It’s mid-morning on the old St. George Island Causeway in the Gulf of Mexico. Waves wash against the sand and the sea oats, the dull roar of the surf contrasting with the mewing calls of the seabird chicks that fledge from the island. Suddenly, a motor sounds in the distance, coming ever closer to the island. The parent birds look up, becoming nervous. As the boaters land mere yards from the nearly invisible nests, the adult birds take to the skies, leaving the eggs and tiny chicks exposed to the hot sun and predators. Unknowingly, the boaters have put the young birds at risk.
Offshore islands can offer high quality habitat for nesting seabirds and shorebirds. The sites have become so important that five eastern Florida Panhandle islands are designated as state Critical Wildlife Areas. One of the most preventable impacts to offshore nesting habitat is encroachment from unknowing boaters who land on these islands or stray so close that adults flush. When given the opportunity, however, many boaters wish they knew more about these seabirds to help us protect them during their crucial nesting period.
Audubon Florida staff and bird stewards regularly educate beach-goers about shorebirds and seabirds they may encounter on mainland beaches. Our active engagement with beach visitors at nest sites is quite effective at reducing the amount of human disturbance to our rare and imperiled bird species. But the same level of outreach is difficult to achieve at distant offshore sites. As a result, Audubon has devised another approach to educate boaters: colorful, informative kiosks installed at some of the most-used, regional boat launch sites in the Florida Panhandle.
Audubon carefully designed the kiosks to convey a conservation message regarding sensitive seabird areas boaters may encounter once leaving the mainland and how they can help protect these nesting birds. The kiosks consist of a roofed frame with a pair of sign panels conveying our conservation message and providing locations of nearby sensitive nesting sites, tailored to each kiosk location.
In May, the last of 14 kiosks were completed at boat launch sites throughout Bay, Gulf and Franklin Counties in the eastern Florida Panhandle. The kiosks can be found at municipal boat launch sites as well as at boat ramps in St. George Island, St. Joseph Peninsula, and St. Andrews state parks. Although we certainly would like to educate all boaters in person, this eye-catching, static educational campaign is the next best thing.
Have you seen one of our kiosks while boating? Take a photo and tag us on Instagram! #AudubonFlorida.