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Friends of Ellisville Marsh Provide a Model to Protect Shorebird Nesting Sites
by Eric Cody and Karen Miranda
Photo Credit: Amanda Boyd, USFWS
Ellisville Beach is a barrier beach harboring a 71-acre salt marsh in Plymouth, Massachusetts, a few miles north of the Cape Cod Canal. Since 2007, this small beach and the adjacent Ellisville Harbor State Park beach have supported as many as four piping plover (Charadrius melodus) nesting pairs, a species protected as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Nesting prospects for the piping plover were bleak at the Ellisville Beach in Cape Cod for much of the last two decades. Summer days brought dozens of vehicles onto the beach in areas favored by plovers as nesting spots. Moreover, the marsh inlet had been partially blocked since 1991, restricting tidal flows and limiting suitable nesting habitat for plovers and endangered least terns.
Fortunately for these rare shorebirds, Ellisville Beach is in the midst of a remarkable turnaround experiment.
In 2003, the property was donated to the Wildlands Trust, which implemented a beach management plan that permanently barred vehicles.
Local residents came together to form Friends of Ellisville Marsh, Inc. in 2007. The group's mission is to restore fisheries and wildlife in the marsh by reopening the blocked inlet and to enhance shorebird nesting by monitoring and protecting nests and chicks.
Photo Credit: Friends of Ellisville Marsh
After six years, local involvement by the Friends of Ellisville Marsh successfully leveraged scarce resources, acquired a better understanding of site conditions and nesting patterns, and gained support from beach users.
Two years of direct, daily monitoring of nests prior to finalizing plans for relocating the marsh inlet enabled the Friends of Ellisville Marsh to better understand nesting patterns and accommodate nesting requirements.
The group's approved inlet relocation plan used about 3,600 cubic yards (2,750 cubic meters) of dredge spoils for beach nourishment and nesting habitat in an area observed to be less prone to crow predation.
Weekly visits by employees of Massachusetts Audubon's Coastal Waterbird Program became daily patrols by trained local volunteers, dramatically improving awareness and tracking of scrapes, nests, chicks and fledglings. As a result, symbolic fencing now marks potential nesting activity and prevents unnecessary closure of large swaths of the beach.
The volunteer team has assumed ownership of nest monitoring and works closely with Audubon and the Wildlands Trust to ensure that all necessary and reasonable actions are taken to protect and ultimately to improve nesting productivity, including recording and mapping the locations, dispositions and outcomes of nests.
The challenge that remains is protecting the plovers from predators. While Friends of Ellisville Marsh cannot claim success in raising nest productivity, due to the foxes and crows on the beach, the hope is that this approach will serve as a model for shorebird conservation efforts.
"The group's dedication and passion for protecting their beach and the piping plovers contributed to a joint solution that allowed the inlet relocation to occur," says Susi von Oettingen, an endangered species biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's New England Field Office who has worked closely with the group to protect shorebird nesting sites. "This not only avoided adverse impacts to the plovers, but provided protection and long-term benefits for the species."
Eric Cody of Friends of Ellisville Marsh, Inc. can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org. Karen Miranda, a public affairs specialist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's in Boise, Idaho, can be reached at email@example.com or 208 387-5891.
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