SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - If you were at the beach on Saturday in Harrison or Hancock County, it was hard to miss all the security out there. No, not law enforcement, Audubon Mississippi volunteers were helping monitor and protect bird nesting sites on the beach.
Instead of hanging out at the Biloxi beach this holiday weekend, Melisa Gage spent Saturday guarding a one mile stretch of the coast so people wouldn't disturb the shorebirds that have made the area their home.
"I believe we are supposed to be stewards out here, and we are kind of guarding the nest," Gage said.
She was one of several people who signed up to help the environment. Those volunteers said many beach goers don't realize they're walking into a nesting site, nor do they understand how their actions can hurt the birds.
"They're nesting here, and they are mating. It is very important to protect them, because not only can the birds leave their nest and leave their babies, the person walking toward them can get attacked by predator birds," a volunteer said.
Audubon Mississippi officials said there are five colonies along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and they all have warning signs asking people to stay away. The bird sites are mostly used by Black Skimmers and Least Terns during the summer months.
"Katrina wiped out about half the population, and this group of Least Turns comes back every year. We are just trying to provide the habitat so they can come back and restore the population. Right now, they are of concern, but they are not engendered. We are trying to bring back the numbers, so they can enjoy living like the rest of us," volunteer Grace Aaron said.
These volunteers are not just here to be guards, they're also educating folks about these birds, so hopefully more people will learn to care and appreciate what nature has to offer.
"These birds are very important to the community because of ecotourism. We have a large birding community. We have people that come from all over just to see these birds. Our birding community is huge because of all the costal birds that are here, so that is why it is very important," Volunteer Coordinator Amanda Odom said.
There are two sites permanently designated as nesting areas along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. If you would like to volunteer, please call Audubon Mississippi Volunteer Coordinator Amanda Odom at (228) 355- 1834.