Shorebird Disturbance Reduction Toolkit

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Background: Our Approach to Managing Disturbance

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Understanding Disturbance

To address disturbance along the Atlantic Flyway, a transdisciplinary study that leveraged both biological and social sciences was developed by conservation professionals at Virginia Tech, Audubon, Manomet, and a diverse set of additional partners in the Human Activities Committee of the Atlantic Flyway Shorebird Initiative. In the first two phases of this project, we learned that sites that have succeeded in managing disturbance through zoning and closures leverage partnerships, community outreach, and interpretation. This highlights the importance of community engagement and the role of human dimensions in conservation efforts. 


What is Human Dimensions?

The term human dimensions of wildlife refers to how humans affect or are affected by wildlife management decisions while considering how and in what ways humans value wildlife (Decker, Brown & Siemer, 2001). When we consider the human dimensions of shorebird conservation, we are thinking about how beachgoers affect or are affected by our management decisions to protect shorebirds. Oftentimes, people and birds share the same space on the beach, so we can use human dimensions to strategize ways that both humans and vulnerable shorebird species can coexist.

Evidence-Based Approach

In 2019, we released the Guide to Applying Science and Management Insights and Human Behavior Change Strategies to Address Beach Walking and Dog Disturbance Along the Atlantic Flyway to communicate our findings and introduce conservation professionals to using community-based social marketing (CBSM) as an approach for changing human behavior in ways that benefit shorebirds. In 2022, nine sites along the Atlantic Flyway were the first to use the guide to design and implement CBSM campaigns unique to the socio-ecological context of their sites.

Learn more about this project and the outcomes of this collaborative work below. 

Project Successes
This document summarizes and highlights the outreach successes that have come from this large-scale effort. Find a list of publications and products that have resulted from this collaborative work.
Human Disturbance Living Document
This document highlights the outputs of this collaborative work. It will be continuously updated to point you in the direction of available resources that you can use to address human disturbance at your site.
Social Science and Biological Reports
Access the social science and biological reports that highlight the methods, analysis, and critical social science insights from this multi-phased project.
Protocol Overview
This document includes standardized language to communicate and describe the biological monitoring, social science surveys, and CBSM implementation processes.

Highlights of This Collaborative Work

Development of a scalable, generalizable, standardized protocol to measure potential disturbances and their effects on shorebirds.
Studies focused on assessing the impacts of human activity on shorebird behavior or habitat use have generally been limited in both the spatial (e.g., only considered a few beaches) or temporal (e.g., only considered patterns during the breeding season) extent of data collection. Thus, to better investigate the impact of human coastal activities on shorebird behavior and population dynamics we have developed a standardized monitoring protocol that interested individuals and organizations can use to simultaneously monitor seasonal shorebird abundance, behavior, and site use, in addition to the types, timing, and frequency of human activity on monitored beaches. This approach allows for data collected by individual partners throughout the Atlantic Coast that can be synthesized to inform a single analysis to answer questions regarding spatial variation in both shorebird and human use of our coastlines, and ultimately, whether human activities are consistently associated with variation in shorebird behavior or reductions in abundance throughout the Atlantic Coast.
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A comprehensive understanding of human disturbance management and monitoring along the Atlantic Flyway.
According to Atlantic Flyway Shorebird Initiative, human disturbance is one of the most significant threats to shorebird populations. However, there is little information about managers’ efforts to reduce disturbances along the Atlantic Flyway. As a result of the variation in site priorities and geography, human disturbance management varies considerably from one site to another. Moreover, the effectiveness of common practices to reduce disturbances and the resource needs of managers are not clear due to a lack of empirical data and contradicting conclusions from research studies. Through a survey of land managers along the U.S. and Canada portions of the Atlantic Flyway, this research aims to create a Flyway wide understanding of these issues and provide organizations and agencies with the information needed to effectively support human disturbance management efforts.
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An in-depth understanding of the perceived benefits and constraints to leashing dogs on the beach, leading to the design of tailored and targeted behavior change campaigns.
Human disturbance is one of the most significant threats to breeding, migrating, and wintering shorebirds. Many biological studies have been conducted to understand how human disturbance can impact shorebirds; however, there have been limited efforts to understand the drivers of human behavior that may impact shorebirds and how to change that behavior. Using a community-based social marketing (CBSM) approach, we explored how to effectively work with beach recreationists to reduce the threat of human disturbance.
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Empirical evidence to show that shorebirds are impacted by human recreational disturbance throughout their annual lifecycles, characterizing the impacts of disturbance on various species.
Our results indicate that shorebirds were impacted by human recreational disturbance throughout their annual lifecycles. Human recreational use along the Atlantic Coast was widespread but variable in type and intensity. The consequences of disturbance were multifaceted as they were linked with shifts in the species habitat use and abundance of species in their seasonal ranges. Furthermore, there were conditional impacts, which were experienced by individuals following their decision to occupy or nest in a specific location, as both non-breeding (e.g., foraging rates, resting bouts) and breeding outcomes (i.e., nest survival) were negatively associated with local disturbance levels.
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An extensive look into the management of dogs on beaches for the benefit of shorebirds, offering strategies for implementing dog-related regulations.
As a result of the impacts that dog-related recreation can have on shorebirds, managers and biologists implement dog-related regulations such as zones, closures, and leash laws; however, there is limited research on the steps taken to successfully develop and implement these regulations. Through interviews with beach managers and biologists, we sought to understand types of site regulations; the process of developing, implementing, and enforcing regulations; the outcomes of implementing regulations; lessons learned from implementing regulations; and resources needed to have successful dog-related regulations. This research provides agencies and organizations with information about the process of implementing dog-related regulations for the protection of shorebirds.
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An in-depth understanding of the perceived benefits and constraints of walking around flocks of shorebirds, leading to the design of tailored and targeted behavior change campaigns.
Beach walking is a seemingly harmless activity, but it can have negative consequences on the survival and fitness of shorebirds. To reduce shorebird disturbance in the situations where closures are not possible, we sought to use a community-based social marketing (CBSM) approach aimed at encouraging beach recreationists to voluntarily walk around shorebird flocks on the beach. We specifically explored beach recreationists’ social norms (informal rules of behavior that are shared by a group of people), personal norms (a person’s expectations of their own behavior), behavioral intentions, and perceived benefits and constraints to walking around shorebird flocks.
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Implementation of the community-based social marketing framework at nine sites along the East Coast, resulting in over 1,300 acres of coastal lands adopting evidence-based management practices.
During phase III of this work, nine sites (Parker River NWR, Jones Beach, Town of Hempstead Beach, Folly Beach Lighthouse Inlet, Harbor Island, Long Beach, Milford Point, Tybee Island, St. Simons Island) with variation in the level of anthropogenic disturbances (i.e., both high and low disturbance) were the first to develop and implement CBSM campaigns based on the research, findings, and expertise outlined in the Best Practices Guide at the end of phase II.
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