Cape May County Herald: Sandy to Migrating Birds: Fly Away

 

This article was originally published in The Cape May County Herald on January 6,  2013. It was written by Jack Fichter. View the original article here.


PLYMOUTH, MASSACHUSETTS.- Hurricane Sandy damaged more than houses, businesses and cars in the Mid-Atlantic states. The storm destroyed habitat for migratory birds along Delaware Bay in our county and points north.

 

“High winds and storm-driven water moved masses of coastal sediments, changing barrier landscapes, eroding important nesting islands, and blowing out dikes on impoundments managed specifically for migratory birds,” according to a report from the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

 

It notes “habitats important to waterfowl and coastal water birds, including shorebirds, wading birds, and seabirds were also impacted by Sandy.

 

“The most tangible needs to remediate Sandy’s impacts on important coastal bird habitats are centered on managed wetlands and small islands critical to nesting seabirds and migrating shorebirds. Breached dikes of impoundments managed for water birds, blown out water control structures, and acres of eroded sand from priority seabird colonies, are a few of the most notable examples of habitat restoration needs,” the report notes.

 

Will there be funding available to cover the estimated $48 million cost of restoring habitat and repairing water control structures? Brad Winn, a conservation biologist from the Manomet Center, told the Herald the projects will be put into a “larger pot” with individual projects assessed on their merit with funds coming through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

 

He said there are no guarantees money will be available but projects will be prioritized on their “biological return on the monetary investment” and not a part of funds to renourish Atlantic Ocean beaches.

 

Important habitats for high priority species like Piping Plover, Red Knot, American Black Duck, Tri-colored Heron, Least Bittern, and American Oystercatcher have been altered by this storm.

 

To mediate hurricane damage and minimize long-term secondary effects the report recommends:

• Rebuild and stabilize critical water bird nesting islands
• Immediate repair to access sites for management of conservation lands
• Assess and repair water control structures and pumps for managed wetlands
• Enhance stewardship capacity on beaches to protect newly created nesting habitat
• Clear debris and hazardous material from important water bird habitat where possible
• Develop and deliver Best Management Practices (BMPs) for federal and local coastal managers.

 

Reed’s Beach, which received extensive damage to homes, also now has a damaged habitat for horseshoe crabs, according to the report.

 

“A rapid response survey in the Reeds Beach area found horseshoe crab spawning habitat had decreased significantly due to the storm. With almost no sand for horseshoe crabs to spawn, the “lifeblood” of many migrating shorebirds in the Atlantic, horseshoe crab eggs, will be virtually nonexistent. The cascading effects of less eggs means that migrating shorebirds will not gain enough fat for their trip to Arctic breeding grounds.”

 

Winn said the leading symbol for conservation in the Delaware Bay is the Red Knot migrating in the spring. He said Horseshoe Crabs are very resilient in spawning but it is important to make their spawning sites accessible to shore birds so they can eat the eggs.

 

While beach renourishment is common on beaches on the ocean side of Cape May County, it is rare of the Delaware Bay side. The report warns against “borrowing sand from inlet areas that are important as foraging sites for terns and other seabirds, and as spawning areas for a variety of commercial and prey fish, will simply transfer environmental damage to another habitat.”

The report recommends creating oyster reefs to attenuate waves to increase stable waters for Horseshoe Crab egg laying at a cost of $400,000.

 

For this coming spring, one concern for more urban beaches is that birds will be adjusting their nesting effort into new areas that have been created where sand has been moved.

 

“Some areas where Piping Plovers have nested for many years could have totally been washed out,” said Winn. “That sand in many cases has been totally washed out but that sand in many cases had been re-deposited somewhere else.”

 

He said some projects have highlighted the need for additional stewardship to keep the human population from walking through sand nesting areas sites of Piping Plovers, Least Terns and American Oyster Catchers.

 

The report calls for restoring 5 miles of dikes that create six impoundments and repair water control structures at Tuckahoe Wildlife Management Area at a cost of $1.5 million.

 

In Heislerville in Cumberland County, dikes and water control structures need repairs estimated at $100,000.

 

At Moore’s Beach, the reports recommends rubble removal, beach replenishment and oyster reefs for wave softening for horseshoe crabs sustained by local oystermen.

 

The Manomet Center is a nonprofit and nonpartisan scientific research organization dedicated to creating a more sustainable world.

 

Established by Congress in 1984, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation protects and restores the nation's fish, wildlife, plants and habitats. Working with federal, corporate and individual partners, NFWF has funded more than 4,000 organizations and committed more than $2.1 billion to conservation projects