Conserve Wildlife Blog

August 19th, 2016

How Plastic Pollution Impacts Wildlife – And What You Can Do!


by Corrine Henn, Communication Coordinator

For those of us who call New Jersey home, we’ve all likely witnessed the impact human activities have on our environment and the species who thrive here. Although habitat loss, illegal poaching and invasive species can be equally devastating to an ecosystem, the presence of plastic pollution around our state is a threat that almost every individual can be found personally culpable.

A jellyfish & a plastic cup cover - which is which? It's easy to see how a sea turtle could get confused and accidentally swallow plastic. Photo by Mike Davenport.

A jellyfish & a plastic cup cover – which is which? It’s easy to see how a sea turtle could get confused and accidentally swallow plastic. Photo by Mike Davenport.

Although many forms of pollution impact our native species, the summer months at the Jersey Shore often result in a surge of plastic debris that are left behind or improperly disposed of. Plastic pollution impacts millions of wildlife species globally, and the diverse number of species in New Jersey are no exception.

The plastic pollution that accumulates in our waterways and elsewhere around New Jersey poses a serious threat to native species. Single-use plastic products like plastic bags, bottles, bottle caps, wrappers, straws, and even balloons are not only unsustainable, but particularly dangerous for the animals that may become entangled in them or accidentally ingest them.

Ospreys use trash as nesting material because (sadly) it is a plentiful resource that collects in the upper areas of the saltmarsh. It is a deadly component of their nests that easily entangles them. Do your part and pick up litter if you see it. © Ben Wurst

Ospreys use trash as nesting material because (sadly) it is a plentiful resource that collects in the upper areas of the saltmarsh. It is a deadly component of their nests that easily entangles them. Do your part and pick up litter if you see it. © Ben Wurst

A few years ago, CWF’s Habitat Program Manager Ben Wurst and his dedicated group of volunteers who monitor the osprey nests along the coast began to hold onto the trash and debris collected in and around the nests. While it may not be the most visually appealing educational resource, it made the growing problem of plastic pollution personal for Ben, in a way that words aren’t always able to convey.

Plastic bags, one of the most common single-use plastic products, were overwhelmingly prevalent in many of the nests. And osprey aren’t the only wildlife species facing this threat. Seals, terrapins, shorebirds, fish, whales, sharks and dolphins can also be impacted by plastic debris.

The presence of plastic in our daily lives is interminable and difficult to eliminate completely, but there are a number of things we can do to minimize the impact our habits may have on our wildlife!

Clean up after yourself:
Whether you’re spending the day at the beach, having a picnic by a lake, or tubing down a river, make sure you take any trash with you before leaving and recycle what you can.

Be mindful of your surroundings:
If you’re out and about and notice that someone left some trash behind, take a moment to throw it away.

Reduce your consumption:
A number of small changes from millions of people can make a big difference. For starters, invest in reusable shopping bags and water bottles. And cut down on the number of miscellaneous throw away plastics you use, including straws and plastic wrappers.

Consider donating to CWF to support our conservation projects and ensure our biologists and our volunteers are able to continue surveying and aiding species in need.



August 18th, 2016

Absolutely Fish Supports CWF Terrapin Program


by Corrine Henn, Communication Coordinator

Great Bay Boulevard in Little Egg Harbor is a favorite haunt for local fisherman, birders and tourists alike. While many locals and visitors celebrate the summer, Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ’s Ben Wurst and his team of dedicated volunteers know that summer can mean something else entirely.

An increase in traffic on Great Bay Boulevard during the summer months threatens the survival of one particular species, the northern diamondback terrapin. Hundreds of female terrapins cross roads adjacent to their native habitat, our coastal estuaries, in search of suitable nest sites each year. Unfortunately, Great Bay Boulevard lacks a formal speed limit and mortality rates as a result of vehicle collisions are just one of the dangers the terrapin face.

“From what I’ve seen and experienced from the beginning of this project is that many more people are more aware of terrapins on the road,” said Habitat Program Manager, Ben Wurst. “It is critical to have the support of the local community as they are the ones who frequent the area the most and can really play a huge role in their long term conservation.”

Terrapin X-ing sign on Great Bay Boulevard. Photo by Corrine Henn.

Terrapin X-ing sign on Great Bay Boulevard. Photo by Corrine Henn.

The Great Bay Terrapin Project has done tremendous work to reduce road kill rates. More recently CWF has been collecting data to monitor the local population by taking measurements and notching individual terrapins as part of a mark-recapture effort. Our volunteers conduct road patrols to collect data on terrapins that are encountered on road and also help ensure that they cross safely. Along the most dangerous part of the road, a barrier fence helps to deter terrapins from entering the roadway. Both the fence and several “Terrapin X-ing” signs, have also aided efforts to curb mortality rates each summer.

