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Vegetation grows out of sand dunes at the beach.
Information icon Dunes on Perdue Unit at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by USFWS.

Oil spill funds help protect shorebird nesting and improve monarch butterfly habitat

The sparkling beaches of Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama attract visitors of all shapes and size—and species. Bon Secour’s beaches and dunes are visited not only by tens of thousands of people each year but also by the many kinds of wildlife our refuge managers are charged with protecting and preserving every day. On any warm spring day at Bon Secour, you may find sunbathers, swimmers, nature lovers, birds, beach mice, crabs, foxes, insects and scores of others.

Shorebirds also love Bon Secour, and those visiting and nesting on the refuge are some of the beneficiaries of a restoration project being funded by a landmark $20 billion settlement with the petroleum giant BP for the damage caused by 2010’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The spill not only deposited oil on the beaches of Bon Secour Refuge but also triggered cleanup work that disturbed wildlife habitat along the refuge’s beaches and dunes. “After the spill, we calculated that as many as 102,000 birds were killed by the oil spill, either by exposure to the oil or by encounters with cleanup activities,” says Kate Healy, a Service restoration biologist. “That’s why the Service has worked so hard to create projects that restore and protect bird habitat along the Gulf Coast.“

A colorful caterpillar climbs on a milkweed plant at the beach.
A monarch caterpillar crawls on milkweed at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge.

The Service is working with The American Bird Conservancy at Bon Secour to complete a shorebird project aimed at protecting nesting areas used by least terns, snowy plovers, American oystercatchers, black skimmers and other shorebirds. The partners are posting warning signs and erecting temporary fencing around key nesting and foraging sites. “It’s important to warn people that nests, eggs and chicks are in the area. They’re easy to miss because they’re naturally camouflaged—they blend in very well with the sand and shells around them,” Healy explains. “While their camouflage may foil predators such as foxes and raccoons, it makes them almost invisible to beachgoers.” Work this year will complete the five-year effort.

Although not injured by the spill, monarch butterflies will benefit, from a dune restoration project at Bon Secour that will also help beach mice and reptiles, including lizrds and snakes.

The dune project includes re-vegetation of disturbed dunes with native plants, including milkweed, a plant that plays a vital role in the conservation of monarch populations. “We’re encouraging people everywhere to do as much as they can to save monarchs by planting native milkweed,” says Ben Frater, assistant restoration manager for the Department of the Interior’s Gulf Restoration effort.

“At Bon Secour, we’re doing our part to improve the butterflies’ habitat there. By winter 2017, we expect to plant hundreds of seedlings along the refuges’ dunes.” These are just two early projects in the effort to restore the natural vitality of the Gulf. Many more are coming.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information on our work and the people who can make it happen, visit Connect with the Service on Facebook, follow our tweets, watch the YouTube Channel and download photos from Flickr.

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