Conserve Wildlife Blog

A New Island for Birds Emerges Along the New Jersey Coast

April 15th, 2022

By Todd Pover, Senior Wildlife Biologist

Photo Courtesy of NJ Fish and Wildlife

Something unusual and exciting has happened just off the coast of New Jersey; a new island that has become a haven for birds has formed. Located on the southern edge of the Little Egg Inlet, the island is about 1000 feet offshore of Little Beach Island, a Unit of the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge). Of course, it didn’t form overnight, an emergent shoal has been noted in that location since about 2018, and it has slowly been growing, likely as a result of the longshore drift of sand from Long Beach Island. The island, dubbed Horseshoe Island because of its distinctive shape, provides incredibly valuable habitat for nesting and migratory birds, including many at-risk species.

Field biologists from the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey (CWF) had been eyeing the offshore “sand bar” with their scopes and binoculars for signs of bird activity over the past three years while they were monitoring beach nesting bird sites on nearby Refuge lands. Shorebirds were observed during low tides, but it wasn’t until last spring (2021) that it appeared the island’s elevation was high enough during all tide cycles to support nesting birds. From a distance, American oystercatchers were regularly spied in early spring suggesting they might be nesting, and so in May the CWF crew boated out to get an up-close look. On that initial trip they found several oystercatcher nests, even some hatched chicks, as well as signs of terns prospecting to nest. Most surprising of all was the large size of the island – estimated at about 100 acres at high tide –  which wasn’t apparent from views from the mainland.

No sooner was nesting documented at Horseshoe Island than a strong nor’easter swept along the entire Northeast Atlantic Coast over Memorial Day weekend, flooding most beach nesting bird nests along its path. There were fears it may have swept the island away as well, but once the weather settled, CWF staff were able to get out  to find that not only had the island survived, but that new colonies of terns and black skimmers had arrived. Biologists from NJ Fish and Wildlife – Endangered and Nongame Species Program (ENSP) regularly monitored the island for the rest of the summer. Reducing human disturbance was important so they posted portions of the site to alert the public that birds needed protection.

In its maiden nesting year, the island’s bird tallies were quite spectacular, including the presence of New Jersey’s largest least tern colony (470 adults). The island was also home to one of just a few black skimmer colonies in the state. In addition to both of those state endangered species, common and royal terns nested at the site, including the northernmost colony of royal terns in the Western Hemisphere. Piping plovers and red knots – both federally threatened and state endangered species – also used the island. In addition to all of this breeding, the site hosted a multitude of other seabirds and shorebirds that used the area for resting and foraging.

Not surprisingly, as quickly as birds discovered the island, boaters also made their way to the site as the summer progressed last year. With the densest human population and one of the most developed coastlines in the nation,  finding highly suitable and undisturbed habitat for coastal birds in New Jersey is incredibly difficult. It is nearly unprecedented that a new site could develop like Horseshoe Island: an undisturbed, predator-free habitat for rare birds.

To ensure this new site remained the haven for birds that it was in 2021, the ENSP and Refuge petitioned the state’s Tidelands Resource Council (Council) for joint management rights of the island. The Council approved a plan that allows the agencies to close the island to public use from March 1 to September 30 each year – the most critical time for nesting and migratory shorebirds – for the next five years. As a result, people are not allowed on the island, nor are boat or personal watercraft landings permitted during the restricted period.

Staff from the state and CWF (acting on behalf of the Refuge) have already begun preliminary monitoring of bird usage at the site, as well as posting for the public closure. In additional to frequent biological monitoring, the site will be patrolled to monitor unauthorized public usage and the agencies will conduct outreach about the purpose of the closure. Although managing and monitoring an offshore island in a dynamic coastal environment presents numerous logistical challenges, staff at the ENSP, Refuge, and CWF are excited about the opportunity to secure a safe future for wildlife using the site.

For more information about the island and its management, read the Horseshoe Island Management Plan here.

