Share the Shores: Nature Valley Trust’s Shorebird Research Project

Source: Nature's Valley Trust/Joy de Vos, Conservation intern - June 22, 2017 in Junior Editors

Share the Shores: Nature Valley Trust’s Shorebird Research Project
Photo: DickDaniels/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Nature’s Valley Trust’s Coastal Impact Program (#ShareTheShores) is divided into 3 different projects. One of the projects is the Shorebird Research Project that started end of 2012 and has now gone through 4 shorebird breeding seasons. The aim of this project is to use field observations, experiments and monitoring to determine the influence of both humans and dogs on shorebird survival on our local beaches, and to see how gulls and shorebirds have adapted to living in close proximity to people on high density tourist beaches.

White-Fronted Plover project

The coastal regions of South Africa face a variety of threats; from widespread global issues like climate change, to remarkable rates of encroachment due to human development. Besides these larger concerns, it’s also necessary to examine and address the cumulative impacts of smaller, everyday forms of disturbance. One example is the impact of recreational beach use on coastal wildlife and habitat.

Despite their significant ecological and economic importance, environmental policy and enforcement often neglect sandy beaches. Shorebirds that nest on the ground of these beaches are notably vulnerable to beach visitors in high-tourism areas.

Over the last three decades, The White-fronted Plover (Charadrius marginatus) has undergone a considerable reduction in its numbers: up to 40-60% in some coastal areas. It follows the unfortunate worldwide trend of shorebird population decline. Being a popular holiday destination, the Garden Route shoreline is continuously experiencing an increase in tourism and development among the natural areas which it is so well-known for.

Selena Flores, a PhD student from the United States, is managing the field-intensive White-fronted Plover project with the help of various interns throughout the breeding seasons. The outcome of the research project is to emphasize current applications of research, by drafting conservation management recommendations to minimize our impacts on shorebirds and coastal habitats.

Suggestions from a sound scientific standpoint can then be made to assist those driving our community to make appropriate decisions, taking into consideration both economic development and environmental conservation. Although the White-fronted Plover isn’t endangered yet, we want to take precautionary action now, before their survival requires extensive recovery projects to keep bird numbers afloat.


Photo: Nature’s Valley Trust

Kelp Gulls and African Black Oystercatchers

NVT has also assessed the impacts of people and dogs on the breeding success of sensitive beach breeding birds, like the African Black Oystercatcher, and compared this to the more adaptable Kelp Gulls. The data from this study was presented at the third International Marine Conservation Congress in Glasgow, Scotland in August 2014, and has been published (Van de Voorde, S., Witteveen, M and Brown, M. 2015. Differential reactions to anthropogenic disturbance by two ground-nesting shorebirds. Ostrich 86: 43-52). The data for this project was collected by Shirley van de Voorde, a research intern from the Netherlands, and Minke Witteveen, a UCT MSc student at the time.

The results showed that both African Black Oystercatchers and Kelp Gull significantly altered their behavioral responses to disturbance from pre-breeding to breeding. These results emphasize the need to have a buffer zone surrounding breeding areas excluding human presence to allow for the successful breeding of African Black Oystercatchers.
Minke also studied the Kelp Gulls in depth, examining their use of micro-habitats on our beaches, and how well they integrated into the urban life-style in Plett. This included some great work on assessing anthropomorphic items in their diet, and a recently published paper on using litter to build their nests (Witteveen, M, Brown, M & Ryan, P.G. 2017. Anthropogenic debris in the nests of kelp gulls in South Africa. Marine Pollution Bulletin 114: 699-704).


Photo: Nature’s Valley Trust


We’re hoping the #ShareTheShores programme will help increase awareness and encourage the public to be invested in the state of our coasts and voluntarily comply with beach regulations, because they have a thorough understanding of the conservation issues, as well as the potential consequences for both nature and people. The aim is to create awareness of these issues with members of the public, both resident and visitors alike, and to create an empathetic link between beach users and these birds, creating opportunities for co-existence on our beaches. Our approach has included high quality locally designed beach entrance information boards, nesting area signs, brochures about the program, surveys with beach users, targeted social media campaigns and use of traditional media, like radio, newspaper and magazines to highlight the project. Initial results are promising!
To view the Creative Commons license for the image, click here.

Print article