The surprise eruption of Kasatochi Volcano in the central Aleutians this summer turned a small green island rich with seabirds and ocean mammals into a sterile gray lump, scientists say.
Tens of thousands of fledgling auklets and petrels perished in their rocky nests, as Kasatochi erupted for the first time in centuries, smothering under a deep blanket of ash anything that couldn't flee.
"Probably 20 percent of auklet chicks were still in their crevices and hadn't left," said Jeff Williams, a Homer-based biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "They were most likely entombed."
A couple hundred adult sea lions still encircle the island, but all the year's pups have disappeared, Williams said.
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As for the bird habitat?
"It's gone pretty much completely," said Williams, who's spent 18 years observing bird populations on Kasatochi, a tiny island near Atka in the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. Since its eruption on Aug. 7, Williams and other biologists have returned to examine the damage.
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