Iceland, circled by the food-rich currents of Atlantic, Arctic, and polar waters, is the Serengeti for fish-eating birds. Its rocky coast, hillocky fields, and jutting sea cliffs are breeding grounds for 23 species of Atlantic seabirds, hosting an indispensable share of Atlantic puffins, black murres, razorbills, great skuas, northern fulmars, and black-legged kittiwakes.
But the nests have gone empty in the past few years, and colonies throughout the North Atlantic are shrinking.
The suspected culprits are many. But the leading candidates are the array of profound changes under way in the world’s oceans—their climate, their chemistry, their food webs, their loads of pollutants.
Warming oceans and earlier thaws are driving away the seabirds’ prey; unleashing deadly, unseasonal storms; and knocking tight breeding schedules off-kilter. Mounting carbon dioxide absorption and melting glaciers are acidifying and diluting the aquatic balance, jeopardizing marine life and the creatures that depend on it for food.