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Beaches and Shorebirds Hit Hard by Late-June Storm

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Date: July 7, 2009
Contact: George E. Price, Jr., Superintendent, 508-771-2144

Last month's nor'easter wreaked havoc on Cape Cod National Seashore's beaches, beach habitat, and shorebirds.  The late-season storm radically reformed the seashore's ocean-side beaches which now resemble a typical winter beach rather than an early-summer beach.  Fifteen plover nests (73%), 53 plover chicks (52%), and 90% of the seashore's least tern nests were lost.  Piping plovers are protected as a federally-listed species and least terns are listed as protected species by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  Miles of the symbolic fencing and signs used to protect habitat and guide visitors were lost, and several plover nest exclosures were crushed or buried by sand.  National Seashore shorebird biologist Mary Hake said "I have never witnessed such high storm-related chick mortality."  This year already had the makings of a potentially-difficult nesting season even before the late-June storm.  Beaches in the south district of the seashore were already unusually narrow making it difficult to provide adequate protection to nesting shorebirds.  Plover chicks appeared to be maturing more slowly than usual, attributable in part to June's cool wet weather.  Predation, particularly from crows, had already caused notable nest loss throughout the seashore.  The pre-and post-storm beach conditions will likely result in 2009 turning out to be a poor year for shorebirds.

However, in the aftermath of the storm we are seeing signs of recovery.  In many locations, the beach has begun to retain sand, re-initiating the slow process of beach building we usually see through the late spring and summer.  Plovers and terns are re-nesting in the new supra-tidal habitat created as the beach rebuilds, as well as in those areas of habitat that remained intact through the storm.  And the plover chicks that did survive are continuing to grow, with each day of survival increasing their chances of fledging and perhaps returning to nest in future years.

The seashore's staff is monitoring closely the evolving shape of the beach and the response of plovers and terns.  Habitat, nest, and chick-protection measures, such as symbolic fencing, no-dog areas, and ORV/pedestrian restrictions, are being adjusted on a daily basis in response to observed conditions.  For example, the previous high-tide pedestrian closure at Coast Guard Beach in Eastham has been lifted in light of the loss of nests, the maturation of the few surviving plover chicks, and the building beach.  At the same time, new protection measures are being put in place in other areas, such as Marconi Beach and Great Island, and could be reinstated at Coast Guard or other locations if new nesting is observed.  As a result, it is important for visitors to look for the temporary informational signs advising of closures, restrictions, and hiking options. 

Superintendent George Price said "For many of us, beaches are the embodiment of land-sea interaction, and it is this highly dynamic character that makes them such fascinating and inspirational places.  While it can be difficult to see the immediate, short-term impacts of this storm, we find ourselves even more fascinated and inspired by the resilience of these ecosystems and the tenaciousness of the species that depend on them."

 

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Did You Know?

Herring River dike, Wellfleet

Cape Cod National Seashore includes over 2500 acres of historically diked salt marshes, 35% of the Massachusetts total, and including some of the biggest diked marshes in the Gulf of Maine. Work continues, in cooperation with other agencies and private groups, to restore these degraded estuaries.