Rising Seas Endanger Long Island Shore Bird Habitats | Newsday

Salt marsh at Seatuck National Wildlife Refuge on Long Island. Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Javier Lloret, a research scientist in the MBL Ecosystems Center, is quoted in this article.

Saltmarsh sparrows build their tiny nests in the dense grasses of the marsh and hide them so well that Nicole Maher, who has been studying coastal wetlands and their inhabitants for nearly 20 years, has never spotted one on her own.

The sparrows are endemic to the marshes on the East Coast — they exist nowhere else in the world. But those habitats and the birds that depend on them are quickly disappearing, in part due to the effects of a heating planet, according to experts.

As seas rise, the salt marshes, already just fragments of the great expanses of wetlands that once fringed the shorelines, are becoming inundated by higher tides and storm surges, which are flooding out the sparrows’ nests.

“With the loss of high marsh habitat and increased rate of flooding of our coastal marshes, these birds’ numbers are going down across their whole range,” said Maher, a senior coastal scientist at The Nature Conservancy in New York.

The population of saltmarsh sparrows has declined by 87% in the past 25 years, from about 212,000 in 1998 to roughly 20,000 today, based on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's projections. Experts fear they could be extinct by the 2050s without intensive conservation efforts. If they do disappear, they could be the first casualties of sea level rise.

The federal government is considering listing the saltmarsh sparrow under the Endangered Species Act, which would offer extra protections to the birds and their habitats. A decision is expected in September. But Javier Lloret, an ecosystem scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, is not optimistic about their prospects.

Source: Rising Seas Endanger Long Island Shore Bird Habitats | Newsday