(Washington, D.C., February 14, 2020) The Commonwealth of Virginia has announced plans to help waterbirds displaced by construction on Hampton Roads’ South Island, which has been used by more than 20,000 birds as annual breeding habitat since the 1980s. American Bird Conservancy (ABC) applauds Governor Ralph Northam and the Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources for their emergency measures, which include the creation of alternative breeding habitat for this critically important waterbird colony.
First, ABC is extremely grateful to the administration for proposing a set of measures designed to help migratory birds both in Hampton Roads and across Virginia. In particular, Virginia’s steps to create a new regulation to protect migratory birds from future industrial development will position the Commonwealth as a leader in bird conservation at a time when federal regulations to protect birds are being weakened.
Second, ABC welcomes the following package of specific measures designed to help Hampton Roads’ waterbird colony, which is the Commonwealth’s largest and includes many declining species:
- The creation of breeding habitat at nearby Rip Raps Island (formerly known as Fort Wool) and potentially on artificial barges, which is equivalent to the area currently being utilized by terns (Common, Gull-billed, Sandwich, and Royal) on South Island; and a plan to attract the birds to the new habitat and to control predators.
- The development of a plan to carefully discourage birds from attempting to nest on South Island this spring, since paving and construction activities will render the habitat unsuitable. Instead, the Commonwealth will encourage the birds to move to the newly created nesting habitat at Rip Raps Island.
- A commitment to restore habitat on South Island post-construction to allow birds to return to nest there.
- Plans to create an additional, alternate nesting island in the longer-term, which taken together with the other alternative breeding habitats created will represent a net gain for overall bird habitat in the area.
“We’re optimistic that this plan will effectively provide immediate habitat for the birds to save the 2020 nesting season, as well as a net gain of habitat in the longer term,” said Mike Parr, President of American Bird Conservancy. “Many individuals and groups have participated in the effort to help the Hampton Roads bird colony. We’re grateful for their concern and support, and we look forward to continuing our work with the Commonwealth and other public and private partners to further benefit waterbirds nesting in Virginia and elsewhere.”