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Gulf Guardian Award Winners 2003

Civic/Nonprofit Organization - 2nd Place

Project #: GG-03-27
Company: Audubon of Florida, Miami, FL
Project Name: Protection and Management of Coastal Bird Colonies in West-Central Florida
Category: Civic/Nonprofit Organization
Project Type: Habitat
Average Rating: 16.0

In 1934 the National Audubon Society launched the Tampa Bay Sanctuaries program to protect remnant bird colonies that were annually plundered by humans for food and feathers. Over the next 20 years populations recovered, and one colony -- Alafia Bank, in Hillsborough Bay -- was recognized as the largest in the US. During the 1960s and 1970s, some species began to decline in response to urbanization and habitat loss, but diversity actually increased as five new species entered the local breeding fauna. By 1981, the sanctuary program included ten islands and about 14,000 nesting pairs of birds of 17 species.
In subsequent years it became obvious that with human population growth continuing at a rapid pace, Audubon needed to expand efforts to protect birds and their habitats in the Tampa Bay area. In the last decade, the program has been greatly expanded to include nesting colonies from Tarpon Springs to Sarasota, and occasionally beyond. In 2002, 86 colonies were surveyed, totaling just over 50,000 breeding pairs of 30 species. This is possibly the largest and most diverse population of colonial waterbirds in Florida, outside of the Everglades.
Audubon believes that it is essential that 1) populations be monitored to track trends and evaluate factors affecting these species and 2) important colonies be protected, if the long-term future of these birds is to be ensured. Although all the species are legally protected, and some colonies are designated wildlife sanctuaries or refuges, a sustained presence at the colonies, as with signs and coordinated educational efforts, is vital to reduce disturbance and allow for successful reproduction on nesting colonies. Regular monitoring allows the discovery of problems and therefore prompt response.

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