Tropical Storm Cristobal brought storm surges and heavy rain to Florida over the weekend, submerging many sea and shorebird colonies along Florida’s Gulf Coast.
“Every 2-3 years we have an early tropical storm here in Florida,” explains Marianne Korosy, Ph.D., Director of Bird Conservation at Audubon Florida. While this is considered normal for the coastal bird populations, their low population numbers are abnormal; a result of decades of intensive coastal development and nest disturbance.
“As a result, these nesting resets can substantially decrease annual breeding productivity, and the birds have no time to waste to recover their populations,” Korosy added.
Florida shorelines host nesting colonies of Least Terns, American Oystercatchers, Black Skimmers, Wilson’s Plovers, Snowy Plovers, and more each spring and summer. The birds nest directly on the sand, making them vulnerable to predators, human disturbance, and storm surge.
Over the weekend, colonies and nesting sites experienced losses of nests and chicks on low-lying beaches from Marco Island to the Alabama state line. Chicks old enough to move to higher ground survived, as did nests on upper beaches or behind dunes in the Panhandle.
Storm surges may become more deadly to nesting beach birds in the future, as sea level rise combines with longer and more intense storm seasons.
To make sure populations of these vulnerable species continue to increase, residents and visitors must protect the nesting birds from disturbances we can control. Audubon Florida’s coastal team protects and monitors colonies and nesting sites across Florida’s beaches, and educates beach-goers to:
· Give nesting birds at least 150 feet of distance if the space allows. Signs or people usually alert you to these areas, but some posting and fencing efforts are delayed this season.
· If pets are permitted on beaches, keep them leashed and away from birds.
· Remove trash and food scraps, which attract animals that might eat shorebirds’ eggs and/or chicks.
· Do not drive on beach dunes or other nesting areas.
· Do not use personal fireworks on or near the beach.