October 24, 2014

Environmental Lifesavers

Always on the lookout. In early summer, Randy McCormick, 57, has his eyes on the shoreline. As an environmental manager at Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, McCormick is constantly searching for beach nesting birds that migrate to Southwest Florida to lay eggs and raise their young.

House hunters. Beach-nesting birds specific to Southwest Florida are the threatened least tern, the snowy plover and the Wilson plover. These birds find deserted beach areas to make their homes. "They like wide open spaces because it gives them plenty of visibility (against) predators," McCormick says. A beach cluttered with sunbathers, furniture or vegetation is off the housing market.

Animal dependency. Every animal is tied together in the web of life, McCormick says. While he realizes this sounds a bit poetic, the truth of the statement is irrefutable. "You can’t manage anything for just one species," he says. "You need to actually focus on the entire eco-system that sustains them."

Keep out. Beach-nesting birds see people as a threat. If humans get too close, it puts the birds and their eggs or chicks at risk. For the birds’ protection, McCormick and other environmental stewards at Rookery Bay, rope off the nesting areas. "We put stakes with string and twine and signs around the margins of the nesting area." The signs inform visitors that the area is a bird nesting site and to stay away.

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