On the Mississippi Gulf Coast, there are two one-mile stretches of beach that make up the largest nesting colony of Least Terns in the United States. This Important Birding Area (IBA) right along the Gulf of Mexico contains five beaches: Biloxi Beach, Gulfport East, Gulfport West, Long Beach, and Pass Christian; putting the Least Tern within the most populated area for beach-goers along the coastline. Situations such as this make biologists suspect that humans and the family pet are the number one reason the Least Tern population is in decline.
While the Least Tern Breeding Areas are roped off and “Caution – Keep Out” signs are posted, I have still seen people walk along the shoreline. Not only are they putting the birds at risk, but they are also blocking the Least Terns path to the water. The Gulf of Mexico isn’t just their food source; while the birds are nesting, the mothers will dip their bellies in the cool water to help regulate the egg temperature keeping them from overheating. Protected by law, the Least Tern is considered endangered, making it a federal offense to flush or disturb these birds. Fines are fairly stiff.
With so many pristine beaches to chose from, it makes me question why people would want to walk these trash covered, seaweed, and driftwood-strewn sections. Once the breeding season begins, these sections of the beach cannot be raked and kept up like the others.
Copyright 2019 Susan Rissi Tregoning
May 30th, 2019
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