Beach volleyball kills unhatched birds on Alabama island pic.twitter.com/rEeiPi3jCG— Lori Bolton (@LDBSeasofBlue) August 7, 2018
Beachgoers in Alabama probably killed hundreds of unhatched birds and scared adult birds from their nests after they made space for a volleyball court.
The volleyball players apparently trampled many of the eggs as they moved them from their nesting area. They even reportedly made a mound of sand and decorated the unhatched eggs around it.
Least Terns — the birds who were nesting — are small white birds with black caps on their head. They lay eggs in shallow depressions on the sand.
The damage was reportedly discovered after the Fourth of July weekend by Andrew Haffenden, when many groups visited the island.
Haffenden — a wildlife researcher from Australia — was conducting a bird survey for Birmingham Audubon when he noticed scores of small boats anchored on the island’s shore.
"I'd seen swirls of birds out there ... and then on Fourth of July weekend, I counted 17 boats out there on that island, so I was pretty disturbed," Haffenden said. "I had been wanting to get out there, and looking through my scope, I could see the volleyball net and the tents.”
According to the wildlife researcher, not only had the visitors moved eggs from their space, they "actually made a little dome of sand and placed the eggs around it to decorate it.”
On an average, hundreds of birds, that sit on the eggs to keep them cool, must have left their nest to avoid the people who dropped in on the island.
Without the protection from the adult birds, the eggs would have “baked to death,” according to Haffenden.
Katie Barnes, chief biologist for Birmingham Audubon's Coastal Program, said the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service was informed of the unfortunate incident immediately.
"Immediately, we informed the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. ... And we told the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which added the area to their patrol route," Barnes said.
Upon survey, at least 520 active Least Tern nests were found on the island.
Since the damage was found, the small Sand Island rookery of federally protected birds has been roped off from beachgoers. The ropes — called "symbolic fencing” — educate people to stay away from the area where birds nest their eggs.
"Ever since we put the fencing up, everyone has been very respectful. We have not seen a human footprint in the area. Boaters have not pulled up to that area," Barnes said.
"Even with all the eggs that were lost, this site has still been a huge success for the birds," she said.
Banner / Thumbnail : Wikimedia Commons, Craig ONeal