22 Responses to “A New Island for Birds Emerges Along the New Jersey Coast”

  1. Michael Gremling says:

    Not cool. You are taking away a boaters destination. Birds lived just fine before this sandbar formed. There is no reason cohabitation can’t take place. This sandbar is huge! It’s not an island!

    As well, all the money going to be spent to patrol and monitor when one good hurricane could wipe this out and move it a half mile away. It’s been moving around that inlet forever.

    The same area 12 years ago was a small bar. Two years later it was huge and the following year it was gone… STOP THE NONSENSE. I have plenty of pictures to prove this. The whole extension of Brigantine and Holgate house well more than enough space for the birds to flourish. And that is exactly what they have been doing for centuries.

    Maybe spend your energies figuring out how to not waste all that Sandy replenishment sand that just floated away and filled up the Little Egg inlet? Just another bunch of over zealous liberals trying to control everything.

  2. Michael says:

    Good day,

    Is there any way to petition this decision? When had the public input meetings been held before the vote on these new restrictions? Use of the island is one of the only recreational spaces not affected by crabs and other underwater sea creatures. In the pdf there is a references to “a variety of other ways to enjoy the coastal environment.” I find this insulting and minimizing the actual public importance of this unique and wonderful space.

    Additionally the implemention of a “5 year period” is rather comical as we all know this restriction will not be lifted as long as the island is present.

    Thank you.

  3. Angelo Juliano says:

    This is great news.

  4. Angelo Juliano says:

    This is great news. Can I pull up to the Sandbar since there is no sea grass or live vegetation growing?

  5. Frank Fehn says:

    This is incredible, I certainly hope they allow it to be open to the public and not put up restraining orders that take away one more aspect of our ability to observe nature and enjoy our New Jersey location

  6. Rocco J. Saraullo Jr. says:

    You can be sure I WILL NO LONGER donate to your organization. This is absurd.

  7. Richard Fairhurst says:

    Shutting down the entire island is not necessary. We the boaters usually anchor up on the West side and the birds are usually nesting on the East side. All the surrounding areas are also closed down for birds. I would accept shutting down half of it while letting the boaters use the other half. Closing the entire sand bar from anyone going on it should not be allowed. Completely disagree with this decision and it should be overruled. Or at least open up another beach if your going to close this one.

  8. John J. Simmons says:

    This is liberal bullshit ! Liberals want to control everything … anything that appeases their emotions . Bad decision on your restrictive policy on this so called new natural Island . Why ?? Storms and nature will change it again .There is a reason beaches are the widest in the southern tier of New Jersey . Sands by nature shift North to south on a peninsula therefore the beaches on its southern tier will always be the widest . Hence why Wildwood has the widest beach’s regardless of your restrictive policy . Beach replenishment is also a joke for that very reason . Please keep your liberal policy in check bc you don’t know what your talking about .

  9. Steve Martinovitch says:

    This article is not totally true. We have been going to this SANDBAR for years and now all of the sudden it’s a sanctuary. This is typical for NJ. Where where the public hearings on this issue.

  10. Douglas Venturo says:

    This is a popular and tranquil place for boaters, and especially children. My grand children are always so excited to spend time here! Always clean and well respected by all. I agree this is a blindsiding to our rights to enjoy this wonderful sand bar! There is plenty of natural habitat on Poulan Island and Holgate that gets restricted from the public and no need to take this location from us. Put our tax dollars to work elsewhere for many needed causes in our state. This decision needs to be challenged and reversed now. One great habitat for NJ Residents who should have more rights than birds. Whats next “ no boating in the bay”? Close the other sand bars to boaters? The limited beach area available to boaters does not disturb any birds!! Keep the waters edge area open to the public it has greater value to the people who get to enjoy this nature made human sanctuary.

