23 Aug 2014
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Patch Instagram photo by sexy_and_40
Patch Instagram photo by sexy_and_40

Conversation, Not Confrontation for Program to Save Endangered Species

The Shorebird Stewards program seeks to answer the questions of curious beachgoers and avoid the death of endangered species that occupy the estuary. The program's predecessor had the "potential to become confrontational really quickly."

Walk the beach south of Seacoast Drive this weekend and you may run into people wearing blue shirts with the Tijuana Estuary's logo.

Feel free to approach them.

They are there to answer questions about the local environment, and keep an eye on beach activity.

Volunteers at the end of Seacoast Drive can also share some information on recent bird sightings, have binoculars and a scope free for public use and other materials for curious residents and visitors.

"We get a lot of people from out of state, from out of the country to bird watch," said coordinator Shannon Tunks.

Volunteers can be found on the beach weekends from late May to mid-September, the busiest time of year.

The spring and summer seasons also correlate with the Western Snowy Plover and California Least tern breeding season.

The goal of the Shorebird Stewards program is to educate but also to help recover threatened and endangered species like the Western Snowy Plover, who lay their eggs in shallow nests on the beach. 

Off-leash dogs can wreak havoc, said Lisa Cox with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"They can crush eggs and chicks and these chicks have enough predators to deal with," she said.

Since estuary staff at the can be inaccessible and swamped with other duties, Cox said, the program was started to engage people on the beach.

Volunteers record information like the number of dogs on- or off-leashes or people fishing with poles. Fishing with poles is now prohibited from the south end of Seacoast Drive to the U.S.-Mexico border after Jan. 1 when the area was certified as the .

Since May, volunteers have had about 700 conversations and more than 50 hours of contact have been recorded, Tunks said.

A similar program was started five years ago in conjunction with Silver Strand State Beach called Plover Patrol where volunteers walked the beach to collect data and confront beachgoers violating the rules.

That was the wrong way to go about things, Cox said. 

"It had a really large potential to become confrontational really quickly," Cox said.

"The approach for that program was walking up to people," she said. "With this new approach our goal is to invite people to come talk to us so they don't feel like we're patrolling them and so we can educate and inspire visitors and neighbors."

The Shorebird Stewards program will share data with WiLDCOAST, who  to collect data in the Marine Protected Area.

This weekend will mark the last of 2012 for the Shorebird Stewards program and its eight volunteers. The program will begin in March next year so Tunks has time to reach out to area colleges and universities and other potential sources for volunteers.

Those interested in volunteering in the program must go through a volunteer training program and can visit the Tijuana Estuary website for more details.

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