This article was originally published in The Register Citizen (CT) on January 27, 2013. It was written by Susan Misur. View the original article here.
The Connecticut Audubon Society is planning to study how Hurricane Sandy’s significant damage to shoreline nesting habitats will affect endangered birds, and whether it could benefit some of them.
Its conservation staff assessed several areas — Sandy Point and Morse Point in West Haven, Milford Point, Stratford’s Long Beach, Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford, and Bluff Point State Park in Groton — and identified possible repairs to habitats. Staff members made before-and-after comparisons using data collected on water birds last summer as part of the Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbird Conservation initiative.
The coastal damage caused by Hurricane Sandy was detailed in a report issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences.
Unlike residents living near the water, some birds may have been helped by the storm, leaving the Connecticut Audubon Society in a wait-and-see mode.
“The beaches are definitely damaged, and there’s a lot of erosion, and it’s possible in some places it could be a better nesting habitat for piping plovers and least terns in particular.
“Until we spend the summer out on the beaches monitoring, we won’t really know,” said Tom Andersen, director of communications and community outreach for the Connecticut Audubon Society. “What we don’t want to do is have anyone make big changes to the beach now and possibly further damage some areas that were improved.”
The assessment of habitat damage began after the New Jersey-based American Littoral Society found funding for such a study from Virginia to Massachusetts. It brought the Manomet Center onboard, which brought in the Connecticut chapter of the National Audubon Society and the independent Connecticut Audubon Society.
The Connecticut sites studied were chosen because they are the most important habitats for the water birds monitored by the Connecticut Audubon Society, explained Anthony Zemba, director of conservation services.
“So much of the coastline is carved up for development and used for human recreation that there’s very little area left for these birds to use, and that’s why they’re rare. And now with the impact from a catastrophic natural event, it makes it even harder to continue to exist,” Zemba said.
Those conducting the study found so much debris was carried on shore in some areas it would need to be removed to allow birds to nest again, Zemba said.
In other places, he noted, sand was eroded so badly the beach elevation was lowered, and nests may wash away at high tide.
But other places, such as Stratford’s Long Beach, now might have better habitats because the storm removed vegetation, and some birds like to nest in the open.
The research found the hurricane carried too much sand into a bay between Sandy Point and Morse Point in West Haven, preventing the bay from draining properly at high tide. The bay is an important foraging ground for certain birds and needs to be fixed.
West Haven City Engineer Abdul Quadir said he will be meeting with Audubon representatives next week to discuss the area and plans for a pipe there that needs additional storm protection.
At Milford Point, Zemba said, the beach has lost elevation and needs sand trucked in.
Andersen and Zemba said the Connecticut Audubon Society is now hoping to raise private donations or seek grants to continue monitoring the birds and their habitats later this year.