GALLOWAY, NJ — Over the past few years, a new island has emerged off the New Jersey coastline, and it recently has become a safe haven for nesting and migratory birds, especially threatened and endangered native species of New Jersey, according to wildlife officials.
Horseshoe Island formed in 2018 off Little Beach Island, the uninhabited barrier island between Little Egg and Brigantine inlets that is part of the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, officials from the NJDEP Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a report.
“Over the last five years, sand that appears to have collected as a result of the natural southward longshore drift along Long Island Beach has been ‘coming and going’ to form shoals just offshore of the Refuge’s Little Beach Island in the Atlantic Ocean,” officials said.
In spring 2018, the island stuck through tide cycles. It sat quietly until 2021, when researchers confirmed that more than a thousand birds of different species had made the island their home. Birds may have nested there in 2020, but the island was not monitored due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2021, Horseshoe Island provided refuge for many bird species, including threatened and endangered birds such as least terns, black skimmers, red knots and piping plovers, officials said. Birds nested, roosted and foraged on the newly formed island.
Birds used the island year-round, officials said. While some passed through during migration, others bred or wintered there. The island usage was “truly unprecedented,” officials said. And it will only grow.
“Biologists anticipate bird use of the site to increase in the future if the land mass remains intact and undisturbed,” officials said.
However, public usage of the island by boaters in 2021 threatened the birds, officials said. Therefore, beginning in 2022, Horseshoe Island will be closed to all uses from March 1 to Sept. 30 for the next five years, officials said.
Wildlife officials believe the island will last, based on research of similar islands in other states. And as long as it persists, it will be a “highly desirable habitat,” officials said.
“Today, Horseshoe Island is one of the most critically important areas for birds in the State of New Jersey,” wildlife officials said.
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