As residents and visitors flock to Florida beaches over the long Fourth of July holiday weekend, wildlife officials and advocates are urging beachgoers to be mindful of nesting shorebird colonies and sea turtles.
Southwest Florida Policy Associate for Audubon Florida, Brad Cornell said the recent passage of Tropical Storm Cindy brought high surf and heavy rains that almost entirely wiped out coastal-nesting bird colonies along the Florida panhandle. “Almost all of those colonies were destroyed by this storm. The colonies washed out, drowned the eggs and chicks. It’s a pretty depressing story out there.”
On the bright side, Cornell said Southwest Florida boasts two of the largest colonies in the state of threatened shore birds. “We have over a thousand nests of threatened black skimmers and least terns down on Marco Island and we also have over a hundred nests of black skimmers and least terns on Fort Myers Beach. So there are really wonderful thriving colonies that we would like to see survive,” said Cornell. “Fourth of July weekend represents one of the biggest threats of the summer to beach nesting birds.”
Cornell urges people to leave their dogs at home, but if they do bring them to the beach, to keep them on a leash. He also encourages people to give these shorebirds a wide berth and to also not leave food or other items behind because they can attract raccoons, crows and other wildlife that predate on eggs and chicks.
“Two years ago we lost the entire Marco colony to crows, two dozen crows, that ate 5,000 eggs and chicks in a period of two or three weeks,” said Cornell. “That was a pretty depressing year. We don’t want to see that again.”
Cornell also encourages holiday revelers to enjoy a professional fireworks display rather than setting off their own on the beach, which can disturb vulnerable chicks. “It’ll be safer. It’ll look better and it’s better for the birds.”
Audubon is recruiting volunteers to help educate boaters and beachgoers about how to share the shore with nesting bird colonies. “We’d love to have anybody who would like to come out with us on Fourth of July weekend or any weekend of the summer while they’re nesting out there,” said Cornell.
“We’ll sign you up, get you trained and we’ll take you out by boat. It’s a wonderful experience. It’s like National Geographic to see thousands and thousands of chicks out on the beach and all these nesting birds. We have spotting scopes so they can get a good close view of the fuzzy little chicks. It’s a really fun experience.”
Cornell urges those interested in volunteering to reach him via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Aside from black skimmers and least terns, Florida beaches are also home to nesting snowy plovers and American oystercatchers that also face conservation challenges.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials are also urging beachgoers to be mindful of nesting sea turtles. In a press release, FWC writes that, “Female sea turtles can become disoriented and fail to lay their eggs if disturbed by bright lights, loud noises and people getting too close to them. Sea turtle hatchlings, also vulnerable to disturbance, are beginning to emerge this month.”
Florida beaches serve as nesting sites most commonly for threatened loggerhead sea turtles as well as green, leatherback, Kemp’s ridley and hawksbill sea turtles.