Elegantly Addressing Climate Change

Guest blogger: Kristen Boysen

It is a rare and magical morning when, at 8:15 am, you are stuck in bumper-to-bumper commuter traffic and by 9:30 am, the only sound you can hear is the kree-kree of dozens of Elegant Terns. (Fun animal fact #1: More than 90% of Elegant Terns breed on a single island in the Sea of Cortez. Once their chicks can fly, the whole family makes a short trip northward, past Santa Barbara to the Bay Area (where I found them this particular morning), before making a U-Turn to winter in Chile and Peru. This is a totally bizarre migration pattern.)image

The terns and I are spending our morning on Aramburu Island—an artificial land mass that began as a dump for dredged soil, but is now a restoration project led by Audubon California. Audubon’s goal is simple and, well, elegant: to turn this island into a refuge for shorebirds, seals, and migrating waterfowl. (Fun Animal Face #2: Harbor seals come to shore—called “hauling out”—to rest, molt, and give birth. They often don’t like hauling out when humans are around, so coastal development has limited their beach space.) In the last five years, Aramburu has successfully replaced some of the critical marsh habitat lost on other islands due to development around the Bay Area.  Success!

But these days, we have to be ready for anything. Global climateimage change adds an entirely new dimension to restoration projects—we must determine how to help these restored habitats adapt to new climatic patterns. Working with the Climate Team at Audubon California this summer, I research how land conservation, restoration, and state policies can be designed and implemented to help species’ and habitat adapt to the changing climate. Will Aramburu’s erosion-resistant beach withstand sea level rise? Will the native plants survive future droughts? We don’t know, but we are hopeful. And because it is thriving now, those Elegant Terns have a place to land before their long voyage south.

I only spent the morning tromping around Aramburu as a momentary guest on that dynamic landscape. Most days I spend in another dynamic landscape (the 10th floor of a skyscraper in San Francisco’s Financial District) compiling habitat maps and population surveys. This research will help Audubon and others plan future restoration and conservation projects to support species at risk. Only a few more weeks until I turn in my report, and, like those terns, head south for the fall. (Fun Animal Fact #3: The Annual Migration of Brennies to Santa Barbara, CA will begin in less than a month!)

Kristen Boysen is a 2016 MESM student.  This summer she is interning with Audubon California in San Francisco.
Photo Credit: Kerry Wilcox

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