While there was great concern that the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe would have significant impacts on wildlife that rely on the national seashores that line the Gulf of Mexico, there seems to have been little effects on nesting black skimmers at Gulf Islands National Seashore.
According to seashore officials, West Ship Island’s colony of nesting black skimmers and gull-billed terns had a successful year with normal numbers of fledglings. When the beach was contaminated by oil, officials and biologists feared it would lead to fatalities among the hatchlings, they add, but note that though some chicks have been found to have small amounts of oil on them, they appear to be thriving.
According to Wendy Crouse, the National Park Service biological science technician monitoring the colony, a few chicks were found with oil on them and three from the West Ship Island colony were sent to a recovery center. She said the nest area on West Ship Island is the best habitat within Gulf Islands National Seashore for these birds. This is largely due to the lack of raccoons, which prey on eggs and chicks, and the expanse of open areas and dunes available to nesting birds.
The nesting areas are marked by signs and flagging and clean-up crews have worked carefully around them so incubating birds are not disturbed and the surrounding habitat is clean when the chicks leave the nest. Barring a significant reintroduction of oil by the tide, having a near normal success rate of reproduction by these beautiful shore birds is a hopeful sign.