South Marble Island is a rocky outcrop in Glacier Bay, and in summer it's home to thousands of nesting sea birds. Cormorants, puffins, and gulls nest on thin ledges. Closer to the water, hundreds of Steller sea lions lay on the rocks, jostling for prime spots. South Marble Island is a major sea lion haulout, but that wasn't always the case. Sea lions began using the island in the 1980s, and over past decades, numbers there have increased more than 16 percent each year - a phenomenal rate of growth.
Sea lion numbers have seriously declined in the Aleutians and Western Alaska, even as populations have grown in Southeast waters. Biologists want to know if sea lions are dying off, or abandoning old haulouts and moving to new locations, and to better understand survival rates in different populations. A number of sea lions have been marked and can be identified. Biologists document sightings and resightings of the animals, and now they have a new tool. In the summer of 2016, Fish and Game researchers installed camouflaged time-lapse cameras at six haulouts, including South Marble Island. Digital cameras, batteries, and solar panels have improved tremendously - and gotten less expensive - which means deploying a year-round automated observation post like this is a good tool for documenting sea lions and marked sea lions. The camera system should allow for a year or more of uninterrupted observations.