Baby birds' island home being restored, thanks to students
Ensconced in isolation, the Rookery Islands in Galveston Bay are silent except for the call of the roseate spoonbill and laughing of the gulls.
In springtime, birds build nests among the native plants on the islands, whose natural isolation keeps them relatively free from predators. Unfortunately, erosion and storms diminish the number of plants in which they hatch their eggs.
As a partnership with Audubon Texas, students in the College of the Mainland Biology Club volunteered to take 200 cuttings of prickly pear, native lantana, baccharis and marsh elder. Students will tend the cuttings of native plants collected at Nature Conservancy’s Texas City Prairie Preserve in COM’s greenhouse until hardy enough to transplant on the island.
“It’s a neat opportunity for the students to get involved with restoration work,” said Sheena Abernathy, COM biology professor. “Students go out and work alongside employees of Audubon Texas as well as Texas Master Naturalists (volunteers trained by Texas Parks and Wildlife).”
The islands are maintained as part of the Audubon Texas Coastal Stewardship Program, and birds nest there in droves. On a recent visit, Abernathy, other volunteers and Audubon employees counted more than 8,000 laughing gulls alone.
“These islands are constantly evolving, and we try to keep everything balanced,” said Amanda Hackney, project manager of the Audubon Texas Coastal Stewardship Program, which has 178 leases for islands along the coast. “I’m really excited about this project.”
Students are also enthusiastic about the opportunity to preserve a local habitat.
“Once I joined the Biology Club is when I actually got serious about conservation,” said Biology Club president Aaron Castillo. “I knew that I needed to start helping out my community instead of hurting it.”
The club also collected grass seeds for the Nature Conservancy’s Texas City Prairie Preserve, which the center will store to plant at the proper time. The conservancy seeks to restore Gulf Coast prairies – the grasslands absorb and divert excess water, mitigating storms and hurricanes’ devastation.
“People everywhere should be aware how conservation is important and how people can help out,” said Castillo. “I hope we can continue to do this with Audubon Society.”