Throughout the summer, Kaylin Bruening served as a Coastal Steward for Audubon Delta, which gave her a unique perspective in speaking with U.S. Senator Roger Wicker’s staff during Audubon’s recent Seabird Fly-In. The event engaged Audubon staff and members in meeting with key Members of Congress to spotlight policy actions that can be taken to benefit seabirds and coastal communities.
As an eighth generation Mississippian and the descendant of a commercial crabbing family, I was raised to have a deep appreciation for our state’s natural resources and wildlife.
This past summer, I had the privilege of monitoring the Least Tern nesting areas of our beaches, where I met hundreds of people from different areas and walks of life. I specifically remember a local restaurant owner in her seventies who said she grew up watching her parents anticipate the arrival of the Terns, and that every year it still reminds her of those lovely memories of them.
It’s not just the local Mississippians that share this appreciation, though. While the tourists I met weren’t as familiar with our shorebirds, it was awesome getting to see the faces of those children and adults light up while watching through my spotting scope, seeing the terns feeding forage fish to their young and just getting to watch that lifecycle up close. There were many moments like that, where you knew it was a core memory for that family’s vacation just as it was for me as a child growing up on the coast.
Unfortunately, my children might not get the same experience that the generations before me and I had of seeing these birds arrive. That’s because seabirds are actually in crisis, with global seabird populations having declined by 70% since the 1950’s, which is about 230 million birds over a 60-year period.
There are several major human-caused issues contributing to the seabird crisis, including overfishing, entanglement in fishing gear, plastic and oil pollution, invasive species, and loss of habitat.
Seabirds, bigger fish, and marine mammals, all rely on forage fish for food. However, there’s a problem with that because small schooling fish, such as sardines and anchovies, are also threatened since they are often caught commercially to make fertilizer, cosmetics, fishmeal, and other products. Since these small schooling fish feed larger, economically important fish species, forage fish are absolutely critical to recreational and commercial fishing industries, as well as ecotourism related to seabirds and marine mammals.
Another top threat to seabirds is that the coastal habitats they rely on for raising their young and feeding themselves, are shrinking due to a changing climate and coastal development. These issues have caused seabirds to lose safe, healthy areas to nest.
Rebuilding and conserving coastal habitat and “natural infrastructure”, such as coastal Mississippi’s wetlands, oyster reefs, seagrass beds, and barrier islands, is necessary not only to provide seabird habitat but to better protect coastal communities from flooding and storm events.