Portland, Aug 5 (AP/UNB) — One of the most beloved birds in Maine is having one of its most productive seasons for mating pairs in years on remote islands off the state's coast.
Atlantic puffins, with their colorful beaks and waddling walks, are one of New England's best recognized seabirds. Maine is the only state in the U.S. where the birds breed, and they do so on hard-to-reach places like Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge in the Gulf of Maine, a body of water that touches New England and Canada.
The birds are well on their way to setting a record for the number of breeding pairs, said National Audubon Society scientist Stephen Kress, who has studied the birds for years. Kress said nearly 750 pairs nested on Seal Island and Eastern Egg Rock in 2018, and this year's number will likely be higher.
The birds are thriving due to multiple factors, including an abundance of the type of fish they're best suited to eat, such as young haddock and hake and herring. In some previous years, the birds have suffered because those fish were less available, replaced by fish that are more difficult for them to digest. The appearance of the more ideal fish could have to do with the Gulf of Maine running somewhat cool recently.
A lot of puffins also laid eggs slightly early this year, which suggests the parents are in good condition, Kress said. He cautioned that the birds' breeding success has fluctuated in the past, so this year's good news might not be evidence of a long-term trend.
"This is a good year. But I think the message really is this — in recent years, especially since the big heat wave of '12 and '13, we've seen a pattern of good year alternating with not so good year," Kress said. "We're very much in a system of a roller coaster as far as the puffins go."
Atlantic puffins are listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and they number about 1,300 pairs in Maine. The birds live on both sides of the northern Atlantic Ocean, and face threats such as warming ocean temperatures, fluctuations in food availability and predators.
The largest puffin colony in the Gulf of Maine is on Machias Seal Island, a disputed island on the U.S.-Canada water border that is home to 5,000 to 6,000 pairs. Those birds are also having a successful year, said Heather Major, associate professor in the biological sciences department at the University of New Brunswick in Canada.
The birds can suffer when waters warm and squid and butterfish, which aren't good puffin food, dominate local waters, Major said. But the Gulf of Maine is a little cooler than last year, and good prey has been abundant, she said. The island is around its long-term average of 56% of eggs producing a successful chick, Major said.
"There were lots of puffins around this year," she said. "This year it seems more stable."
The puffins of Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge are the subject of a popular "puffin cam" hosted by Explore.org, said Keenan Yakola, Seal Island supervisor for Audubon, who helps maintain the camera.
Environmental groups have made the case recently that Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, which former President Barack Obama designated in 2016, is important to the survival of the puffins. Fishermen have sued to overturn the creation of the monument, which they believe creates an unfair hardship in the form of fishing restrictions.
But Audubon and other environmental groups have said the monument, which creates a protected area off New England, provides birds with a reliable food source.
"Having that area that they are known to use in a protected condition is certainly a plus for the puffins," said Peter Shelley, senior counsel with Conservation Law Foundation.
Berlin, Aug 5 (AP/UNB) — Vienna subway travelers have decided that they don't want their train rides to be scented.
The Austrian capital's transport authority tried out four scents, including hints of green tea, grapefruit, sandalwood and melon, in the ventilation systems of four trains on two of the network's five lines last month. It asked subway users to deliver their verdict online.
The authority said Monday that 21,000 people decided they would prefer to live without scent as they commute, while 16,000 supported extending the project.
It said that the air quality in subway cars has already been improved by a ban on eating on trains that was introduced on all lines in January.
Dhaka, Aug 4 (UNB) -French inventor Franky Zapata has made the first-ever successful Channel crossing on a jet-powered flyboard, reports the BBC.
Mr Zapata, 40, took off from Sangatte, near Calais, at 06:17 GMT on Sunday and landed in St Margaret's Bay in Dover.
The board's five turbines, powered by kerosene, propel him to speeds of up to 118 mph (190km/h).
Mr Zapata, a former jet-ski champion, had failed in his first attempt to cross the Channel on 25 July after complications with refuelling.
