Environmental conservation, protection and management in Florida often depends on local residents making volunteer work for state agencies part of their regular lives.
Protecting and helping imperiled beach-nesting bird populations to grow is part of that effort, and that work is showing improvements in a vital area of Northeast Florida.
Members of the Friends of Talbot Islands State Parks are doing surveys in two of the seven parks in the Talbot islands system, where Duval County, Nassau County and the Atlantic Ocean meet. In addition, signs went up around the area — notably on the north end of Little Talbot Island. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) personnel were back on the beach in later weeks because the line of signs needed to be moved — wildlife don’t exactly pay attention to signs and rope barriers.
“The birds love that whole beach,” said Elise Pearlstine, a Board member for the Friends, while gesturing toward a map of the Talbot islands, “and look at how much undisturbed habitat is behind them. They’re not going to have to worry too much, and you can’t drive (on Little Talbot), so they don’t have to worry too much about vehicles and traffic and disturbance.”
She spoke at an event Wednesday night where the Friends partnered with Fernandina Beach’s Mocama Beer Company to educate local residents about the imperiled beach-nesting birds on their beaches. The subject appeared to strike a nerve as people packed out the venue. The talk was also to raise money to continue their work — all the money raised that night went to the Friends’ shorebird monitoring program.
FWC is developing rules and a mapping tool intended to provide shorebird protection while streamlining the regulatory process for developers. It’s for only four species — American oystercatchers, black skimmers, least terns and snowy plovers — but it’s a heavy lift.
“When you look at the magical maps and the guidelines, pretty much the whole coast is involved,” Former FWC Commissioner Michael Sole said in December. “So, we’re going to need the capacity to be able to review all those permits, and then the supplemental capacity to discern whether it’s going to be an impact, then whether it can be avoided, and then what the mitigation’s going to be. That’s huge. That’s not a couple of minutes’ worth of work.”
While that work continues, birds aren’t waiting for new policy implementation before starting their seasonal nesting.
“Amelia (Island State Park)’s had some really good success with least terns so far, just in terms of numbers,” said Allison Conboy, a park services specialist with Florida State Parks.
“We had a colony that at its max was over 300 individuals, so that was really cool. We still have about 77 active nests with 30 to 40 chicks right now. There are predation issues, as there always are, but that’s a huge number for us.”
The only other colony to her knowledge in the region that compares is in South Ponte Vedra. Wilson’s plovers are also doing well, she said. With the American oystercatchers, they’re on the fourth nesting attempt with three different pairs.
In a surprise, a critical wildlife area — a Nassau Sound shoal island that once provided a temporary home for thousands of birds but disappeared with erosion — is coming back.
“Now, one’s re-forming,” Conboy said. “We had (black) skimmers trying to nest out there this year, so that’s kind of exciting.”