On Dauphin Island, Acquiring Land Is for the Birds

A sandpiper splashing in the water by Dauphin Island. Image: Outdoor Alabama

The Alabama Trustee Implementation Group marked another major milestone as the State of Alabama recently completed acquisition of a large parcel of land on the west end of Dauphin Island. The acquisition conserves habitat for coastal bird populations that are dependent on the area. Located near the mouth of Mobile Bay, Dauphin Island is a 166 square mile barrier island.

The island’s western end includes about 838 acres of coastal habitat, which until recently was privately owned. The Dauphin Island West End Acquisition project was approved as part of the Alabama Restoration Plan III and Environmental Assessment in December 2019.

The 838 acres is a diverse coastal habitat made up of dunes, marshes, and beaches. Sea turtle and several bird species use these habitats for nesting. Neotropical migratory birds use the area as a prime resting spot during migrations.

“Public ownership of the west end of Dauphin Island will allow for the protection and management of its habitats,” said Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “Through the collaborative work of the Alabama Trustee Implementation Group, and the local stakeholders, the acquisition of this land will have a tremendous benefit for coastal and water birds injured by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.”

Among the bird species present at the west end of Dauphin Island is the piping plover. Piping plovers are a threatened species within their Alabama range, and are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Conserving this parcel of land will ensure that the sensitive coastal habitat is protected for years to come.

Along with providing habitat, barrier islands protect natural and human communities against ocean storms. Waves expend their energy as they break on the islands’ beaches. Because they buffer the Gulf’s wave action, barrier islands also protect salt marshes and seagrass beds, which are nurseries for valuable marine species.

In partnership with the Department of the Interior and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Mobile County and the Town of Dauphin Island will develop a bird conservation and management plan which would guide future implementation of management activities on the parcel. These activities are designed to support productive bird populations and will likely include improvements to the habitat, temporary protective closures immediately surrounding nests, education and outreach activities, and protections from predators.

“The acquisition of the west end of Dauphin Island provides much needed protections for threatened piping plover habitat,” said Erin Plitsch, Restoration Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Alabama’s coastal habitat is a favorite for bird watchers and wildlife habitat enthusiasts alike, and this project will add to the continuing effort to restore these vulnerable areas.”

For more information on this and other Alabama projects, please visit the Alabama Restoration Area portion of the Gulf Spill Restoration website.