For this latest attempt, a larger boat and refuelling platform were used during the 22-mile (35.4km) journey over the Strait of Dover.
Mr Zapata received widespread attention during the annual Bastille Day parade in Paris last month, when he took part in a military display on his futuristic flyboard.
The invention, which is about the size of a skateboard. The kerosene fuel is stored in the rider's backpack.
Kampala, Aug 3 (AP/UNB) — Researchers in Uganda have launched the largest-ever trial of the experimental Ebola vaccine that is expected to be deployed in neighboring Congo, where a deadly outbreak has killed over 1,800 people.
The trial of the Janssen Pharmaceuticals vaccine involves up to 800 people in the western district of Mbarara and is supported by Doctors without Borders and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Pontiano Kaleebu, a Ugandan researcher who leads the trial, said Friday that he regrets that the Janssen vaccine has not yet been deployed in Congo. The health minister there who stepped down last month had argued against its deployment, saying a second vaccine could create confusion on the ground.
Already more than 180,000 people in Congo's yearlong outbreak have received an experimental but effective Merck vaccine, but health experts worry about the availability of doses as the virus now spreads in a major city, Goma, along the Rwanda border. The wife and 1-year-old daughter of the man who died this week of Ebola in Goma now have the disease.
Both the wife and child were doing well in treatment, Congo's new Ebola response coordinator, Jean-Jacques Muyembe, told reporters on Friday.
But he warned that about half of the cases in this outbreak are going undetected and at that rate "this epidemic could last two or three years." The current goal is to strengthen surveillance and bring the detection rate to 80%, he said.
Health experts have watched with dismay as the promise of the Merck vaccine in this outbreak has been largely overshadowed by severe challenges to virus containment efforts including rebel attacks and community resistance in a part of Congo that had never experienced Ebola before.
The Janssen vaccine has already been tested in about 6,000 people, most of them Africans, Kaleebu said. "We are excited about this (trial) ... because this is one of the promising vaccines," he said. "It's one of those vaccines that have shown a lot of promise in animal studies but also in other trials that have been conducted."
Ugandan researchers said the new trial is expected to last two years and will test how long any protection from Ebola would last. Juliet Mwanga, a co-investigator on the trial, said there is the need "to study many vaccines" in light of Congo's epidemic.
Uganda has had multiple Ebola outbreaks in the past. While it is currently free of the virus, three people died in June after crossing into the country's Kasese district on an unguarded footpath. Their family members were taken back to Congo for treatment.
The Ebola virus can spread quickly and be fatal in up to 90% of cases. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain and at times internal and external bleeding. The virus is most often spread by close contact with bodily fluids of people exhibiting symptoms and with contaminated objects such as sheets. Health care workers are often at risk.
San Francisco, Aug 3 (AP/UNB) — San Francisco International Airport is banning the sale of single-use plastic water bottles.
The unprecedented move at one of the major airports in the country will take effect Aug. 20, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Friday.
The new rule will apply to airport restaurants, cafes and vending machines. Travelers who need plain water will have to buy refillable aluminum or glass bottles if they don't bring their own.
As a department of San Francisco's municipal government, the airport is following an ordinance approved in 2014 banning the sale of plastic water bottles on city-owned property.
The shift away from plastics is also part of a broader plan to slash net carbon emissions and energy use to zero and eliminate most landfill waste by 2021, said airport spokesman Doug Yakel.
But, considering the approximately 4 million plastic water bottles sold per year at the airport, it may be more difficult for vendors to adhere to the water bottle ban.
Whether vendors out of compliance will be penalized is unclear, but Yakel said the airport hopes that "won't be necessary."
SFO vendors already are required to provide only compostable single-use foodware, including to-go containers, condiment packets, straws and utensils.
Shops at the airports have adjusted easily to these requirements because of the increased availability of suppliers producing such products, said Michael Levine, CEO of the company that oversees Napa Farms Market, a store selling grab-and-go fare in Terminal 2 and International Terminal G.
"But the water bottle impact is a little trickier," he said.