Mild winter causes water birds to nest early

A brown pelican chick screeches while sitting on a nest on Chester Island. More than 4,000 nesting pairs of brown pelicans were counted during the bird census conducted in May 2016. The first bird nests on the island usually appear in March, but this year they began appearing in February.

The National Audubon Society is proposing between $10 million and $40 million be used to create barrier islands in Matagorda Bay and another $820,000 be used to increase the size of Chester Island.

The projects were among 30 the nonprofit released in a report Tuesday, saying they will conserve bird habitat using money from an environmental court settlement.

On April 20, 2010, British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, gushing oil for 87 days. It killed not only people on board the rig but also nearly a million birds who called the Gulf Coast home all or part of the year, prompting a lawsuit and a $20.8 billion settlement.

“Here we are nearly nine years after the spill and restoration efforts are just ramping up,” said Kara Lankford, Audubon’s director of Gulf Coast restoration.

Specifically, Audubon’s proposal calls for 35 acres of islands to be created in Matagorda Bay over two to three years and 85 acres to be added to Chester Island over two years.

It is proposing 16 state-based projects, 10 region-based projects and 4 open-ocean projects that will cost $1.7 billion.

Lankford said Audubon will have to pitch these projects to both state and federal agencies overseeing the allocation of funds, including the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association, the U.S. Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which will release some of the settlement funds at different times over a 15-year period.

“As those opportunities become available, we will present our projects,” she said.

In coming up with its projects, Audubon focused on 11 species of birds it says serve as a barometer for the health of the Gulf Coast, including the black skimmer, snowy plover, clapper rail, red knot, least tern, piping plover, brown pelican, western sandpiper, American oystercatcher, semipalmated sandpiper and reddish egret.

The islands Audubon proposes creating in Matagorda Bay will host some of them, as will an increased Chester Island.

Matagorda Bay had barrier islands, but they’ve eroded, as has Chester Island. Chester Island was constructed in 1963 with sediment dredged from the Matagorda Ship Channel.

Jessica Priest reports on the environment and Calhoun County for the Victoria Advocate. She may be reached at jpriest@vicad.com or 361-580-6521.

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Environment/Investigations Reporter

Jessica Priest has done a little bit of everything since moving to Victoria in 2012. She was a regular fixture in the Crossroads’ historic courthouses, but now slathers on the sunscreen to report on the environment.

(4) comments

Michael ALLEN

They propose spending $1.7 billion on birds after we just read last week about our homeless problem. I guess we all have priorities.

Martin Strarup

Chester Island? It's been Bird Island since it was built with spoils from the ship channel. When was it renamed, does anyone know and why?

jpriest Staff
Jessica Priest

Hello Martin, the island was renamed to honor its longtime warden, Chester Smith, who passed away a few years ago. His daughter and son-in-law take care of the island now. The island is also known to some as Sundown Island. Thank you for reading!

Martin Strarup

Thank you Jessica. I do remember now the story in the Advocate about that but I had forgotten. I appreciate the reminder.

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