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A Unique Home for Tampa Bay Birds

By: Kyle Grammatica

Chris Cooley’s job is for the birds, literally! As the Director of Environmental Affairs for Port Tampa Bay, Cooley works to ensure the port and its tenants do not harm the Bay’s ecosystem, with a special focus on protecting migratory birds and their nesting habitat. With Cooley’s help, the port contributed to a greatly successful 2020 nesting season in Tampa Bay.

Tampa Bay is naturally shallow, averaging about 12 feet deep, but shipping channels for modern-day boats are between 40 and 50 feet deep. For the port to operate, a 41-mile-long channel had to be created from the Gulf of Mexico to downtown Tampa. To create such a massive channel, a lot of material had to be dredged, especially after storms move sand back into the channel. With all this dredging, the materials have to live somewhere. Enter spoil islands, the accumulation of soil and sand left in an area after dredging. Tampa Bay has two large spoil islands named 2D and 3D, each about 500 acres in size. The spoil islands create a sandy beach habitat and have become some of the top bird-nesting sites in the country.

Bird nesting season runs from April to August, and to prevent the disturbance of birds during this vulnerable time, the port partnered with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Audubon Florida, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to create a migratory bird protection plan.

“Basically, we take extensive precautions to make sure we’re not disturbing the birds during nesting season,” Cooley said. “So, for five months we basically shut the islands down. We try to schedule all of our dredging outside of bird-nesting season. Also, there’s no access to the public. It’s off-limits to beachgoers. We post “no trespassing” signs and put notes on there that it’s a special bird-nesting habitat area and also an active port facility.”

So far, the protection plan seems to be working, and the prime nesting sites continue to be used year after year.

At the Foundation, we work to conserve all of Florida’s wildlife, including our migratory nesting birds. Protect our native species and their habitat by donating here!

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