Coastal Conservation

New Mapping Tool to Safeguard Beach-nesting Birds

If developers cause impacts, they will have to pay. ShoreMapper will estimate not only the severity of each of these impacts but also the importance of the breeding site.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has a new mapping tool that will clearly show the true cost to beach-nesting birds when new coastal developments are proposed. Data collected by Audubon biologists and coastal bird stewards will make it possible for FWC’s new tool to identify when proposed development could harm beach-nesting birds or their habitat, triggering regulations requiring applicants to avoid, minimize, or mitigate those impacts.

The new ShoreMapper tool works together with FWC’s new Conservation Measures and Permitting Guidelines, outlining the steps developers must take to avoid or mitigate any damage to bird habitat or harassment of four state-Threatened species (Least Tern, Black Skimmer, American Oystercatcher, and Snowy Plover). The guidelines and tool come at a critical time, when beach-nesting birds, squeezed between coastal development and sea level rise and facing impacts from intense storms, find intensifying threats as they attempt to nest and raise their chicks on beaches in Florida.

ShoreMapper shows all sites where beach-nesting birds have been documented nesting within the last five years. It can be used during the design and planning phase of any project to determine whether the project or activities will take place within these breeding sites. Early identification of beach-nesting bird breeding sites enables project managers to adapt their projects or activities to avoid or minimize impacts to the birds and their habitat, thereby avoiding or reducing costly mitigation fees that will be required when impacts occur.

When activities do impact a breeding bird site, ShoreMapper can be used to estimate the number of birds impacted and resulting mitigation requirements, including the cost of a financial contribution that will be used for conservation actions if the project cannot be adjusted to avoid impacts and permitting altogether.

The cost of financial mitigation is based on the cost of conservation actions and habitat restoration projects for the impacted species. For example, if a construction project is taking place within 300 feet of a Least Tern or Black Skimmer colony, or the breeding site of one of the state-Threatened solitary nesting species (Snowy Plover and American Oystercatcher), there may be impacts from harassment. There may be impacts if: the project takes place during the breeding season, and if the habitat loss or the footprint of the project is over 500 square feet. Habitat loss or degradation can occur in two ways: direct habitat loss occurs within the footprint of the project, while indirect impacts reduce the suitability of the surrounding habitat.

ShoreMapper can also determine if an event taking place during the breeding season is likely to be within 300 feet of a breeding site. If so, planners would either need to shift the location to move it away from the breeding site, and therefore avoid the need to apply for a permit, or seek a permit for the necessary mitigation to counterbalance any harassment and budget for the necessary financial mitigation to counterbalance any harassment to the birds from the event.

Audubon Florida is working with the FWC as they continue to refine the tool and share it with stakeholders. Our hope is that by getting this information early on in the project planning stages, developers will be incentivized to adjust projects to avoid impacts to beach-nesting birds altogether.

A draft version of ShoreMapper is available here:

This article was published in the Summer issue of Audubon Naturalist.

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