PASS CHRISTIAN, MS (WLOX) - After Tropical Storm Cindy wiped out 99 percent of least tern nests, Mississippi Gulf Coast Audubon Society is taking extra precautions to make sure federally protected least birds stay safe during the holiday weekend.
"July Fourth is a very crucial time to protect these birds because they experience really high levels of disturbance due to a larger amount of beach visitors and fireworks, which can really be detrimental to these birds" explained Audubon Steward Molly Folkerts.
The birds nest all over the beaches of the Coast, with large nesting colonies usually roped off and protected from the public.
Audubon members are asking the public to be extra careful around the nests.
"If they're shooting fireworks, we ask that people steer clear of the area and keep a large as a distance as they can," said Folkerts. "As well as for people to simply not enter the nesting colonies, and leave the birds at peace."
Audubon says the health of the birds is crucial to life on the Coast.
"Least terns, and other birds that rely on water, are important as biological indicators. Really, if the birds aren't doing well that's not a good sign for people either. In addition, it's actually a great asset to have for ecotourism. People will actually travel to this area just to see the high nesting numbers of least terns we have here so it usually brings in money," said Folkerts.
Since the storm, there are only 10 colonies left. However, they seem to be doing well.
"Many are re-nesting right now. We're seeing a lot of courtship behavior, as well as the parents still caring for those older chicks that did survive the storm," she added.
The Mississippi Coast has one of the largest least tern nesting colonies in the United States. However, that number is shrinking.
Scientists don't know exactly why, but they suspect that increased disturbance plays a significant role.