NPS Protects Buck Island Reef Least Terns

Least terns on Buck Island Reef National Monument

Buck Island Reef National Monument is one of 15 known nesting sites on St. Croix for the least tern, Sterna antillarum, a locally protected migratory sea bird. Every year, the least terns return to St. Croix to nest sometimes establishing a nesting colony on West Beach at Buck Island Reef National Monument. The terns lay small, speckled, sand-colored eggs in shallow depressions on the beach. Both adults take turns sitting on the eggs, foraging for food, and protecting and incubating the eggs.

The terns are easily disturbed by people walking nearby and will leave the eggs and fly toward the invader. Every time a tern flies off the nest during the day, the eggs or chicks are exposed to excessive heat from direct sunlight and to possible predation.

The least terns have established a nesting area on Buck Island Reef, and to ensure protection for the colony, eggs and chicks, the National Park Service (NPS) has closed the section of beach from the point to the pier (south). The area is marked with signs, ropes/stakes and warning tape.

Over the years, the terns have had marginal success because visitors are not adhering to the closure. NPS has allowed multiple use activities to continue alongside the tern nesting; however, if the least tern nesting continues to fail, the NPS superintendent will be forced to close the beach area to all use for a period of time and will post signs: (36 CFR Sec. 1.5 Closures and Public Use Limits). The least tern area is closed to all pedestrians; do not approach area; do not walk through or swim along shoreline.

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The least tern nesting area on Buck Island Reef NM is unique to the Virgin Islands. It is the only area where the birds have no threat from vehicles, dogs and other non-native predators. The only danger to the terns nesting success seems to be from human disturbance and dogs illegally on the beach in the park.

NPS reminds the visiting public that dogs are not allowed in the waters or on land at the monument. This is necessary to protect wildlife as well as public health and safety. NPS advises Buck Island Reef NM visitors to not bring dogs to the park.

If there are questions or to report any violations of these regulations, call the NPS Law Enforcement Rangers or Resource Management at 773-1460, daily between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. After 4:30 p.m., please call 277-6863 or 277-6922.

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