  11. James P says:

    When I was about three or four my dad would rent a boat at one of the boat basins in Holgate and take me clamming down on Tuckers island. At that time the Island would only appear at low tide. I would do more treasure hunting than clamming, but Dad always found plenty.. The only treasure I found was rounded over cement blocks maybe from the lighthouse that fell into the ocean years before. Is this new Island in the same area as Tuckers Island? I am now 71, so this happened long ago.

  12. Vincent D'Angelo says:

    Unfair. Last year half the island had signs for to people to stay away from certain areas. Let the bird do their thing and the people do their thing. It’s working. There’s plenty of room for everyone. Let everyone have some fun.

  13. Dan Gabs says:

    What a waste of time. Birds have plenty of space to nest along the Jersey coast. I agree you have to stop this nosence. This has been a boating destination before the birds. It’s a sandbar and not a island.

  14. Toni says:

    This is great news and I hope it stays protected!

  15. Joy Becker says:

    Why do boaters think that their recreation is more important than the protection of endangered species dudes get a grip and boat elsewhere. Seriously what is wrong with you people.

  16. Frank says:

    Humans don’t need to occupy every square inch of the planet. Feds/State please keep the humans off, they have plenty of other places that are already screwed up to inhabit.

  17. As much as I love birds, this is a sandbar, not a permanent home. There are already protected areas in Forsythe, Holgate and Brigantine that are permanent, roped off to restrict disturbance from motor vehicles. Just government overreach to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.

    If a ship wrecked, and had a structure above waterline, would it be designated as protected if a few birds landed? That’s where you are heading with this.

  18. Beth Kovacs says:

    Fascinating! Great news! Keep the boats out, give the birds a chance.

  19. Capt. Johnny D says:

    My family and I have been visiting this island since it was a sandbar only visible at low tide for decades. We dubbed it Patty Island after my mother. LBI’s beach replenishment program has filled Little Egg Inlet with so much sand that it is no longer considered a navigable inlet and has diminished its fishery. The movement of sand caused the island to grow steadily since Hurricane Sandy. The migratory birds that frequent Patty Island are not disturbed by the presence of humans, and the birds also have Holgate and Brigantine to call home.

    The growth of Patty Island is the only good thing to come to Little Egg Inlet since the beach replenishment program because residents from surrounding towns enjoy visiting the island. Many people, myself included, have enjoyed surfing, fishing, and swimming on this island without disturbing its natural beauty or the birds. We were on Patty Island before the birds, and it was Patty Island before it was an Island. This is a perfect opportunity to allow humans and migratory birds to share this blunder of nature (caused by the beach replenishment). I am a conservationist, and I abide by the rules and regulations set forth to protect the wildlife, but this island does not belong to LBI or Brigantine. It belongs to the waters of Little Egg Inlet and all the creatures that frequent its waters. Including humans. The CWF should not restrict our recreational use of Patty Island.   

    We should be able to reach a compromise.
    From what I recall most of the boats favor the west end and anchorage side of the island. Other wise known as Patty harbor. The birds favor the dunes and eastern shore. The state could incorporate Patty island into the state park system and they could police the area with similar rules and regulations as island beach state park. Another idea is would be to consider it a wild life management area so that fish and game can regulate the eastern shore/dune bird sanctuary.

    My family intend to start a coalition to save Patty Island. We will be researching how to preserve our right to visit the island while protecting its migratory birds. We will make the public aware of the next steps we can take after we speak with an environmental lawyer.

  20. Capt. Logic says:

    Not a liberal, but animal protection ain’t a liberal policy. And those that think that will just throw that word around as an insult without knowing anything behind it.

    As a boater, good for the birds. I’ve learned that in New York, only about 2 Plover chicks ever made it out being critically endangered because of things like habitat loss. That includes things like dogs and loud drones making them so scared that they abandoned their nests.

    I’m fine with them having this. We should be stewards with the gift God has given us. Don’t be selfish.

  21. Denise Maillet says:

    Great news! So few places are set aside for nature to do its thing without all the human disturbance that we see everywhere. There are plenty of other places to go boating for us humans.