Tern Breeding Grounds Restoration Back On Track

Bird Island has long been noted as a very important Tern breeding ground but so far efforts to protect this small spot of land in the ocean have been moving slowly. Now it seems that after years of waiting, protection and restoration efforts will finally be gaining momentum.

The Bird Island Tern restoration program has taken almost ten years to get going. Efforts to help sustain the small 1.5-acre island at the entrance to the Sippican Harbor will take almost $4 million in both federal and state funding. The sea wall currently protecting this small bird safe-haven is regularly battered by storms and ocean currents. More and more water seems to be washing over the island each year, with the result being that more and more suitable Tern breeding ground is lost. When water washes over this small island, it creates low-lying ponds and marshes. This is not what the terns need when it comes to looking for a suitable spot to lay their eggs and raise their young. They need dry areas and these are fast disappearing.

The plan is to build a replacement sea wall which will help to dissipate waves and so protect the island and preserve suitable nesting grounds for these birds. The current erosion taking place on the island may see it disappear completely if no action is taken. According to Carolyn Mostello, the Tern project leader who works for the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, the replacement sea wall should be better sloped than the current wall in order to be effective. Once the wall is up and the land is protected, the marshes and pools formed by the encroaching waves up to this point will be filled in with a rocky layer which is to be topped with sand that is compatible with Bird Island sand. While these activities have been on the cards for years, action is only now being taken after the state sent a letter of support to the Army Corps of Engineers. The letter stated their support of the conservation project and requested that it move ahead.

The project will be expensive, but I’ll be worth it. Roughly 22 percent of North America’s entire Roseate Tern population can be found on this small scrap of land. Bird Island is one of only three islands in Massachusetts that house Roseate Terns. Approximately 750 nesting pairs of these endangered birds have made their home here. In addition to the Roseate Terns, there are about 1 900 nesting pairs of Common Terns that have made their way onto the state’s list warranting special concern. Bird Island is then undoubtedly a major Tern hotspot that needs to be protected. The project will likely take two years of careful planning before any building work takes place, but at least now things can start moving along. Hopefully these efforts will still be in time to prevent more members of an already endangered species from disappearing.