An adult female northern diamondback terrapin hides within its shell. Photo by Corrine Henn.

An adult female northern diamondback terrapin hides within its shell. Photo by Corrine Henn.

Ensuring the future survival of the terrapin is, of course, a collaborative effort. We were especially thankful when Glenn Laborda, Dibyarka Chatterjee and Kristen Schmicker of Absolutely Fish presented Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey with a $5,000 check from the proceeds they raised throughout the Earth Day weekend in April.

Absolutely Fish has raised donations for CWF in recent years using a live educational terrapin on loan to the store from the Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Sciences in Manahawkin, NJ.

A $5000 donation presented to CWF by Absolutely Fish for the Terrapin Project. Photo by Corrine Henn.

A $5000 donation presented to CWF by Absolutely Fish for the Terrapin Project. Photo by Corrine Henn.

According to Jennifer Ruivo of Absolutely Fish, “People come into the store specifically to see her and are generally much more willing to help, donate, or take information when we have a terrapin in store.” The turtle’s presence in the store garners support by bridging the gap needed for many to see that these animals, our neighbors, are in need of our support.

Following the donation from Absolutely Fish, Absolutely Fish representatives – along with Wurst and CWF Executive Director David Wheeler – conducted a survey of Great Bay Boulevard with CWF intern Carly Sibilia who demonstrated the data collection and notching technique of terrapins.

Stay tuned for post-summer update on CWF’s terrapin projects. And in the meantime, be mindful of your surroundings and be terrapin aware!


August 17th, 2016

Keeping Turtles Wild


by Kathleen Wadiak, CWF Intern

Have you ever seen a cute little turtle on the roadside or in a river or lake? Lots of people have had the pleasure of seeing turtles in the wild- as they are often easy to see and not too weary of people! This time of year, turtles are beginning to hatch after months of developing inside eggs that were laid in the spring. When turtles are just hatched they are the most vulnerable to predators and even humans! Most hatchling turtles can fit inside the palm of your hand. Often time humans have the misconception that a small turtle is a helpless turtle. Turtles are wild and unless they are trapped or diseased- they do not need our help!

A hatchling bog turtle. Photo by Kelly Triece.

A hatchling bog turtle. Photo by Kelly Triece.

If you find a turtle, please leave it – even if the surroundings seem strange to you, it probably feels right at home. Moving turtles away from their home range can cause disorientation and leave it vulnerable to predators or other hazards.

If a turtle is ON a roadway- then it can be quickly helped off the road! Please see our recent blog post about helping turtles on the road. If you do move a turtle off the road, never take the turtle to a completely new location. Finally, handle it as little as possible to reduce the risk of injury or disease for you and the turtle.

It can be exciting to see a turtle in the wild, and it may be tempting to continue to handle it or even take it home to keep as a pet; however, it is important to remember that they are wild animals and will live much better lives in their natural habitat than they will in a tank. In many cases, wild caught turtles do not adjust to captivity, as they do not react well to sudden space and dietary restrictions. Furthermore, only a small percentage of wild turtles survive to adulthood, so removing them from the population can be detrimental to that population’s future.

Thanks for helping us Keep Turtles Wild!



August 15th, 2016

Beachnester Buzz: Drum roll please, the 2016 breeding results for beachnesters are…


by Todd Pover, Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager

There are many ways to gauge success for our beachnesting bird project. We look at how well our management tools work, the effectiveness of our partnerships, and how well our educational efforts work, to name a few qualitative measures we use. At some point, however, it comes down to cold hard numbers, how well did the birds do in a particular season and over the long-term. We are at that point in the season, and for the most part, I am happy to report it has been an excellent breeding year. I will caution that these are still preliminary figures, some quality checking of the data needs to be done before they are final, but the trends are clear.

One of a "bumper crop" of piping plover fledglings produced in New Jersey in 2016. Photo courtesy of Kevin Knutsen.

One of a “bumper crop” of piping plover fledglings produced in New Jersey in 2016. Photo courtesy of Kevin Knutsen.

First up are piping plovers. We will come in at ~115 pairs statewide, up modestly from the 108 pairs in 2015, and the second consecutive year of an increase after hitting our historic low of just 92 pairs in 2014. So, we have climbed back closer to our long-term average, but there is still room to improve. The really good news is our productivity this year – close to a statewide record at 1.37 chicks fledged per pairs – puts us in the position to continue our population increase. If trends hold, because piping plovers demonstrate high site (or region) fidelity, when we produce a lot of fledglings, our breeding population rises in the next year or two. With three straight years of well above average fledgling rates for New Jersey now in the books, our prospects look good in the short term for our breeding population levels.

