A scenic landmark in Penobscot Bay, Hardhead Island has long been an important seabird nesting area. Thanks to recent conservation efforts, it’s now officially protected.
The island was donated to the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, which announced the gift on Monday. The land trust worked for two years to secure funding to purchase the island, which had been stewarded by one family for a number of generations.
“For decades, Hardhead Island has been on the list of most important seabird nesting islands needing long term protection and management,” said Brian Benedict, refuge manager of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge. “This is yet another case where partnering with MCHT has been instrumental in achieving seabird nesting island conservation.”
The roughly 6-acre Hardhead Island features dramatic cliffs and grassy uplands with steep slopes. It’s home to a variety of seabirds, including black guillemots, common eiders, common terns, double-crested cormorants, black-backed gulls and herring gulls. More than 90 pairs of common terns have nested on the island within the past 10 years. In Maine, common terns nest on less than 20 of the 4,500 islands and ledges along the coast.
“Through active management we will work to return the full diversity of nesting seabirds to this incredible island,” Benedict said.
The project cost for MCHT was $725,000, with the island costing $700,000 and associated project costs of $25,000. Funding for the project was achieved through a $400,000 North American Wildlife Conservation Act grant, as well as $275,000 from the Bow Mariner Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration fund, created to address injuries to pelagic seabirds following an oil spill in 2004. In addition, the land trust received $50,000 in private donations for the project.
The land trust purchased the island in March, then worked until December to arrange a transfer of the property to the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge for long term management as a seabird nesting island.
Spanning over 200 miles of Maine coastline, the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge began formation in the early 1970s in response to a dramatic decline in seabird populations off the Maine coast. Over the years, islands have been conserved and added to this vast refuge one at a time.
“Over my years here at the refuge, more than 60 islands have been added, each island with its own history and its own story of conservation and how it was added to the refuge,” Benedict said. “Hardhead Island has been a priority for us since 2007, making this an extra special addition.”
To date, the refuge contains more than 60 offshore islands and four coastal parcels, totaling more than 8,200 acres. The diversity of habitats protected within provide foraging, breeding and migratory habitat for over 320 species of birds.
“It feels great to transfer Hardhead Island to the USFWS, so that they can make sure that it is always there for the birds,” said Ciona Ulbrich, senior project manager for MCHT.
The island features no amenities and will be closed to visitors during seabird nesting season, April 1 through Aug. 31. The rest of the year, Sept. 1 through March 31, it is open to visitors.