HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Perhaps, you have seen them scurrying along the beach, scampering just beyond reach of the incoming tide.
While these sanderlings adroitly escape encroaching waves at Boca Chica beach, shorebirds are struggling to evade myriad threats throughout their perilous migratory journey.
Surveys indicate an alarming decline among many shorebird species due primarily to human disturbance and habitat destruction.
Along the beach and tidal wetlands at Boca Chica in southernmost Texas, threatened Piping plover are vanishing at an astonishing rate.
Stephanie Bilodeau, Coastal Bird Conservation Biologist with the Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program, has been tracking shore birds with her colleagues for the past five years at Boca Chica, and researchers have documented plover population’s plummeting.
“It has declined from around 300 birds in 2018 when we first started doing our piping plover survey to closer to a 150 individuals this past year in 2021,” said Bilodeau.
The stocky little 5-7 inch long birds have been migrating some 1,500 miles from their breeding grounds in the Great Plains to spend the winter in deep South Texas for millennia.
However, these shorebirds vital winter sanctuary at Boca Chica has suffered tremendous disturbance in recent years.
Bilodeau said, “The timing of it definitely does correlate with the increase in activity with the SpaceX launch site out there and the increase in construction and testing and everything.”
The Federal Aviation Administration is scheduled to release a final review on March 28 of SpaceX’s Starship rocket project at Boca Chica.
Previous launches and landing failures have caused massive disturbances, and with a proposed launch at a 10 fold increase, the potential for damage is vastly increased.
Many concerned citizens, including the American Bird Conservancy, are requesting a comprehensive environmental impact statement and are circulating a petition requesting SpaceX’s ever expanding operation be fully evaluated for negative impacts on wildlife with particular emphasis on the 54% drop in the Piping plover population.