Airlift to Great Gull Island – A mission for the terns

The northeastern population of the roseate tern is listed as endangered. Credit: Sarah Nystrom/USFWS

The northeastern population of the roseate tern is listed as endangered. The roseate tern colony at Great Gull Island makes up about half of the population in the Northeast. Credit: Sarah Nystrom/USFWS

Today you’re hearing from Suzanne Paton, biologist with our Coastal Program. Here she is on the right, sitting with Julianna Barrett of Connecticut Sea Grant, who secured funding for some of the lumber and who we are collaborating with to develop a habitat management plan for the island (along with the museum).

Today you’re hearing from Suzanne Paton, biologist with our Coastal Program. Here she is on the right, sitting with Julianna Barrett of Connecticut Sea Grant, who secured funding for some of the lumber and who we are collaborating with to develop a habitat management plan for the island (along with the museum).

In fall 2012, Hurricane Sandy destroyed the dock that gave us access to the largest nesting colony of endangered roseate terns in the western hemisphere.

To monitor the 1,500 pairs of roseate terns and improve the habitat, we have regularly worked with the American Museum of Natural History, which owns the 17-acre island that supports the colony–Great Gull Island, just northeast of Long Island.

When spring rolled around, we had to table our planned construction work on the island. Our agency had provided funds through the Cooperative Recovery Initiative (learn more about that here) to terrace some hillsides (to turn the hillsides into step-like areas) and construct nesting structures that have successfully attracted nesting roseate terns in the past. But delivery of lumber to the island was pretty much impossible. Not only that, but the hurricane had eroded a significant portion of the island, leaving less available habitat for nesting birds.

The former dock on the island. Volunteers wear straw hats to protect their heads from strikes by adult common terns that will aggressively defend their colony and nests. Credit: Sarah Nystrom/USFWS

The former dock on the island. Volunteers wear straw hats to protect their heads from strikes by adult common terns that will aggressively defend their colony and nests. Credit: Sarah Nystrom/USFWS

Despite the efforts of the museum, the island would not have a dock for the 2014 season. We put our heads together and decided to approach the Army National Guard for help. We requested their assistance on behalf of the museum and in support of an endangered species—and they were happy to help! After a few weeks of logistical planning, we were ready to go.

Great Gull Island is a 17-acre island located northeast of Long Island. The island is owned by the American Museum of Natural History and run as a research station to study common and roseate terns. Over the course of the summer, more than 50 people arrive at the island to volunteer time to work with birds. The island is host to the largest colony of common terns on the east coast and to about 2,000 pairs of roseate terns. Credit: Sarah Nystrom/USFWS

Great Gull Island is a 17-acre island located northeast of Long Island. The island is owned by the American Museum of Natural History and run as a research station to study common and roseate terns. Over the course of the summer, more than 50 people arrive at the island to volunteer time to work with birds. The island is host to a large colony of 8,000 common tern pairs and to about 1,500 pairs of roseate terns. Credit: Sarah Nystrom/USFWS

On April 25, the Army used their CH-47 Chinook helicopter and crew to transport 28,000 pounds of lumber in three separate air lifts from the Groton air across the Long Island Sound and the 8 miles to Great Gull Island, where Helen Hays from the museum was waiting for them.

Crews of workers are now assembling the nesting structures and blinds needed for observation, and it is just in time for the return of the first birds to the island this week! We are all so incredibly grateful that the Army was willing to support this important endeavor.

The lumberyard, Rings End, was also incredibly supportive, packaging the lumber in three discreet bundles to match the specification provided by the Army. Volunteers were recruited from Connecticut Sea Grant, Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and Audubon Connecticut, and retired carpenters from Electric Boat in Groton were organized and transported via boat to help with the construction on the island. CT Sea Grant also provided some of the funding for the lumber through a grant from the Long Island Sound Futures Fund.

All in all, it was a perfect example of multiple agencies and numerous partners working together to support the important work of recovering one of the Northeast’s most elegant endangered species.

Populations in the northeastern U.S. greatly declined in the late 19th century due to hunting for the millinery, or hat trade. In the 1930s, protected under the Migratory Bird Act Treaty, the population reached a high of about 8,500, but since then, population numbers have declined and stayed in the low range of 2,500 to 3,300. Credit: Amanda Boyd/USFWS

Populations in the northeastern U.S. greatly declined in the late 19th century due to hunting for the millinery, or hat trade. In the 1930s, protected under the Migratory Bird Act Treaty, the population reached a high of about 8,500, but since then, population numbers have declined
and stayed in the low range of 2,500 to 3,300. Credit: Amanda Boyd/USFWS

Check out some more photos from Great Gull Island on our Flickr page. There was coverage in The Day and by WTNH, as well as on the Great Gull Island and UConn blogs.

We are investing $102 million in resilience projects and $65 million in recovery projects, totaling $167 million in funding to protect our coast and strengthen our communities against future storms like Hurricane Sandy. Learn more at our website.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: