(Feb. 19, 2021) In the coastal bays behind Assateague Island, an alliance of private, state, and federal collaborators is all about the birds. They would be the partners of Audubon Maryland-DC in an ambitious effort to restore a breeding habitat for declining populations of Ocean City icons, common terns and black skimmers.

The Maryland Coastal Bays Program (MCBP), Audubon Maryland-DC, and Maryland Department of Natural Resources recently got the go-ahead this week for a project at the South Point boat ramp where they will build the new breeding habitat, a floating island, for the endangered birds.

Maryland’s coastal bays are recognized as an “Important Bird Area” by Audubon. Human disturbance, predators, rapid erosion, and sea level rise have been threatening the species’ populations for decades. Since 1985, the black skimmer population has declined by more than 95 percent. Common terns have been reduced by more than 90 percent.

Dave Wilson of Community Conservation Consulting is helping spearhead the complex restoration project, which he hopes to see complete by the last week of March.

Wilson explained that immediate action is necessary because, “While projects to restore breeding areas like island restoration are helpful ... the birds’ habitats cannot withstand the long-term effects of weather and erosion.

Even if you aren’t environmentally minded, these birds are really icons of Ocean City, Wilson said.

The project, Wilson said, is a big step in rebuilding tern and skimmer populations that the conservation groups hope to restore. The plan is to build a 1,024-square-foot breeding platform and tow it two miles south of South Point Spoils in Sinepuxent Bay, where it will be anchored.

Volunteers from the community, including the bays program and Assateague Coastal Trust, will help build the raft, paint chick shelters, shovel clam shells to attach to the bottom of the floating platform, and then monitor breeding success throughout the summer.

For more information on the skimmer and tern conservation project, contact Maryland Coastal Bays, www.mdcoastalbays.org.

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