June 5, 2004 – Buck Island Reef National Monument has one of fifteen known nesting sites on St. Croix for the Least tern, Sterna antillarum, a locally endangered migratory sea bird.
Every year the Least terns establish a nesting colony on west beach at Buck Island Reef National Monument. The terns lay small speckled, sand- colored eggs in shallow depressions on the beach. Both adults take turns sitting on the eggs, foraging for food, and protecting and incubating the eggs. The terns are easily disturbed by people walking nearby and will leave the eggs and fly toward the invader. Every time a tern flies off the nest during the day, the eggs or chicks are exposed to excessive heat from direct sunlight and to possible predation.
Each year as soon as the terns arrive, the National Park Service establishes a closed area around the tern-nesting site (clearly marked with stakes, signs, and ropes).
According to a press release from the park service, over the years the terns have had only marginal success because visitors are not adhering to the closure. The service has allowed multiple use activities to continue along side the tern nesting; however, the release continues, if the Least tern nesting continues to fail, the park superintendent will be forced to close the beach area to all use for a period of time.
The Least tern nesting area on Buck Island Reef NM is unique to the Virgin Islands. It is the only area where the birds have no threat from vehicles, dogs, and other non-native predators. The only danger to the terns nesting success seems to be from human disturbance and dogs illegally present in the Monument.
Dogs are not allowed in the waters or on land at the Monument. The park service says this is necessary to protect wildlife.
All visitors, on foot, on boats, or swimming, must stay clear of the marked enclosure. To walk from one side of the beach to the other, use the primitive trail behind the enclosure. By reducing the number of people walking near the colony, the park service hopes to increase the chances for a successful nesting season for the Least terns.
Readers who notice any violations of these regulations, should notify the National Park Service by calling 773-1460, daily 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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