Conserve Wildlife Blog

Habitat Enhancements for Rare Species at the Sea Girt National Guard Training Center

March 3rd, 2022

by Meaghan Lyon, Wildlife Biologist

Although the Sea Girt National Guard Training Center (NGTC) has just a small section of beach to manage, their efforts there with threatened and endangered species has been big. Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey has been a partner in these efforts, monitoring the piping plovers that nest on this beach during the breeding season and assisting in the planning of habitat enhancements. The protection area at the NGTC has been the nesting site of a piping plover pair for the past three breeding seasons and it is likely they will return again this spring, all while supporting the military and recreational missions of the New Jersey Army National Guard.

The habitat at the site includes a well-developed, vegetated dune and a small berm covered in American beach grass. While generalizations have been made about vegetation on beach dunes and berms being a positive thing, this is not ideal habitat for threatened and endangered species like piping plover and seabeach amaranth. Most threatened and endangered species prefer a sparsely vegetated habitat and extensive studies have documented these benefits. With the right amount of vegetation and shells, plovers have the opportunity for shade cover on hot summer days as well as camouflage in the sand and shells in case of a predator presence. Too much vegetation provides the opportunity for predators to hide in the greenery and prey on plovers or other beach nesting birds.

The portion of beach berm that was chosen for habitat enhancements was favored due to the limited recreational use and subsequently low disturbance levels for the birds. According to Sea Girt’s Freshwater Wetlands and Coastal Habitat Enhancement Plan, less than half an acre will be altered. Vegetation thinning will be made by the use of a mechanical beach rake to reduce the percentage of vegetation cover within a portion of the protection area. The cover goal for the protection area is less than 50% vegetation cover with patches of vegetation between 5% and 20% in the frontal portion of the berm. Results from past beach vegetation assessments showed that the cover of American beach grass was greater than 50% prior to management efforts and has since been reduced. Since starting these habitat improvements in 2019, the piping plover pair has consistently utilized the area when brooding their chicks and in 2021 the pair even nested in the managed area.

As an additional effort that has been taking place over the past few years, wooden least tern decoys were strategically placed in the sand to attract the colonizing species to this site. The decoys were successful at attracting least terns in 2019 and many have roosted and foraged along the shoreline at NGTC since. This year’s efforts include adding clam shells to increase camouflage potential for beach nesting birds.

All work is being done prior to the arrival of piping plovers to ensure the habitat has time to rebound before they start arriving to the nesting sites.

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