Sea Turtle and Shorebird Monitors: When You're on the Beach
Summer is in the air, and for shorebirds and sea turtles, eggs are on, or in, the beach. And that means Shorebird Alliance Partners and Marine Turtle Permit Holders (MTPH) are also on the beach. If you’re one of the persons working for the conservation of Florida’s sea turtles and shorebirds, there are a few things to remember during your time on the sand.
Sea turtles access the beach at night to bury their eggs within the sand, usually ten inches or more deep. The eggs of shorebirds, however, are laid on the open sand. Also, unlike sea turtle hatchlings, flightless chicks remain on the beach until they are fledged – and they don’t just remain in the posted areas! Chicks of both colonial and solitary nesters can be anywhere on the beach from the waterline up to the dunes, and they can travel far from the original marked nest site. The primary defensive response for flightless chicks is to freeze and press against the sand surface, which makes them very vulnerable to foot and vehicle traffic. During the shorebird nesting season, Florida Shorebird Alliance partners post nesting areas by encircling the area with posts and flagging or twine. The time frame from nest initiation to fledging of seabird and shorebird chicks is typically no longer than 60 days, and determines how long an area is posted. However, because nests are asynchronous (not all nests are initiated on the same day), if there is more than one nest within a posted area such as in a large seabird colony, this time frame may stretch out over a longer period. Because each posted area is unique, it is best for MTPH and shorebird monitors to coordinate closely to determine the anticipated completion date for nesting at any particular site. When surveying on the beach please remember to respect posted areas, as often there will be eggs and chicks on the ground. Any disturbance within the site could cause the adult birds to flush, leaving eggs and chicks vulnerable to predation, exposure to the intense heat from the sun, or starvation. Chicks may become separated from their parents during a disturbance event, or adults may permanently abandon a nest due to human disturbance. Sea and shorebirds are protected under state and federal laws, and there can be legal ramifications for anyone entering a posted area, even with the best intentions. MTPH that survey a beach with posted shorebird nests must be extra vigilant, both on an ATV and on foot, during early morning surveys to watch for shorebird chicks and fledglings. Sea turtle nest surveyors must respect the posted area, entering only if specifically authorized to do so by FWC staff at MTP@myfwc.com.
It is still important to get accurate information on any sea turtle crawls that might occur within posted shorebird areas or adjacent to posted nests. Marine Turtle Permit Holders should observe the crawl to the degree possible from the outside of the posted area and install a marker outside the postings or away from the solitary nest to indicate the approximate location of the crawl or nest. Once the postings for the birds are removed, the MTPH can enter the area and post as large a section as needed for protection of any potential sea turtle nests. Sea turtle nest inventories should be done after the postings are removed. If you are a Marine Turtle Permit Holder or a shorebird monitor and have questions about posted areas, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org we will help you.
Thank you for your work protecting Florida’s sea turtles and shorebirds!
Resilient Birds, Devoted Advocates: Audubon Florida Helped Thousands of Coastal Birds Take Flight in 2016
Beach-nesting birds met overwash from Tropical Storm Colin in the first week of June 2016 all along Florida’s Gulf Coast. Adults hung tight to nests above the high water line but adults with overwashed nests were forced to re-nest. Find out how each species fared around the state in Audubon’s summary report entitled “Resilient Birds, Devoted Advocates”.
Dogs on the Beach: New Outreach Resource on the Horizon
You have probably seen at least one dog—or maybe many—on a beach where pets are prohibited, which can have negative impacts on beach wildlife. Some of these impacts include killing or eating shorebirds, hatchlings and/or eggs, scaring them off their nests, and/or causing them to flush and burn vital energy needed for migration and nesting. Nesting female sea turtles can also be disturbed by dogs on the beach at night. They may abandon their nesting attempt, returning to the water without laying their eggs. Beach mice are also active at night, making them vulnerable to predation by dogs.
The Coastal Wildlife Conservation Initiative (CWCI) supports state and local rules that prohibit dogs on beaches or in specific wildlife-sensitive areas, such as Critical Wildlife Areas. The CWCI recognizes that some public beaches are designated as dog-friendly locations; however, beachgoers should still be mindful of any wildlife that may be present and follow rules pertaining to leashing their dogs and picking up waste.
Last year the CWCI asked partners around the state to report sightings of dogs on beaches where pets are prohibited in order to collect data on the prevalence of this issue during the shorebird nesting season (February through August). Partners included Audubon bird stewards, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Parks Service, Mote Marine Lab, the Sea Turtle Preservation Society, the St. Andrew's Bay Resource Management Association Turtle Watch, and the Coastal Marine Education and Research Association.
Not surprisingly, the CWCI found that the practice of bringing dogs to beaches where they are prohibited is very common (360 total reports in 10 counties). Several instances resulted in effects to wildlife such as flushing of resting, foraging, or nesting shorebirds. Many observers approached the dog owners to discuss with them that dogs were not allowed on the beach. From their experience, observers noted that it would be helpful to have some type of outreach material to give the dog owners to strengthen their message.
In response to that need, CWCI is developing a new brochure that describes the importance of beach habitat for wildlife, the impacts that dogs can have on beach wildlife, and ways to be a wildlife-friendly pet owner. It also lists of some of the pet-friendly beaches around the state, to encourage people to take their pets to these beaches rather than the more wildlife-sensitive beaches. There is also a short section about service dogs, emphasizing the importance of keeping them under control at all times.
The CWCI is excited about the roll-out of this new brochure and hopes that it will be a useful tool to prevent wildlife disturbance by dogs. As Florida Shorebird Alliance partners, you can help by distributing the new brochures when you see people with dogs on beaches that you may be surveying or stewarding. For more information or to request a batch of brochures, please contact the CWCI Coordinator, Fara Ilami, at email@example.com. If you see dogs disturbing wildlife, report it to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Wildlife Alert Hotline: 888-404-FWCC (3922), #FWC or *FWC on a cell phone, or by texting Tip@MyFWC.com.
Help Protect Beach-Nesting Birds this Summer: Become a Bird Steward!
The Florida Shorebird Alliance has a growing network of beach-nesting bird stewards. If you are interested and able to steward at a beach this season, check out the stewardship map and contact your local coordinator to become a Bird Steward this year.
Bird stewards have two important roles: they help protect beach-nesting birds from human and pet disturbance, and educate the public about sharing the beach with wildlife. Help is especially needed on weekends and holidays.
The Florida Shorebird Alliance welcomes Emma LeClerc to the team! Emma is the new Data Quality Manager for the Florida Shorebird Database (FSD). Emma holds a Master's degree in Geography and is a self-professed spatial data nerd. Originally from upstate New York, Emma has spent the last five years living in Newfoundland, Canada. She is excited to join the team, and looks forward to working with you.
Emma will be working at the nexus of the Breeding Bird Protocol, the FSD, and the extraordinary partners who monitor shorebirds across the state. Be on the lookout for future FSD emails from Emma and feel free to contact her with your FSD questions at FLShorebirdDatabase@myFWC.com.
Remember to survey your routes and rooftops during the next Count Window, June 10 - 16!
The Florida Shorebird Alliance (FSA) is a partnership of agencies, non-government organizations, and individuals committed to shorebird and seabird conservation in Florida. FSA partners coordinate their independent work and collaborate to address research, management, education, outreach, and public policy needs.