Last Thursday, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) voted unanimously to establish a new Critical Wildlife Area (CWA) at Second Chance Sandbar in southwest Florida. The new CWA will close the bar to vessel landings during the beach-nesting bird season.
Second Chance is part of a shoal system south of Collier County’s Cape Romano. It has supported the region’s largest Least Tern colony in past years, as well as nesting Black Skimmers and Wilson’s Plovers. Least Terns and Black Skimmers are both state Threatened and Wilson’s Plovers are a declining species of growing conservation concern.
These ground-nesting birds are easily disturbed when beachgoers and their dogs approach too closely, flushing parents from eggs and chicks who can perish quickly in the hot sun, at the mercy of predators, or underfoot. Second Chance is so narrow that despite the best efforts of its manager, Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR), to post the nesting areas, there simply isn’t enough room on the upland to provide an adequate buffer for the birds.
Commissioner Liesa Priddy—a southwest Florida resident who has visited the site—was an impassioned advocate for passage. Commissioner Ron Bergeron also endorsed the protection, saying that he has fished this region since childhood and marveled at its bird wealth. Chairman Brian Yablonski told the Commissioners that there has only been one other CWA designation in the state in the last twenty years, but to look closely because “we’re going to be seeing more of these.”
Special thanks to Collier County Bird Steward and wildlife photographer Jean Hall for traveling 16 hours round-trip to the meeting in Panama City and to Bay County Audubon co-president Ron Houser for their testimonies on behalf of the designation.
But most of all, congratulations to the staff of Rookery Bay NERR, FWC, and Audubon, and the many volunteers who give their time to protect these special places. Because of your efforts, Second Chance CWA now has a real chance at success.