The little islands that dot the coastal bays around Assateague Island are among the world’s top spots for colonies of island-nesting birds. Both Assateague Island and the adjoining Maryland coastal bays region are recognized by BirdLife International as globally Important Bird Areas.
But erosion—from rapid sea level rise and increasingly stronger storms caused by climate change—are washing the islands away. And as the islands go, so go the birds. Audubon Maryland-DC notes that since 1985, Black Skimmers have declined by more than 95 percent in Maryland. And over the past 16 years Common Tern populations have been reduced by 90 percent and Royal Terns by 78 percent.
The Maryland Coastal Bays Program works year-round to restore the region’s coastal bays and islands. As their Science and Restoration Director, Dr. Roman Jesien leads their efforts to restore both the islands themselves and their dwindling bird populations.
In this episode, I join Roman on a drone survey of one such island in Sinepuxent Bay. The island, Mark 12, has seen its nesting area—and nesting colonies—shrink dramatically over the last few years. Aerial surveys like the one Roman was conducting are vital to tracking the island’s erosion and assessing the restoration’s progress. As we traveled we learned the history of island formation in the coastal bays, all about oyster castles, how to land a drone on a bobbing boat deck, and much more.
“Episode 19: Mark 12”
Audobon Maryland-DC, “Saving Maryland’s Iconic Beach Birds,” https://md.audubon.org/news/saving-marylands-iconic-beach-birds
Audobon IBA map Assateague Island IBA Site 361 https://gis.audubon.org/portal/apps/dashboards/1742bc47f980490da9c23e23dc4d5e86#site=361
Audobon IBA map Maryland Coastal Bays IBA Site 363 https://gis.audubon.org/portal/apps/dashboards/1742bc47f980490da9c23e23dc4d5e86#site=363
“Climate Change and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge,” http://www.landscope.org/article/VA/climate_chincoteague_nwr/1/
Chesapeake Bay Magazine, “Saving Island Birds,” Nov. 17, 2022, https://chesapeakebaymagazine.com/saving-island-birds/
[Editor’s note: “Saving Island Birds” won first place in Boating Writers International’s annual writing contest in the Environmental Awareness category.]