The last 10 days I have spent living on a boat called “Tenacious” along with 3 others as we traveled through the Prince William Sound, conducting Black Oystercatcher surveys. Over the course of the trip, I learned many new things and saw and experienced places I never thought I would be. I have decided that since there is so much to write about regarding my experience, I will break it up into two blog posts. This one will be primarily about the history of the Prince William Sound (PWS), and the purpose behind why we were conducting Black Oystercatcher Surveys. My next post will be more about my personal experience, logistics of the surveys and will include many photos.
After never having lived next to the ocean, this was my first big marine venture and on such a historic body of water! The Prince William Sound is located on the east side of the Kenai Peninsula. In 1989, 10.8 gallons of crude oil were spilled there during the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. The vessel’s, drunken captain failed to oversee the master of the Exxon Shipping Company vessel and hit the Bligh Reef. Not only did the habitat of the sound and all its residents suffer consequences of the oil spill, but the cleanup efforts added another level of devastation after scorching the shorelines with a chemical dispersant. After a long legal journey of justice for the spill, Exxon has paid $507.5 million in punitive damages, including lawsuits and interest. Although 30 years have passed, the Prince William Sound (PWS) is still recovering from the environmental damage today.
Black Oystercatchers were among the species that were affected by the oil spill. The rocky shorelines of the PWS provide critical habitat for more than 50% of Black Oystercatcher for nesting and feeding. According to the Black Oystercatcher Monitoring 2017 Annual Report, the oil spill caused the PWS Black Oyster Catcher population to decline by an estimated 20%. They became qualified as a “species of concern” for the U.S. National Shorebird Conservation Plan and a “focal species” for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service . In addition, human development and use of the PWS also takes a toll on Black Oyster Catcher populations, especially after the Wittier tunnel was built, allowing more human recreation and tourism accessibility of the rocky shoreline habitat.
The purpose behind the Black Oystercatcher Monitoring project of the USDA Forest Service is to monitor this critical habitat to collect data to inform management objectives in order to protect and conserve Black Oyster Catcher habitat and support their still recovering populations. I am grateful to have been able to contribute to data collection that informs how to better support a species that has suffered through extensive human impact, in a place that contains so much beauty and history. There will be much more to come in the next blog post!