Cumberland and Cape May Counties, NJ – December 5, 2011 – A national panel of experts have confirmed that the Delaware Bayshore meets the criteria for status as a Globally Significant Important Bird Area (IBA).
New Jersey Audubon (NJA) and the National Audubon Society worked together to submit the data and secure the designation. The IBA program is a global effort to identify the areas most important to birds and focus conservation efforts to those areas where they will have the greatest effect.
To achieve the “Globally Significant” labeI, NJA and National Audubon submitted years of annual shorebird and waterfowl survey data to a panel of nationally and internationally recognized experts. The panel found that four species were present in numbers that met or exceeded the quota required to trigger the “Globally Significant” designation: The Bayshore is a crucial stopover site for migrating Red Knots and Ruddy Turnstones, and provides critical winter habitat for large concentrations of Snow Geese and American Black Ducks. The survey data was collected in annual surveys by wildlife biologists from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP).
This map illustrates the newly designated Delaware Bayshore Important Bird Area of Global Significance in red
Stretching along approximately 50 miles of coastline, from Fairfield Township in Cumberland County to Cape May Point in Cape May County, the Delaware Bayshore IBA includes about 50,000 acres, much of which is protected conservation land, including 13 state Wildlife Management Areas and the Cape May National Wildlife Refuge.
“We’re very pleased to have secured this designation,” said Tom Gilmore, President and CEO of New Jersey Audubon. “Over the past 30 years, NJA has directed some of our strongest research, education and conservation efforts to this area. Our effectiveness has been compounded by creating strong partnerships with public and private landowners and other conservation organizations. By working together we have been able to protect a globally significant resource through local efforts."
“With this recognition the Delaware Bayshore has joined an elite network of sites; there are currently only 449 Globally Significant IBAs in the U.S.,” said John Cecil, Director of the Important Bird Areas Program at the National Audubon Society. “Prioritizing sites using Global IBA criteria helps the conservation community to direct very limited resources to the places harboring the most significant bird populations, facing the greatest threats or having significant management needs. This recognition will raise the awareness of the Delaware Bayshore’s importance, not just locally, but throughout the western hemisphere and the world, facilitating conservation of critical sites for these birds species where they nest, migrate through, and winter.”
”This designation will help not only Red Knots and Ruddy Turnstones, but several other shorebird species of special concern like Semipalmated Sandpipers and Sanderlings,” added Dr. David Mizrahi, Vice-President of Research and Monitoring at New Jersey Audubon. “All of these shorebird species rely on the resources of Delaware Bay during their migration north to the breeding grounds. The tens of thousands of migratory birds of prey and millions of songbirds that use Delaware Bay habitats during migration will also benefit greatly from this very important designation."
Awareness of the Delaware Bayshore’s importance began to grow in 1982, when staff at the New Jersey Audubon Society began the first aerial shorebird surveys to quantify the number and species of shorebirds using the Bayshore. These aerial surveys were later assumed by the state Division of Fish and Wildlife, which has performed them annually since 1986. The state also performs the annual winter waterfowl surveys that led to the inclusion of American Black Ducks and Snow Geese in the “Globally Significant” designation.
"The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has long recognized the global importance of Delaware Bay for many types of birds, from shorebirds to waterfowl. That is one key reason this area has long been targeted as the site of many of our wildlife management areas,'' said Dave Chanda, Director of the DEP's Division of Fish and Wildlife. Bayshore Wildlife Management Areas include Dennis Creek, Egg Island, Fortescue, Heislerville, Higbee Beach, Nantunxent, and New Sweden. The DEP’s Division of Parks and Forestry owns several tracts in the IBA as well.
Of the four species named in the Globally Significant announcement, the plight of the Red Knot and Ruddy Turnstone is the best known and lends a bittersweet note to the designation. While recent surveys show significant numbers of birds refueling at the Bayshore during spring migration (12,000 to 16,000 Red Knots and 17,000 to 37,000 Ruddy Turnstones), they are lower than numbers of 95,000 Red Knots and 80,000 Turnstones recorded in the early aerial surveys. A precipitous decline in these populations began in the mid-1980s, when horseshoe crab harvesting rose dramatically for use as bait. The horseshoe crabs’ eggs are essential food that allows these long-distance migrants to make it to their summer arctic nesting grounds to breed.
In March 2008, New Jersey Audubon and significant partners secured a ban on the commercial harvest of horseshoe crabs for bait until the Red Knot recovers in sufficient numbers. Currently the Red Knot is a candidate for the Endangered Species List.
Dr. Larry Niles with the Conserve Wildlife Foundation is one of the chief biologists who has mobilized bird research and called attention to the value of conservation in the Bayshore over the years. “The Globally Significant designation raises the profile of the Delaware Bayshore to the national and international level,” said Niles. “It’s a special place with global conservation value. Raising the visibility of the area to this level will help support local efforts to take care of this region in a way that benefits the community and the wildlife.”