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Reducing Disturbance to Shorebirds with Recreational Boater Community

Boater Education and Disturbance Reduction Project (partnership with Manomet and GA DNR)

BACKGROUND (Problem and Need)

As coastal areas are threatened from development, increasing populations, and climate change, ideal habitat becomes increasingly scarce. With fewer safe options, shorebirds face pressure from unregulated recreation, where disturbance can render high quality habitat functionally unavailable during nesting, migration and wintering seasons (Faulhaber et al. 2016, Gibson et al. 2018). An important source of disturbance within the Bight is recreational pressure from private boaters in remote areas. Enforcement capacity is limited in many places, so changing the culture through specific, audience-targeted community engagement education campaigns is necessary to build support and create social norms to reduce disturbance. The sandbars, shell rakes and barrier islands accessed by private boats are critical for nesting American Oystercatchers and Wilson's Plovers during the summer, are foraging sites for migrating Red Knots, and can also be evening roost sites for thousands of Whimbrels. Disturbance at these sites can cause negative impacts to individuals and broadly to populations (USFWS 2011).

This project will focus on four sites on the Georgia Coast known to be important for shorebirds, as well as popular destinations for recreational boaters. While signage at these remote sites can be useful for changing behavior, we are seeking to implement a mainland education and outreach campaign to raise awareness of boaters before they reach their destination. This approach is critical because logistic constraints such as travel to remote places, inclement weather conditions, and stationing volunteer stewards on exposed islands have made it impossible to implement any kind of in-person outreach to shift norms and baseline behavior. 

This project will develop BMPs and recommendations through the implementation of a mainland education and outreach program that will influence the behavior of recreational boaters at their remote destinations.


The objective of this project is to reduce disturbance by boaters to some of the remote boat accessible sites on the coast that are important locations for shorebirds and seabirds at some point in their annual cycle.  These locations are a perennial challenge to monitor and limit disturbance as we cannot use volunteer stewards, and ropes and signs on site are often not sufficient.  Most access is on weekends when biologist staff are typically not visiting these sites.  These challenges are combined with the fact that remote offshore bars can be the most productive sites for nesting birds on the coast, given their lack of mammalian predators.  This project will attempt to address this challenging conservation problem of remote and vulnerable sites, that tend not to be well protected by our traditional approaches. 


We visited schools to make kids artwork into signs, talked with boater groups, hosted events and talks at marinas, and created informational signs to be posted at boat ramps and marinas! 


To access our Boater Disturbance Project Toolkit, please fill out this form and you will recieve the link to the PDF:

Working with Recreational Boaters to Reduce Disturbance to Shorebirds (

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