Program from 1970′s restores osprey population to historic numbers
by Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager
A helicopter hovers over an active osprey nest to count the number of eggs. Image courtesy NJFW.
The New Jersey Osprey Project began after the osprey was listed as an endangered species in 1973. In April 1974 an aerial survey was conducted to count the number of active osprey nests. The survey was conducted from Toms River to Atlantic City. The results were grim. Only five active nests were found. 10 years earlier there were over 50 in that same area. On all of Barnegat Bay in 1974 there was only one active osprey nest.
The heavy use of DDT in the 1950′s and 60′s was the main culprit in the decline of ospreys by affecting their ability to reproduce. When used in marine environments it was quickly absorbed by organisms and soils. It accumulated in the food web and because it was fat soluble it bioacummulated in predators, especially birds of prey. In short, it caused the thinning of eggshells which often broke under the weight of the incubating female. This threat, along with habitat loss and persecution caused the population to become almost extirpated from the state.
It’s that time of year again when we reflect on the year that is ending and look forward to the future. Many species of wildlife such as osprey and bald eagles, had a banner year while others like several species of bats continued to struggle. What will 2012 hold for NJ’s rare wildlife? While we can’t predict the future, we have thought about what we would like to happen to help these animals survive and hopefully thrive in our state.
This year, I have great hopes of laying all the groundwork (design, funding, pre-construction monitoring) for at least one road-culvert project that will protect migrating amphibians. Every spring we bring scores of volunteers onto the roads to reduce frog and salamander roadkills, but special “critter culverts” will take over that job permanently! – MacKenzie Hall, Wildlife Biologist
To secure the support of New Jersey’s Congressional Delegation for full funding for the federal State Wildlife Grants program that will allow for the continued implementation of the State’s Wildlife Action Plan – the blueprint for rare wildlife protection in our state. And, to get out in the field more to see the exciting projects that Conserve Wildlife Foundation staff are working on. – Margaret O’Gorman, Executive Director
To get Little Egg Harbor Twp to reduce the speed limit on Great Bay Blvd to help reduce the amount of female terrapins that are hit-by-car. – Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager
Despite the tremendous effort by CWF and the various management cooperators around the state, New Jersey’s piping plover population has only increased slightly the past two years. We have, however, had two good years in a row of producing young, so here’s hoping we finally see a significant jump in the breeding population in 2012! – Todd Pover, Beach Nesting Bird Project Manager
To complete a status review for NJ’s freshwater mussel species. – Mike Davenport, Marine Species and GIS Programs Manager.
To create a robust speakers bureau that can present programs throughout the state about the important work that we do. – Maria Grace, Education & Outreach Manager
Last summer both New Jersey and Delaware had rare occurrences of sea turtles nesting or attempting to nest on their beaches. In Stone Harbor, New Jersey this past August, a sea turtle crawled onto the beach and dug two holes in an attempt to nest in an area fenced off for beach nesting birds. Unfortunately, the sea turtle did not lay any eggs and eventually crawled back into the ocean. Although no one witnessed the event, the turtle left strong evidence behind – its tracks! CWFNJ’s Beach Nesting Bird Program Manager along with other agency biologists was at the scene to evaluate the tracks. Each sea turtle species has a different track pattern and leaves behind a different shape at their nesting site (their body pit). It was determined that it was likely a state endangered loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) that attempted to nest. (more…)
Figure 1: A diagram of how the hydraulic fracturing process works to extract natural gas
Many residents of New Jersey may have heard about hydraulic fracturing of the Marcellus Shale and the potential ecological impacts to the Delaware River Basin. The following provides an overview of the process of hydraulic fracturing and impacts to our natural resources in New Jersey.
The Marcellus Shale is sedimentary rock buried thousands of feet under the ground. It extends from upstate New York south through Pennsylvania and to West Virginia and west to parts of Ohio. The natural gas in the shale is trapped in tiny spaces and fissures within the rock.
Hydraulic fracturing or fracking uses high-pressure pumps to inject a mix of water, sand, and chemicals into drilled wells that will fracture the shale rock to open cracks and release natural gas (Figure 1). A well can be repeatedly fracked and each gas field incorporates many wells. The process takes an enormous amount of water using an average of 4.5 million gallons of water to frack a well and a well can potentially be fracked up to 18 times. Many chemicals are used in this process, some of which are known to be toxic and known carcinogens (e.g. benzene, glycol ethers). Some chemicals are unknown because they are still considered proprietary by the industry. Many of the chemicals cannot biodegrade so if released into the air or water they are there to stay. (more…)
Last year we installed or relocated a total of 17 osprey nesting platforms. This year we installed or moved another 21. In 2011 there were 25 new pairs, some of which, that nested on these new platforms. This year was another record setting year for ospreys in New Jersey. We recorded an average of 2.07 young per active nest, a new record. We last documented the size of population at 486 nesting pairs in 2009 when we conducted a statewide census. We now believe that the state population has met recovery goals (of more than 500 nesting pairs) that were set after DDT and habitat loss decimated the population by upwards of 90%. We aren’t the only organization who has helped with the recovery of ospreys. We credit the hard work of biologists with the Endangered and Nongame Species Program in the 1970-present who worked tirelessly to help the population rebound. To name a few, former Deputy Chief of ENSP, Pete McLain; former Director of NJFW, Marty McHugh; former Chief of ENSP Larry Niles, current Chief of ENSP, Dave Jenkins; current Director of NJFW, Dave Chanda; and Supervising Zoologist Kathy Clark who has worked to protect ospreys over her entire 20+ year career with ENSP.
We can also credit the recovery efforts to local environmental and water-quality improvements, like the Barnegat Bay Initiative and restoration of the Meadowlands, and by the grass-roots efforts by concerned citizens and groups who have helped provide nesting platforms to accommodate their population growth.
In the next week ENSP and CWF will be releasing the 2011 Osprey Project Newsletter which summarizes the entire nesting season survey results. In the meantime, check out the video below of myself and two friends who volunteered to help me move a nesting platform on southern Barnegat Bay in late 2010. note: I usually have more than 3 people who assist me when installing an osprey platform.As they say “the more, the merrier…”