Meeting to keep boaters away from birds

New buffer zone may be coming to Bird Island

MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. - This time of year, there are your snowbirds and then your real snowbirds. But in one place along the Treasure Coast, the feathered kind are suffering when they interact with the human kind. So,  Martin County wants to create some more distance between the two.

A mile south of the Stuart Causeway is Bird Island.

This 2-acre spit of land hosts hundreds of threatened and endangered nesting birds each year. Wood storks, herons, even spoonbills began nesting recently.
"It's really one of the most important nesting sites in all of South Florida, said Assistant Biologist Carol Rizkalla with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Last year, a new rock reef structure was built to protect the island from erosion.
"It was very hard logistically due to trying to protect the birds and not impact them," said Martin County Environmental Resources Specialist Michael Yustin.
But county environmentalists say its human activity on top of mother nature that threatens these birds.

When boaters or fishermen get close, the birds fly off, often leaving chicks or eggs behind.
"That opens up those birds or chicks to predation. We could possibly lose those young birds," said Yustin.
What the county wants to do is ask the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to designate Bird Island as a Critical Wildlife Area. There are 22 of them throughout the state. What it would mean is that a 150-foot buffer would be established. Right now there are signs asking boaters to stay back.
"But if someone goes behind the signs and chooses to go on the island, there's nothing we can do then ask them politely to leave," added Rizkalla with the FWC.
If you'd like more information on the proposal to make Bird Island a Critical Wildlife area, there's a public hearing Tuesday at the Blake Library in Stuart. It runs from 5-7 p.m.

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