RABBIT ISLAND, Louisiana (AP) – Restoring an island in Louisiana’s fragile coastal area is proving to be hugely popular with the birds it was rebuilt for, with their numbers exploding on the newly added lands, the authorities.
Pelicans, egrets, herons, ibises, terns and other colonial waterfowl have built about 6,100 nests on Rabbit Island, more than 16 times the number predicted by biologists, according to a statement from the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.
The island is home to the only colony of brown pelicans in southwest Louisiana, and approximately 1,500 pairs of pelicans were among the nesting birds. They included many of the 322 pelicans banded there this year and last year, the agency said.
Rabbit Island had eroded from nearly 290 acres (117 hectares) to about 200 acres (80 hectares) – most of it underwater or so low that high tides regularly covered the nests.
Dredging began last fall, adding 102 acres (41 hectares) instead of the planned 88 (36 hectares) and creating an expanse of up to 3.5 feet (about 1 meter) above sea level.
“We are delighted to see our state bird come home to a new and improved habitat,” said authority chairman Chip Kline.
Settlement money from a devastating 2010 oil spill paid by energy giant BP funded the $ 16.4 million project managed by the Coastal Authority and the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries in Louisiana.
Federal scientists have estimated that the spill killed as many as 102,000 birds across the Gulf, although later studies put the figure much higher. Between 12,700 and 27,600 pelicans have been killed, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Experts say pelicans have made a good recovery, unlike longer-living corals and dolphins.
Hundreds of birds rescued from the spill were released on Rabbit Island after being washed of oily gunk from their feathers.
Sediment dredged from the Calcasieu Ship Channel raised and widened the island, which lies about 6 miles (10 kilometers) off the southwest coast of Louisiana, in a cove on Calcasieu Lake.
Twelve species have nested there this year, including 10 considered “species in greatest need of conservation” by Louisiana. All were among the species hardest hit by the BP oil spill, the coastal authority said.
Herbs and shrubs will be planted to make it even more attractive to birds.
The project began as a collaboration between Cameron and Calcasieu parishes, said State Representative Ryan Bourriaque, a Republican from Cameron Parish.
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