Least terns and black skimmers, which nest in colonies, sometimes numbering hundreds (or even thousands), are more challenging to count and assess, but we had at least modest success this year for both species. As is typical, our least tern colonies were variable, with some completely failing and others being highly productive. The Monmouth County region, one of our strongholds for least terns in New Jersey, didn’t have one colony that was a standout but most of them had at least some success. In South Jersey, our two largest colonies at Holgate (EB Forsythe NWR) and Seaview Harbor were very successful and helped make up for losses and failures at other colonies. The majority of our state’s black skimmers are concentrated in one large colony at Seaview Harbor, and although skimmers are our latest nesters (so the season isn’t quite over for them), they appear to have been very successful there, which means a good season overall for the state.

We also track American oystercatchers, although only for the portion that nest on the barrier beaches and spits. Because the biggest percentage of oystercatchers in the state nest on back bay and marsh islands, we cannot determine true statewide population or productivity levels, but the population on the beach habitat appears to be rising in recent years. Typically breeding success is lower for oystercatchers on the beach habitat due to high levels of human disturbance and predators, but productivity has been relative high the past two years. Of particular note this year was Stone Harbor Point, where a record number of 27 pairs nested and produced over 30 fledglings.

The reality is our beachnester staff works just as hard in years when the birds do poorly, as when they do well like this year, but it is SO much more rewarding when we have a good season. So as we wrap up the season, we are all feeling in a bit of a celebratory mode now!


August 8th, 2016

Beachnester Buzz: A Day in the Life of a Beachnester


by Todd Pover, Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager


For this week’s installment, I thought it would be fun to have you tag along with me on a day in the field, so you can get a sampling of what goes into our beach nesting bird program. Let’s call it, “A Day in the Life of a Beachnester.”



Black skimmer and chicks at our Belmar colony where we recently banded the young before they could fly. Photo courtesy of Jersey Shore Photography.

Today it is an early 4 am rise to beat the beach crowds and heat, as we are banding black skimmers at our Belmar colony. This is the first time our program has banded skimmers –  it is a collaborative effort with other organizations/agencies in both New York and New Jersey – we hope to find out more about their survival, longevity, and movement, both local and long distance. Everything goes well, we are able to corral and band about 35 chicks in less than an hour. This part of the day represents the science portion of the beach nesting bird project, science for the sake of study and a better understanding of our birds, but more importantly to gather information to help us manage and recover endangered species.


With no time to spare, it is now off to Leonardo along Sandy Hook Bay where CWF is hosting a summer wildlife experience for kids. No surprise, I am the guest today to teach the kids about beach nesting birds. I explain why piping plovers and American oystercatchers are at risk, and then give them a chance to use a high powered birding scope to try to read bands I have placed on decoy birds. We definitely have some budding biologists in the mix. Education is key to our project, unlike other endangered species that mostly live out of sight or reach, beachnesters spend the breeding season on the same beaches visited by millions of tourists and residents. If they are going to learn to “share the shore” with our endangered birds, outreach is essential.


beachnester buzz plant

Sea beach amaranth, a rare plant, that shares the beach with our nesting shorebirds and also is protected.

Next up is a stop at Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park, one of our important nesting areas in Monmouth County. For most of the season we are erecting and adjusting fence to protect nesting areas, but today we are working with the park to reduce the fence, as many of our birds have successfully nested and started to leave the area. First we count and locate any remaining least terns – these surveys are the base of our project – we need this data to track population trends and seasonal productivity as metrics of progress towards recovery. Before we remove any fence at this site, we also conduct surveys of sea beach amaranth, an endangered plant that shares the beach with our nesting birds. We locate a few plants and that dictates how we readjust the fence, the plants need protection from trampling by beachgoers or vehicles used by the park to maintain their beach.



Coordination with municipalities or other land owners that host beach nesting birds is a critical part of our project, as their activities can impact nesting success as much as beachgoer’s recreational use of the beach. So there is one more stop today to assess whether a maintenance request can be granted in a way that won’t put birds at risk. That done, it is time to start the two hour drive back to our office in Cape May County. I am ready for a nap, but no luck, as the truck becomes a mobile office to take care of other unattended business (while someone else drives of course). There are calls with several other towns, check-ins with our seasonal staff members that are spread out all along the coast, and finally dealing with a broken down vehicle (not ours fortunately) and a person who refused to take their dog off a nesting site.


Back at the office, it is one last check of email, entering a little bit of the data we collected today, and finally time to head home. Every day is a little different, but this day has been a good cross-section of the range of things we do on the project. It is tempting to think we just pop up fence and signs and hope the birds do well, but protection and recovery of our endangered beach nesting birds requires a comprehensive strategy addressing all the factors that impact nesting success.




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