Monday, August 24, 2015

A Season of Changes on Sandy Point

By Beth Sullivan
It seems like summer just began. We were just waiting for the Plovers and Horseshoe crabs to arrive on Sandy Point. And now they are ready to leave!
It was an interesting season on Sandy Point. It was the first summer that the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) was formally able to become the keepers of the lovely Island. As a transition year the COMO continued to issue permits but no longer supplied stewards to collect daily fees and do periodic patrols. Instead, this year we had dedicated, environmentally educated, interns and stewards out on the island as time and funding allowed. Instead of merely collecting fees, they informed people about their purpose and presence.
USFWS has erected informational kiosks for to explain our goals for conservation.

Education is often the very best way to get cooperation. When they encountered a violation, a dog on the shore for example, these stewards were able to give a real reason WHY a dog is such danger to the nesting birds (real or perceived predator). They spent many hours early in the season putting up roping to delineate where the nesting birds had set up housekeeping. But the stewards, this year, could also explain WHY the protected area needed to go all the way down to the water. (Young birds need access to water’s edge for feeding before they can fly). Visitors who understand this may be more willing to set their umbrellas and blankets away from these areas.
We can all learn to share the island with the species that need our protection.

The pebbles, shells, and sand are all the birds need to build their nests.

Kiosks explain the rules

The USFWS also erected two informational kiosks with photos and graphics to illustrate our combined efforts for conservation on the island. Now if only everyone would read them. On several occasions we were out monitoring, only to find people set up with campfires and their dogs, right under the signs!
According to Ryan Kleinert, the USFWS Biologist leading the team out there, the State-listed American Oystercatchers did very well. We had 8 pairs arrive early, get down to business and fledged 13 chicks. The Piping Plovers had a harder time. Ten pairs arrived on the island, but their efforts were greatly impacted by Gulls that chose to move into their nesting areas and aggressively take over, and crows that were predators on eggs and young. Those 10 pairs attempted 14 nests, and only 1 Piping Plover chick survived to fledge. Next year the stewards will try a new tactic to protect nests and deter the predators.
American Oystercatchers forage along the beach. Photograph by Rick Newton.

The Piping Plovers were challenged this year by Gulls and Crows. Photograph by Victoria Limi, Plover Intern 2013 USFWS.

Horseshoe crabs tagged again

We tagged Horseshoe crabs again this year. The Project Limulus Study group had fewer tags to hand out; we only had 200 to use. We did tag that number, and we could have done more, but there were nowhere near as many Horseshoe crabs out there as in earlier years -another change. We did count recaptures, those that had tags on them from previous efforts. One female crab we encountered nesting was originally tagged in 2009! Reporting those tag numbers is still important data for collection.
The tagged Horseshoe crabs provide important data on the range and travels of the species. Photograph by Rick Newton.

While this was a year to educate, we can expect that there will be more enforcement of the rules next year. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone who enjoys the island, was willing to take a bit more responsibility to obey the rules, think about the species that depend on this place for their survival and act as stewards as well?
There's no better place to be at sunset.

Even those Horseshoe crabs recognize Sandy Point as special place, to call home and are now further protected by new stewards from the Fish and Wildlife Service. Let’s hope all the rest of the visitors to our Island can offer the same protections to all the species that call it home.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.

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