A suite of beach-dependent species relies on the dynamic nature of beaches, and in particular on the dynamic nature of barrier island beaches. One of these species is the beach-nesting piping plover. The piping plover is a small North American shorebird which breeds on coastal beaches from Newfoundland to North Carolina, wintering along the Atlantic Coast from North Carolina south, along the Gulf coast, and in the Caribbean. The Atlantic Coast piping plover population is designated as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act, and is considered endangered under New York State Environmental Conservation Law. Piping plovers also receive protected status under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, as well as several local ordinances.
Sea level rise puts this endangered species at risk by threatening its primary habitat, barrier island beaches, as well as the other natural coastal beaches where they nest. Human responses to sea level rise such as shoreline armoring may exacerbate the impacts to this species by further reducing available nesting habitat and connectivity with foraging habitat. As a ground-nesting species, piping plovers require minimal disturbance and nesting habitat of sufficient width to be reproductively successful. Piping plover nesting activity occurs above the high tide line on coastal beaches, sandflats at the end of sand spits and barrier islands, gently sloping foredunes, blowout areas behind primary dunes, and washover areas. Nesting usually occurs in early successional habitat consisting of wide, open, sparsely vegetated sandy beach. Sea level rise has the potential to reduce available nesting habitat between the high tide line and the vegetated dune and result in increased incidence of nests being washed out. In addition, beach stabilization projects such as beach nourishment and dune building reduce connectivity between nesting and foraging habitat because they tend to increase vegetation encroachment, which often creates a barrier to bayside access for chicks. Suitable breeding habitat for the piping plover can be mapped for the south shore of Suffolk County’s barrier island system in the mapping tool.
More information about risks to barrier island habitats can be found here.