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Plovers Flourish on the "Shipwreck Coast”

Piping plovers return year after year to the "shipwreck coast," a remote stretch of Lake Superior between the village of Grand Marais and Whitefish Point in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

With remote and undeveloped dunes and beaches, the shipwreck coast was a last stronghold for the plover before it was listed as endangered in 1986. After listing, the area gradually became less important to plovers as they shifted breeding to the south along Lake Michigan in the 1990s. Numbers continued to decrease until a low in 2006 of only one pair.

Since then, plover numbers have steadily increased along the shipwreck coast, and this year we had a record 12 pairs nesting. Not only a record number of pairs, but also a record number of chicks fledged, with 24 chicks fledging, an excellent average of 2 chicks fledged per pair!

Success along the shipwreck coast can be attributed to the hard work of the Great Lakes piping plover conservation team. At Grand Marais, Kathy and Bill Davis have coordinated volunteers to monitor and protect plovers for many years. Kathy and Bill report that over 30 volunteers spent 735 hours protecting piping plovers this summer. In addition, a paid monitor from the Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy and biologists from Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also helped monitor at Grand Marais.

Students from Lake Superior State University, working under the supervision of Dr. Jason Garvon, protect piping plovers at Vermillion Point and Whitefish Point. While monitoring, they stay at the old Life Saving Station at Vermillion Point, a reminder of the dangers once faced by Great Lakes sailors.

Staff from Seney National Wildlife Refuge helped the students at Whitefish Point with habitat protection at thissatellite National Wildlife Refuge. This past April, the Refuge added 19 acres to theWhitefish Point unit of the refuge, which protected an additional 1,000 feet of shoreline important for nesting piping plovers and thousands of other birds that migrate along this coastline.

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