Building an Island for Sea Birds

Oct 16, 2019

The Port of Virginia is set to begin dredging to create the deepest shipping center on the East Coast.  The $350 million project has caught the attention of bird lovers who want to use excess sand and mud to create new habitat for species displaced by the Hampton Roads Bridge and Tunnel expansion. 

Royal terns flock to an island near the Hampton Roads bridge and tunnel complex.
Credit Virginia Tech

Bird lovers warn that about 25,000 terns and gulls will be displaced from their traditional nesting grounds as the state prepares to add new tunnels and wider roads along its east coast.  That’s why Steve Holmer at the American Bird Conservancy is calling on the state to build a new island offshore – a site that raccoons and foxes can’t reach.

“If you get even a few predators in these colonies, they can literally wipe out the whole thing," he says.  "It’s really important that they have an island where they can be safe and protected.”

Islands have been built around dredge sites in North Carolina and on the Gulf Coast – and with Virginia planning to dredge its port in January, there should be plenty of sand and mud for building.  The state has said it’s not necessary now that the Trump Administration is choosing not to enforce the Migratory Bird Treaty, but Holmer says that’s no excuse.

“We have a responsibility to mitigate for things that we can fix,” Holmer argues.

Bird experts hope to meet with the Secretary of Virginia’s Department of Transportation later this month.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.