Restoring Stone Harbor for birds and community

A piping plover at Stone Harbor Point with dunlins in the background. Photo from Creative Commons, Flickr user John Beetham.

A piping plover at Stone Harbor Point with dunlins in the background. Photo from Creative Commons, Flickr user John Beetham.

Larry Niles holding two red knots. Photo courtesy of his blog, arubewithaview.com.

Larry Niles holding two red knots. Photo courtesy of his blog, arubewithaview.com.

Today we’re sharing updates from our partners NJ Audubon and Larry Niles, a private wildlife biologist blogging on the ongoing Stone Harbor Point project to restore 20 acres of habitat for piping plovers, American oystercatchers, red knots and other shorebirds.

NJ Audubon received a grant through National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Competitive Grant Program for the project, which is also supported by our agency, the Wetlands Institute, Conserve Wildlife Foundation, NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife, Richard Stockton College of NJ Coastal Research Center, and the Borough of Stone Harbor.

At long last, the work began last Wednesday, when the first equipment slowly made its way to the Stone Harbor Point site. The point helps protect the Borough from damaging coastal storms and sea level rise, and the project will use local sand harvesting (no dredging or trucking in sand) to elevate and improve habitat quality for coastal birds and to reduce coastal flooding.

Boomer Heun, the supervising contractor and operator of every machine out here, stands in front of a bulldozer. Photo courtesy NJ Audubon/Larry Niles

Boomer Heun, the supervising contractor and operator of every machine out here, stands in front of a bulldozer. Photo courtesy NJ Audubon/Larry Niles

Last week, the team finished one of the three nesting and roosting habitats for piping plovers, oystercatchers, least terns and black skimmers. The habitat areas are about 2 to 3 feet above the surrounding area, keeping them safe from the infrequent but inevitable high tides that sweep the point during bad winds storms or New and Full moon tides. These floods have contributed to a failure of Stone Harbor nesting bird population.

The same elevated areas will provide roosting habitat for shorebirds that migrant through the area in the fall and the spring migrants that feed on horseshoe crab eggs on Delaware Bay. It’s not well known that, at times, most of the shorebirds, including the red knot, fly to Stone Harbor Point to find roosting habitat safe from the ground predators that roam throughout the Delaware Bay beaches and marsh at night. In some years the entire population of rufa red knots roost on Stone Harbor Point. The roosts have failed recently during the same extraordinary tides that destroy nests. Our work will help both groups of birds.

American oystercatchers at Stone Harbor Point. Photo from Creative Commons, Flickr user John Beetham.

American oystercatchers at Stone Harbor Point. Photo from Creative Commons, Flickr user John Beetham.

This part of the project aims to help people, too. As part of our team’s commitment to the community of Stone Harbor, we will fortify natural dunes that protect the southernmost part of the town. Nearly a quarter of all the sand we harvest from our borrow site at the tip of the point will be used to increase the height and width of an important dune that forms the best defense of the town’s south face. It’s our sincere hope this project will help this town face the dangers of coastal storms.

The trucks have been moving about 3,000 to 4,000 cubic yards per day! Photo courtesy NJ Audubon/Larry Niles

The trucks have been moving about 3,000 to 4,000 cubic yards per day! Photo courtesy NJ Audubon/Larry Niles

Even though the cold wind makes life difficult and continues to wear away at the habitat areas, it also helps. The deep freeze helps firm the sand making it more resistant to the punishing winds. The frozen beach also provide firm footing for the all terrain dump trucks. With loads of over 30 tons, a hard frozen sand roadway improves fuel efficiency by 50% and saves valuable time.

Keep up with the project at NJ Audubon’s site!

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