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Florida wildlife officials delay launch of new guidelines, protecting rare beach-nesting birds

An adult bird stands in front of its babies
Florida Fish And Wildlife Conservation Commission
With nesting grounds on beaches growing more crowded or losing ground to sea rise, nearly 60 percent of Florida's threatened least terns now build their nests and rear their young on rooftops.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) approved a delayed start date for a set of new state guidelines that protect imperiled beach-nesting birds from human disturbance.

Agency commissioners approved the guidelines last July, originally slating them with a launch date of September 2023. But now, they won’t take effect until October 2024.

Commissioners proposed to delay the guidelines in light of last year’s severe storm season, which changed Florida’s coastline substantially, creating new nesting habitat in areas the agency hadn’t previously identified, according to FWC.

Along with providing more recovery time for impacted coastal areas, FWC says the delayed launch date also gives the agency more time to engage with property owners, businesses and other stakeholders who may not already be aware of the guidelines.

READ MORE: A Keys yacht club needed a new roof — the fix disturbed a 'colony' of protected birds

The four species of birds impacted by the guidelines are some of North America’s rarest birds, according to Florida Ornithological Society President Ann Paul, who describes the American oystercatcher, snowy plover, black skimmer and least tern as “obligate beach nesters.”

“The only place that they can or will nest is on the beach, or a place that is like a beach,” Paul said. Sometimes, she says the birds will dig their shallow nests, or “scrapes,” on gravel rooftops close to the water.

As more and more people flock to Florida beaches, Paul says, heightened levels of human activity pose a real challenge to beach-nesting birds — especially during their breeding season, which Paul says typically starts at the end of April or May.

But humans aren’t the only challenge these birds face.

“It’s very difficult for these birds to actually successfully nest, even when they’re not disturbed,” Paul said. “So anything that the wildlife commission can do to protect them, through rulemaking and other activities … that really does promote a better chance for success.”

Paul says it’s especially critical to try and control risk where we can, given the natural challenges facing these threatened birds — from eroding coastline, to scalding hot sand.

“With our increasing population, and how much everybody loves the beach, and the fact that with the storms, we’ve lost a lot of beach habitat, just to erosion — it’s kind of a recipe for losing these species,” Paul said. “And they’ve been under this kind of pressure for decades.”

Paul said she looks forward to celebrating birds and other wildlife at the Florida Birding & Nature Festival she’s helping organize in Apollo Beach next week.

According to FWC, the delayed launch date also gives the agency more time to recruit and train specialized monitors: volunteers who are specifically trained to survey and minimize harm to nesting sites across the state.

The agency has information about how to become an Imperiled Beach-nesting Bird (IBNB) Permitted Monitor available on its website.
Copyright 2023 WMFE.

Molly Duerig
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