Threatened shorebirds nest at proposed development site

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A least tern takes flight from the colony that has claimed a sandy area for nesting near the shore of the proposed 529-acre development site for Aqua By The Bay, south of Cortez Road and west of El Conquistador Parkway in Bradenton. Islander Photo: Courtesy Ashley Scarpa

A proposed development on the shore of Sarasota Bay may be facing a new environmental challenge.

As of July 7, a colony of least terns, shorebirds listed as a threatened species by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, is taking residence on property that is part of the proposed 529-acre development site for Aqua By The Bay, south of Cortez Road and west of El Conquistador Parkway in Bradenton.

In addition to an upland large-scale commercial and residential development on the 529-acre site, developers Carlos Beruff and Larry Lieberman have proposed using 260 acres of submerged lands as a mitigation bank.

The least terns are nesting on a sandy patch of ground that was recently excavated near 53rd Avenue West and El Conquistador Parkway.

In a July 7 email, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring volunteer Kathy Doddridge said the colony was first observed June 16 by AMITW executive director Suzi Fox. She contacted Manatee County Audubon Society members Deb and Dick Comeau, who contacted FWC southwest regional shorebird biologist Morgan Parks.

According to the email, Parks and her supervisor conducted a site visit June 23 and found 34 “loafing least terns” and one nest.

Since the FWC does not post barriers on private inland property, FWC representatives were tasked with contacting the property owner to protect the site.

As of July 7, The Islander had not confirmed whether the FWC contacted the developers.

Additionally, Doddridge wrote that she and Fox sent information regarding the colony to Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources director Charlie Hunsicker “in the hopes that he can get the information into the hands of county commissioners” considering a plan for Aqua By The Bay.

According to Doddridge, Parks said June 29 the FWC did not plan to conduct further site visits, but encouraged people to monitor the site and contact the FWC hotline, 888-404-3922, if there is evidence the birds are being disturbed.

Information about the colony can be found or posted on the website ebird.org, using “El Conquistador Pkwy LETE Colony” as the hotspot search term.

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