by Meghan Kolk, Conservation Scientist

Shorebirds face a multitude of threats that are outside of our control, but human disturbance is one factor that we can reduce. With ever-growing demands on our beaches, there are fewer spaces for shorebirds and seabirds that depend on the beaches year-round to feed, rest, and raise their families. Many of the birds that rely on our New Jersey beaches are threatened or endangered species, meaning their populations have declined to dangerous levels. Everyday recreational activities on the beach that may seem harmless can unintentionally harm these birds.

The mission of our Shorebird Steward Program is to reduce recreational disturbance at two beaches in Cape May County that provide critical habitat for beach-nesting birds and migratory shorebirds – Stone Harbor Point Conservation Area and the Cape May National Wildlife Refuge Two Mile Beach Unit. Each summer, stewards interact with beachgoers to interpret educational information about shorebird conservation, beach closures and regulations, and how human behaviors impact the birds. Stewards carefully observe and document disturbance events so we can better understand how people use the beach, how they comply with regulations, how their activities impact the birds, and which issues we need to focus on resolving. When possible, stewards intervene and engage with visitors when a disturbance event is observed to reduce the impact and provide education so that behaviors may be altered in the future.

Last season, stewards focused their efforts on curtailing the amount of disturbance from landed watercraft to a very important breeding colony of endangered Black Skimmers at the tip of Stone Harbor Point. Their efforts paid off as the colony, one of just a few in New Jersey, thrived and was able to produce young after a disappointing failure to breed the previous year. Stewards play an integral role in shorebird conservation by educating the public, gathering valuable data, protecting undisturbed spaces for shorebirds, and ultimately contributing to the breeding success of beach-nesting birds.

If you’d like to learn more about the birds at Stone Harbor Point, stop by and ask a steward.