loon Resources:
Maine Audubon has been involved in Fish Lead Free programs for years. With this grant we’re expanding the program to include more tackle exchanges, include more retailers in our tackle buyback program, and increase the number of lead tackle and monofilament line collection bins.
• Interested in hosting a lead tackle exchange on your lake? We can provide brochures, stickers, and other education materials, as well as lead-free tackle to give out to people who turn in their old lead tackle. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to start planning your event.
• Would you like to put up a lead tackle and monofilament line collection bin at your boat ramp? Maine Audubon can provide construction plans and reimbursement for any materials purchased. Email email@example.com for more information.
Launched in 2023, the Look out for Loons program provides training and support to volunteers statewide to conduct local outreach to raise awareness about how human disturbance can reduce nesting success, and not obeying Maine’s no wake laws can lead to boat collisions with loons–currently the leading cause of death for loons–and wakes that wash eggs out of nests. Through presentations, outreach materials, and interactions with lake users, volunteers will help get the word out to lake users to slow down around loons and observe headway speed laws within 200′ of shore or islands; and to give loons space especially during nesting. Look out for Loon volunteers will receive training in identifying loon stress behaviors so they can help educate people about when they are too close to a loon or a nest (which can lead to nest abandonment). We will also work with volunteers to place Look Out for Loon signs and brochures at boat ramps and kiosks, and nesting signs where appropriate.
Interested in being a part of the Look Out for Loons program?
- Check back in the spring for training programs or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
- Find out if your lake or a nesting area is a good fit for one of our nesting signs. Download and read this flyer, or email email@example.com to be sure your situation meets the state’s criteria for allowing a loon nesting sign.
- Read this brochure for a guide to loon behavior: How Close is Too Close: An Overview of Loon Stress Behaviors
- We also have more general Look Out for Loons signs that can be placed at lake access points and boat launches. (Note that our Look Out for Loons! signs cannot be placed at state boat launches.)
Maine Audubon leads the effort while partnering with Maine Lakes, Lakes Environmental Association, and the Penobscot Nation. In addition, Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation, Vermont Center for Ecostudies, Loon Preservation Committee, and Biodiversity Research Institute received grants and are working on projects of their own.
In addition, we would like to thank the following organizations and groups for their support and assistance:
Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation – photos and information
Robinson Raft – Many hours of time and energy in teaching about, organizing, and coordinating the modular rafts for the project
Gnome Landscaping – Donation of landscape cloth
Garbage to Garden – Generous donation of 200lbs of compost
Kittery Trading Post – Discount on canoe purchase and top supporter of our Fish Lead Free tackle exchange program. KTP has held events resulting in over 50 lbs. of lead tackle turned in and out of Maine’s waters!