Each spring, hundreds or even thousands of colonial waterbirds congregate to nest on the Richard T. Paul Alafia Bank Critical Wildlife Area, which is leased from and managed in collaboration with the Mosaic Company and Port Tampa Bay. The island has been managed by Florida Coastal Islands Sanctuaries staff since the 1930s as a nesting island that supports a wide variety of species including Brown Pelicans, wading birds, and American Oystercatchers.
This year, a majority of the White Ibis, as well as Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Tricolored Herons, and a couple pairs of Reddish Egrets, have chosen to nest on nearby Fantasy Island instead. Fantasy Island, a public use area that is commonly enjoyed by boaters, is owned and managed by Port Tampa Bay.
Typically, the entire island is open to visitors to roam the small island and enjoy its beach. Through a partnership with Port Tampa Bay and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Audubon staff have been able to post the island as a nesting area, seasonally closing this area. Allowing Audubon to erect signage and symbolically roping off the colony should enable the birds to raise their young undisturbed by human visitors. “The Port continues to be a leader in protecting some of Florida’s most iconic and imperiled nesting birds” said Sanctuary Manager Mark Rachal. Audubon staff will continue to work with Port Tampa Bay to ensure that the colony is protected through the end of the nesting season, when public access to the island will be restored.
Every rookery counts, as a constellation of nesting sites is needed for the health of the colonies. This is especially important in light of manmade environmental catastrophes, such as the harmful wastewater discharges released from the Piney Point phosphate plant located adjacent to the Sanctuaries.