The conservation world is talking about a Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus) that was banded in Michigan in 2010 and has been sighted each winter on Sand Dollar Island since 2013. According to the Great Lakes Piping Plover Recovery Effort, this tough and lucky female left her hatching nest on North Manitou Island in late July and migrated south. This seasoned 10-year-old plover has consistently been a successful mom, but 2020 was a rough year for her. Her first nest was washed out in a storm and her second nest was very late and dangerous and she had to abandon it. Luckily, she was spotted by Brittany Piersma, a winter shorebird steward, back on Sand Dollar Island on December 6, 2020.
Sand Dollar Island is an important wintering site for Piping Plovers and the appearance of this tiny bird shows how faithful they are to particular wintering habitats. Though Piping Plovers are protected by both State and Federal agencies, they are likely to become endangered or extinct within the foreseeable future with the disappearance of vital wintering sites.
The Piping Plover is a small sandy-colored bird resembling a sandpiper. The adult has yellow-orange legs, a black band across the forehead from eye to eye and a black ring around the base of its neck. It runs in short starts–and–stops like the other plovers. When still, the Piping Plover blends into the pale background of open sandy habitat on outer beaches where it feeds and nests.
Portions of Sand Dollar Island, also known as Big Marco Pass Critical Wildlife Area (CWA), are roped off by the State for its critical wildlife areas, so designated to protect the concentration of species such as the Piping Plovers that are in danger of extinction.
On January 4th, Marco’s City Council adopted a motion by Councilor Brechnitz directing City Staff to “work with Collier County to seek funding once permitting and engineering efforts were approved in support of revitalizing Tigertail Conservation Area.”
According to Brad Cornell, Audubon of the Western Everglades and Audubon Florida are opposed to the plan to remove a huge portion of northern Sand Dollar Island from the CWA, which is right where the Black Skimmers nest along with Least Terns and Wilson’s Plovers.
Audubon is also concerned that the interior dredge proposal being done for water quality and access may do more harm than good, but this needs clarification. Cornell added that “we are still considering this proposal. We are, however, concerned that this strategy won’t address water quality issues if authorities don’t also investigate the source of the pathogens that infected over 100 skimmers last summer, and institute a more rigorous monitoring program to assure such pollution threats can be detected quickly and appropriate remediation done promptly.”
Cornell also added, “We now have very few coastal habitats remaining in Florida for coastal nesting and migratory birds and other wildlife. It’s important to recognize that unique beach habitats like Sand Dollar are valuable year–round as many imperiled migratory species spend much of the year with us. Birds like the federally threatened Red Knot, which migrates over 18,000 mile every year, or the federally endangered Piping Plovers that nest in the Great Lakes but spend the rest of the year with us on Marco Island.”
Marianne Korosy, Ph.D., Director of Bird Conservation for Audubon Florida, also expressed concern that the “proposed creation of the sand trap at the north end of Marco Island will remove most, if not all, of the most optimal nesting habitat for the State-listed Black Skimmers, Least Terns, Wilson’s Plovers and the winter habitat for the federally threatened Piping Plover.
Placing the dredged material on the north end of Sand Dollar Island changes the nesting site in unknown ways and many regulatory agencies feel it would be a negative change.
One is led to ponder, does the invasive dredging/restoration of the Tigertail Lagoon outweigh the loss of vital nesting wildlife habitat for many threatened species?