Business owners and tourism industry leaders are happy to see the surge of crowds visiting the Golden Isles this holiday weekend.
Some residents have reservations, though, including those nervous about the potential increase in COVID-19 spread.
Biologists keeping tabs on shorebird nesting season have an additional concern.
Holiday weekends in the summer are often rough on nesting shorebirds and with good reason. Chicks are vulnerable to potential dangers posed by crowded beaches.
The Fourth of July is frequently a risky time for shorebirds on St. Simons Island, said Abby Sterling, a shorebird biologist with Manomet, Inc.
“Many people want to celebrate by being out on the beach,” Sterling said. “There’s some challenges with trying to balance the needs of people and birds. There are some pretty easy steps people can take when enjoying the beaches over the holiday weekend.”
Shorebird biologists ask beachgoers to remain aware of nesting shorebirds, like Wilson’s plovers and least terns, and to follow posted restrictions that tell where birds have nested and how to avoid the areas.
“A lot of the sensitive areas on the coast where nesting birds are incubating eggs and raising chicks, those are pretty well marked by Tim Keyes at DNR,” Sterling said.
It’s easy to accidentally step on a nest or a chick that blends in with the environment, she said.
Unleashed dogs are another potential hazard to nests.
“Generally we try to recommend people stay below the high tide line when they’re on the beach, to stay on the wet sand,” she said.
Sterling also urges people who see others potentially disturbing nests to speak up and educate them about the importance of protecting shorebirds.
The birds begin nesting in the area in March, a season that generally lasts through August. Eggs hatch in 30-35 days, and then chicks stay at the nests for about a month before they're able to fly.
Sterling will be on the beach this weekend among visitors, encouraging everyone to steer clear of the nests and be cognizant of the shorebirds.
“I’ll be on the beach keeping an eye on Gould’s Inlet to see what’s going on as people set up for the day, helping them be aware of shorebirds,” she said.
Gould’s Inlet is more of a “wildlife beach” than most other beach areas on St. Simons, she said. Nesting sea turtles and shorebirds frequently make use of that part of the island.
This has been a great year so far for nesting shorebirds in the area, Sterling said, and she encourages everyone to continue being good stewards of Gould’s Inlet and other parts of the beach.
Community support and respect for roped off areas have contributed to Gould’s being the location for one of the largest least tern colonies in the state, boasting around 50 pairs of least terns currently.
More information can be found on the Georgia Shorebird Alliance website or Facebook page. Information also is available through the Georgia Bight Shorebird Conservation Initiative.