- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 25, 2015

GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) - The Harrison County Sand Beach Authority expects to compete this week some newly protected nesting areas just in time for the least terns annual trip to the Mississippi Coast.

The project cost about $19,000. Funds came from a Mississippi Department of Marine Resources tidelands grant.

Authority director Chuck Loftis tells The Sun Herald (https://bit.ly/1xvkYen ) workers are installing about 6,000 feet of fence along the beach to create two secure nesting areas for the birds.

Sarah Pacyna, program director of the Audubon Mississippi Coastal Bird Stewardship Office, said least terns migrate from South America to Mississippi in mid-April and stay until mid-August.

“They depend on the Mississippi Gulf Coast for breeding and nesting,” Pacyna said. “The beach in Mississippi, stretching from Biloxi to Pass Christian, is a hotspot for the terns.”

Pacyna and other biologists with the Audubon Society will use decoys to attract the terns into the cordoned sanctuaries.

The 4-foot-high wooden fences are designed to allow the terns to nest without any sort of human disturbances, though the birds will still face some dangers.

Tern populations are dwindling and becoming endangered, Pacyna said, largely due to the impact Mississippi beachgoers are having on the birds’ breeding grounds.

She said dog owners are the largest threats to the least tern because the eggs become canine snacks when dogs wander without a leash.

Even dog walkers who use a leash but allow their animals near the nesting areas will frighten the parent terns, she said, forcing them to abandon their young.

“Give them their space,” Pacyna said. “They’re just here for a short period of time, asking to share the beach with you. Their numbers are dwindling. We just want to give them a fighting chance for survival.”

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Information from: The Sun Herald, https://www.sunherald.com


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