Beach volleyball players on Alabama island may have killed hundreds of unhatched birds

They probably killed hundreds of unhatched tern eggs on island off of Alabama.

August 7, 2018, 8:48 PM
PHOTO: A young, flightless Least Tern chick is pictured on July 23, 2018.
A young, flightless Least Tern chick is pictured on July 23, 2018.
Katie Barnes/Birmingham Audubon

Beach volleyball players may have killed hundreds of unhatched birds on a small island off Alabama, according to conservation group Birmingham Audubon.

Federally protected birds in the area called terns were impacted by boaters and beachgoers that were utilizing Sand Island for fun, according to Katie Barnes, chief biologist for Birmingham Audubon’s Coastal Program.

Andrew Haffenden, who was conducting a bird survey for Birmingham Audubon, spotted 17 boats on the Fourth of July in the area and on the beach was where he found the piles of eggs.

“I’d seen swirls of birds out there... and then on Fourth of July weekend, I counted 17 boats out there on that island, so I was pretty disturbed,” Haffenden told The Associated Press. “I had been wanting to get out there, and looking through my scope, I could see the volleyball net and the tents.”

PHOTO: An adult Least Tern is pictured tending to a newly hatched chick on July 23, 2018.
An adult Least Tern is pictured tending to a newly hatched chick on July 23, 2018.
Katie Barnes/Birmingham Audubon

Barnes told ABC News the volleyball players likely "moved the eggs out of the area so that they could play” on the beach.

“There was a pile of 26 eggs that were moved out of the area where the volleyball court was [located],” she said.

“They had created a little sand dome," Barnes said. "They were decorating the little domes that they were making out of the sand -- playing in the sand with the eggs and drawing circles around the eggs with either sticks or fingers."

PHOTO: Beach volleyball players on Sand Island, Ala. probably killed hundreds of unhatched birds, moving eggs to make room for their playing court and scaring adult birds from nests.
Beach volleyball players on Sand Island, Ala. probably killed hundreds of unhatched birds, moving eggs to make room for their playing court and scaring adult birds from nests.
Katie Barnes/Birmingham Audubon/AP

Barnes’s group responded to the damage immediately by putting up a fence on Sand Island to inform beachgoers of the damage they could do to the birds in the area.

PHOTO: Beach volleyball players on Sand Island, Ala. probably killed hundreds of unhatched birds, moving eggs to make room for their playing court and scaring adult birds from nests.
Beach volleyball players on Sand Island, Ala. probably killed hundreds of unhatched birds, moving eggs to make room for their playing court and scaring adult birds from nests.
Andrew Haffendon/Birmingham Audubon/AP

“[There's] at least an average of two eggs per nest -- that’s a lot of chicks that are supposed to be coming out of that colony and we've only confirmed an estimated 85 fledgling since we've put up the fencing,” Barnes said.

“It’s still very important to get the educational message out to beachgoers, to locals and people around the world that these birds are very sensitive to disturbance[s] and we should respect their space and allow them to have an area to nest," she explained.

PHOTO: Wildlife officials say beach volleyball players on the small island off Alabama probably killed hundreds of unhatched birds, moving eggs to make room for their playing court and scaring adult birds from nests, July 10, 2018.
Wildlife officials say beach volleyball players on the small island off Alabama probably killed hundreds of unhatched birds, moving eggs to make room for their playing court and scaring adult birds from nests, July 10, 2018.
Andrew Haffendon/Birmingham Audubon via AP

“It is a big loss for a season but the birds can have a better season next year and recover their regional population,” Barnes said. “It is alarming and a tragedy to see that people would do this to a colony of that size.”

Sarah Randolph, the outreach and communications director of Audubon, told ABC News that she hopes this incident will be an "educational message for people” to help them understand the importance of protecting birds.

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