Gulf Islands National Seashore is comprised of forested wetlands, scrub/shrub, and open beach habitats. These habitats are important for many nesting and migrating birds. Gulf Shores National Seashore is a combination of four previously identified IBA?s (Petit Bois, East Ship, West Ship, and Horn islands). The close proximity and similarities in habitat and bird use among these IBA?s necessitated combining into one easily identifiable IBA.
The forested and shrub/scrub habitats of these four coastal barrier islands, 10 to 15 km south of the mainland, provide critical stopover habitat for trans-Gulf migrant landbirds. The islands provide relatively undisturbed nesting habitat for beach birds of conservation concern such as Least Terns and Snowy Plovers. The beaches also provide the most significant wintering habitat for Piping Plovers in the state. One of the state?s highest concentrations of Ospreys nest among the pine forests on the islands.
Gulf Islands National Seashore has been the scene of some of the most intensive ornithological research in Mississippi as well as along the northern Gulf of Mexico. Most of the research has focused on the importance of coastal barrier islands to the survival of trans-Gulf migrant landbirds, particularly during spring migration. The Migratory Bird Group of the University of Southern Mississippi, headed by Dr. Frank Moore, has performed much of the research. Sustained research and monitoring on the islands have demonstrated the importance of this IBA as a resting and refueling site for migratory birds. Research into the role of fire in maintaining the diversity of vegetation and food supplies used by migrants may be necessary. Given the extensive amount of ornithological research and monitoring conducted on the islands, managers should attempt to consolidate the data and conclusions to benefit future management of the islands and similar sites throughout the Gulf of Mexico region. The National Park Service has taken steps to limit human disturbance of beach nesting birds. These efforts should continue and should account for the potential disturbance of wintering population of species such as Piping Plovers.
Erosion is a serious threat to the islands. The east ends of the islands are now eroding faster than the west ends are accreting. Ship channels may have altered this balance.