Join us: Help save future generations of seabirds

Using U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service funding secured from the Natural Resources Damage Assessment process from two oil spills in Humboldt Bay in 1997 and 1999, the Seabird Protection Network North Coast Chapter will monitor human disturbances such as recreation in seabird habitat areas. The common murre, above, is one of many seabird species to call the area home. Credit: Tim Wang/Flickr Creative Commons 2.0

Seabird Protection Network North Coast Chapter working to protect and restore seabird populations in northern California through local volunteer assistance

By John Heil
June 22, 2017

Would you like to make a difference in a seabird’s life?

You can. Just ask members of the newly formed North Coast Chapter of the Seabird Protection Network. They are looking for volunteers this spring and summer in Trinidad, California, to assist with Citizen Science. The organization needs volunteers to collect scientific data that identifies current or potential disturbances to nesting seabirds, including cormorants, petrels and murrelets.

Using U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service funding secured from the Natural Resources Damage Assessment process from two oil spills in Humboldt Bay in 1997 and 1999, the chapter was established in 2016 and for the first time this breeding season (April-August) will monitor human disturbances such as recreation in areas around habitat.

“This money isn’t endless, so what we really want to do is get this program established so it can be carried on into the future largely with the help of a volunteer community,” said Service biologist Lynn Roberts. Credit: John Heil/USFWS

With funding for the next five years, the chapter hopes to monitor these disturbances and use this data to identify needed outreach, education and interpretation. The common murre is a focal species due to impacts from the oil spills in the late 1990s.

“This money isn’t endless, so what we really want to do is get this program established so it can be carried on into the future largely with the help of a volunteer community,” said Lynn Roberts, a biologist with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Arcata field office.

The North Coast Chapter joins the Seabird Protection Network’s existing chapters in central and southern California, coordinated by the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.

“Our goal is a network that spans from the Oregon border, south to the Mendocino coastline,” said Leisyka Parrott, interpretive specialist for the Bureau of Land Management's  Arcata office.

The California Coastal National Monument is the third largest habitat for seabirds, such as this  common murre colony on one of the rocky islands along the coast at Trinidad, California. Credit: Roy W. Lower/USFWS

Parrott is currently an environmental educator in a related program in Trinidad known as Hands on the Land that connects students, teachers, families and volunteers with public lands. The BLM uses the California Coastal National Monument as an outdoor classroom by leading tidepool, kayaking and seabird watching field trips.

“I feel like the timing is ripe for the North Coast Chapter of the Seabird Protection Network and I am happy to be a part of it,” said Leisyka Parrott, of the Bureau of Land Management's Arcata Field Office. Courtesy photo: Rachael Hatchett/Jacoby Creek School

Each field trip includes classroom learning from a place-based curriculum developed by local educators in the Trinidad area. In collaboration with local partners and tribes, the classroom in Trinidad has over 5,000 students annually participating in these programs.

“I lead field trips with students from all over Humboldt County, and I will tell you their whole ‘being’ lights up when they see a common murre nesting through the spotting scope,” Parrott said. “I feel like the timing is ripe for the North Coast Chapter of the Seabird Protection Network and I am happy to be a part of it.”

The Service and BLM are not the only agencies to be thrilled about the development of the chapter. Partners include the Audubon Society, Trinidad Coastal Land Trust, Trinidad Museum, Trinidad Rancheria, Yurok Tribe, Humboldt State University (HSU) and many others.

California's accessible north coast seabird habitat is vulnerable to potential human disturbances that include kayaking, fishing boats, low flying airplanes, drones, human movement on low tide or climbing rocks. Credit: Bob Wick/BLM

The partnerships are important, as “the best place to view the California Coastal National Monument and monitor seabirds is from land that is managed by local and state agencies,” Parrott said.

“It incorporates so many different partners which is always powerful,” Roberts said. “We are really pleased to provide this seed money to get this going in perpetuity and hopefully it expands.”

According to Roberts, the work the partnership agencies and the public will do is critical as the common murre needs to breed successfully to contribute to population increases. Trinidad seabirds like most seabirds typically spend most of their life at sea and only come to coastal rocks to breed. The common murre colonies in Trinidad include Pilot Rock, Blank Rock, Flatiron Rock, Green Rock and White Rock.

The goal will be to set up training for the public with standardized methods for human disturbance monitoring in order to identify where is the best place to monitor them, and identify specific areas where disturbances take place.

“For example, seabirds flying off or flushing from their breeding colony, exposing their eggs and chicks would indicate a high level of disturbance,” said Shannon Murphy, seasonal seabird biologist for the network that BLM and HSU hired in April 2017.

Potential disturbances could include kayaking, fishing boats, low flying airplanes, drones, human movement on low tide or climbing rocks.

“As a biologist, the dream is that your research and what you are doing is going to benefit the species you’re working with,” said Shannon Murphy, of BLM. Credit: BLM

The goal of the North Coast Chapter will be to develop outreach, education and interpretation relevant to the human disturbance taking place in Trinidad. These products would be shared with the public through various avenues such as brochures, flyers, signage, face-to-face meetings, discussions on the beach, etc.

The value to the public is endless as bird watchers generated more than a $100 billion in total industry output, including 666,000 jobs nationwide (ref: http://farallones.noaa.gov/eco/seabird/).

A 2011 survey produced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates $13 billion in local, state and federal tax revenue in the U.S. Additionally, bird watchers spend annually 3.1 million days birding along the Central California coast and ocean. The Trinidad area is the third most important seabird nesting area in California behind Castle Rock and the Farallones.

Local Trinidad school children get a close up view of seabird habitat during an outdoor classroom session. According to members of the North Coast Chapter of the  Seabird Proection Network, their goal will be to develop outreach, education and interpretation relevant to the human caused habitiat disturbance taking place in the Trinidad area. Courtesy photo by persmission: Rachael Hatchett/Jacoby Creek School

Other seabirds to benefit from the outreach and education include: brandt’s cormorant, pelagic cormorant, double- crested cormorant, pigeon guillemot, leach’s storm-petrel, fork-tailed storm-petrel (cavity nesters), western gulls and the federally threatened marbled murrelet.

“As a biologist, the dream is that your research and what you are doing is going to benefit the species you’re working with,” said Murphy, who studied seabirds for her Master’s thesis. “I am super excited to see us learn more about the impacts of human disturbance to nesting seabirds and then how we can change those behaviors and help the seabirds. I am also interested in the human aspect of it – I want to get the public interested in seabirds because they are amazing.”

The North Coast Chapter should have their first set of data from this summer analyzed by 2018.

The small coastal hamlet of Trinidad is a great place to view and photograph the rocks and islands of the 1,100 mile long California Coastal National Monument. This unique area encompasses many of the state’s offshore rocks and islets and stretches from Oregon to Mexico, and is especially photogenic with pocket beaches and numerous seastacks home to some of California’s largest nesting seabird colonies. Credit: Bob Wick/BLM

Two willets probe for crabs, worms and other prey in the receding surf at the California Coastal National Monument, near Trinidad, California. The Bureau of Land Management conducts an outdoor classroom at the monument, leading tidepool, kayaking and seabird watching field trips. Credit: Bob Wick/BLM

Interested volunteers should contact Parrott at (707) 825-2313 or write to lparrott@blm.gov.

 

John Heil serves as the deputy assistant regional director for external affairs in the Pacific Southwest Region headquarters in Sacramento, Calif.  He writes frequently about the Service's wildlife conservation activities in California and Nevada.