Restoring Habitat Where Land Meets the Sea
Maryland’s coastline is surprisingly lengthy for such a small state, due to the numerous tidal tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay and the jagged shoreline of the Coastal Bays. The coastal zone is home to a unique array of bird species, each highly specialized to live where land meets the sea. The tidal salt marshes of the Chesapeake Bay and the Coastal Bays are among the most extensive on the Atlantic coast and support a number of secretive birds found in no other habitat, including Saltmarsh Sparrow, Seaside Sparrow and Clapper Rail. The coast is also home to conspicuous and familiar seabirds, like Common Terns, Royal Terns, Black Skimmers and Brown Pelicans, which nest in large colonies on remote sandy beaches and islands to avoid the attention of predators.
Unfortunately, Maryland’s salt marsh landscapes and bay islands are facing existential threats that make our coastal zone the most urgent priority for bird conservation in the state. Accelerating rates of sea level rise, driven by climate change, threaten to inundate virtually all of today’s salt marshes by the year 2100. The Saltmarsh Sparrow is already rapidly disappearing as marshes flood, and could face extinction by mid-century. In both the Chesapeake and Coastal Bays, rising sea levels and other factors are eroding islands with astonishing speed, and colonial seabirds are losing many of their nesting sites. Royal Terns have declined more than 95% in the past two decades and Black Skimmers have stopped nesting in the state altogether.
In response to these threats, Audubon is expanding its work on coastal resilience and stewardship across Maryland. In the saltmarshes, we focus on developing innovative techniques for rebuilding subsiding marshes to restore habitat for imperiled birds. To safeguard and recover populations of colonial seabirds, the priority is on rebuilding eroded islands at former colony sites and providing artificial nesting sites as an interim measure. Both of these conservation programs depend on enduring partnerships with a wide variety of state and federal agencies, and other environmental organizations and stakeholders.
Iconic species of terns and skimmers depend on critical nesting habitat like the islands within the Maryland Coastal Bays near Ocean City and Assateague Island. But many of these island-nesting birds are experiencing a serious decline due to erosion, disturbance, and predation.