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A marvelous, terrible place

Montevecchi featured on Funk Island research and education website

By Kelly Foss

Ever wonder what it would be like to study seabirds on an isolated seabird island?

Funk Island, a small ocean rock outcrop, is a spectacular and remote seabird breeding site in the North Atlantic. Located 40 kilometres off the northeast coast of the island of Newfoundland, it is home to massive colonies of murres and gannets.

Thursday, Nov. 22

Dr. Bill Montevecchi is a Memorial University Research Professor of psychology, biology and ocean sciences and a respected seabird scientist.

This Thursday, Nov. 22, he will help launch a new YouTube educational and research information exchange website that will reveal some of the work that happens on Funk Island and why it is such “a marvelous, terrible place.”

“The crux of my career is embodied on Funk Island — a unique and fantastic global seabird capital,” said Dr. Montevecchi. “The 24/7 challenges, successes and failures of survival, bonding and parenting in the bountiful, often tempestuous and always indifferent North Atlantic are manifest in behaviour of seabirds: true ocean Olympians.”

A parent and fledgling on Funk Island.
Photo: Bill Montevecchi

Filmmaker Nigel Markham says that since Funk Island is a protected site, he felt “extraordinarily privileged to go” and witness what takes place there.

“It is truly an ecological gem and hopefully our website helps make it more appreciated, that people can witness for themselves the miraculous things that take place there every summer,” he said. “The website is about the ecology of the island and about the birds that breed and raise their young there, but it is also about science and the work of research scientists — why they go there, what they do and what they, and by extension, we, hope to learn.”

Island of Birds

In 1501, the first Portuguese explorers referred to Funk Island as Y dos Aves, or Island of Birds, and prior to European arrival the Beothuk knew it as “the sacred island over the horizon.”

Once the home of the last flightless bird of the Northern Hemisphere, the Great Auk, the island became a focal site of over-exploitation where birds were slaughtered for feathers and bait. By 1800 the Auks were gone. Soon after, the island was a barren rock.

Bridled and unbridled murres on Funk Island.
Photo: Bill Montevecchi

Seabirds began returning to Funk Island in the 1900s. Later in the century, the colony gained protection as a provincial ecological reserve.

Today, Funk Island is a source of seabird resilience and productivity where murres, gannets, razorbills, puffins, fulmars, kittiwakes and gulls congregate to mate and rear their young.

Leading authorities

Dr. Montevecchi’s research on the massive colonies of seabirds on Funk Island sparked a focus on seabirds as monitors of fish and the ocean environment.

Memorial University has a core group of world-class marine scientists who are recognized to be among the leading authorities on the North Atlantic Ocean environment and marine species.

“The driving engine of that research is fuelled by the many magnificent graduate and undergraduate students and colleagues who have championed major research projects and lit up new ocean insights and perspectives,” said Dr. Montevecchi.

“It’s my privilege to work at Memorial University in a supporting environment through which we can realize unrestrained efforts in basic science, art and natural history.”

Official launch

The launch of the YouTube website, Funk Island: A Marvelous, Terrible Placewill take place Thursday, Nov. 22, at 7:30 p.m. in Memorial University’s Arts and Administration building, room A-1046.

All are welcome.


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