Key Piece of Mispillion Harbor Habitat Protected

Red Knot. Photo Credit: Tom Benson

15-year conservation effort secures an essential stopover for migrating birds, including the imperiled Red Knot

Kent County, Del. (April 6, 2021) — Mispillion Harbor, one of the most important locations for the survival of Red Knots and other migrating shorebirds, has been further protected, announced the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), The Conservation Fund, Delaware Ornithological Society and Delaware Wild Lands, Inc. After nearly 15 years, the partners have protected multiple parcels of private land significant to restoration along the mile-long Harbor shoreline—securing it in perpetuity as a wildlife reserve.

Located on the west shore of Delaware Bay, Mispillion Harbor is uniquely protected fom harsh weather elements, making it the perfect location for horseshoe crabs to breed. This attracts migrating shorebirds who rely on a brief stopover at the Bay to rest and feed on the crab eggs. The small but mighty Red Knot—a federally-listed threatened species—undergoes an annual migration from South America to their breeding ground in the Arctic and sub-arctic tundra. In recent years, studies have suggested that 50 to 80% of the entire remaining rufa Red Knot population has been recorded using Delaware Bay beaches. The protection of these lands will provide roosting habitat for the Red Knot for their next migration journey this May—and for all future migrations.

“Protecting Mispillion Harbor is the culmination of over a decade of work and the tireless efforts by many who came together to make sure that this critically important site was protected,” said Blaine Phillips, Senior Vice President and Mid-Atlantic Regional Director at The Conservation Fund. “Horseshoe crabs and shorebirds will finally have a safe place to spawn, rest and continue the amazing spectacle of their marathon migration for years to come.”

Recognizing the Harbor’s importance to Red Knots and other wildlife, The Conservation Fund, a national environmental nonprofit, purchased most of the Mispillion Harbor shoreline in 2006 to prevent any development that would harm the habitat. Over the years, most of that land was transferred to the State of Delaware for permanent protection. DNREC is completing important restoration work and has been operating the DuPont Nature Center—a science-based educational and interpretive facility with interactive exhibits designed to connect people with the Delaware Bay’s natural history and ecology.

“DNREC’s long history of monitoring horseshoe crabs and shorebirds along Delaware’s Bayshore helped identify important places to focus conservation through land protection and habitat restoration—critical work that cannot be achieved by government agencies alone,” said DNREC Secretary Shawn M. Garvin. “It takes a community of conservation partners and their many members, supporters, volunteers and donors working together to raise funds for realizing a conservation vision that will have meaningful impact on the recovery and sustainability of species like Red Knot and horseshoe crabs. This project represents—and celebrates—the best expression of shared responsibility, investment, and success. DNREC salutes the amazing grassroots effort of the Delaware Bird-A-Thon and boundless enthusiasm of Delaware’s conservation community, and our federal partners the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who made the protection of Mispillion Harbor possible.”

Two private parcels significant to restoration in the Harbor were officially protected in February 2021 when The Conservation Fund transferred the property to DNREC. The completion of this effort provides for the expansion of horseshoe crab and shorebird restoration and management efforts.

DNREC was awarded a Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund grant, administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which provided significant funding to protect multiple parcels at Mispillion Harbor. The grant and protection of these parcels at Mispillion Harbor would not have been possible without the involvement of partners and the generous contributions from the Allerton Foundation, Delaware Wild Lands and the Delaware Ornithological Society (DOS).

“The permanent protection of this property, and the vision exemplified by The Conservation Fund, State of Delaware, Delaware Ornithological Society, and Delaware Wild Lands, exemplify what can be achieved with strong leadership and collective effort,” said Kate Hackett, Executive Director at Delaware Wild Lands. “The persistence and patience of this partnership, and ability to coalescence around this high priority land protection project, is outshone only by the global significance of habitat at Mispillion Harbor. Delaware Wild Lands is pleased to have contributed to the completion of this project and supported our partners in conservation, and we believe this level of collaboration can and will serve to inspire others toward even more habitat conservation and restoration.”

“The Delaware Ornithological Society is thrilled to join our partners in celebrating the protection of the single most important site in the First State for migratory shorebirds,” said DOS President Michael Moore. “The acquisition of this property achieves a long-term goal of our grassroots Delaware Bird-A-Thon fundraiser and is a key step in realizing the vision of its founder, the late Bill Stewart, who saw the potential of Mispillion Harbor as a crown jewel of shorebird habitat, research and ecotourism along Delaware’s Bayshore.”

Matthew Sarver, DOS Conservation Chair said: “This acquisition will result in enhanced protection of the federally-listed threatened rufa subspecies of the Red Knot, as well as numerous other species of migratory shorebirds, while improving access to the DuPont Nature Center for birders and other visitors. DOS would like to thank our many donors to the Delaware Bird-A-Thon for helping make this project a reality!”

The newly acquired property will undergo habitat restoration for the Red Knot and is currently closed to the public. The partners will have a celebration at the Mispillion Harbor site at a later date to honor the memory of the late Bill Stewart, a renowned ornithologist in the area who helped identify the Harbor as a place critical of protection.

About The Conservation Fund
At The Conservation Fund, we make conservation work for America. By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense, we are redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, we have worked in all 50 states since 1985 to protect more than eight million acres of land, including nearly 19,000 acres of beloved natural lands in Delaware such as First State National Park.
www.conservationfund.org

About DNREC
The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control protects and manages the state’s natural resources, protects public health, provides outdoor recreational opportunities and educates Delawareans about the environment. For more information, visit the website and connect with @DelawareDNREC on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

About Delaware Wild Lands
Delaware Wild Lands is the oldest and largest land trust in Delaware. We are a non-profit that has helped protect more than 31,600 acres since 1961. Today, we own and actively manage 21,600 acres for vibrant wetlands and wildlife habitat, clean air and pure water, and healthy farms and forests. www.dewildlands.org

About DOS
The Delaware Ornithological Society (DOS) is an all-volunteer, grassroots nonprofit representing hundreds of bird enthusiasts in Delaware and adjacent states. The organization’s mission is the promotion of the study of birds, the advancement and diffusion of ornithological knowledge, and the conservation of birds and their environment. DOS has helped lead collaborative conservation efforts for bird habitat on the Delaware Bay for fifteen years, raising over half a million dollars in private matching funds through our annual Delaware Bird-a-Thon fundraiser, and helping to protect over 2,100 acres of coastal bird habitat. https://www.dosbirds.org/

Media Contacts
Val Keefer, The Conservation Fund, (703) 908-5802, vkeefer@conservationfund.org
Michael Globetti, Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, (302) 739-9902, michael.globetti@delaware.gov
Kate Hackett, Delaware Wild Lands, (302) 824-6235, khackett@dewildlands.org
Matt Sarver, Delaware Ornithological Society, (724) 689-5845, matt@sarverecological.com

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Unified Command For Oil Incident Along Delaware, Maryland Beaches Suspends Cleanup Operations

After sustained cleanup operations for last month’s oil spill in Delaware Bay spearheaded by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and the U.S. Coast Guard under a unified command, Delaware’s beaches have all been declared substantially “cleared.”

Cleanup crews are prepared to respond to further oiling, and shoreline monitoring will still take place. The public is asked to report any sizeable sightings of oil or oily debris, or oiled wildlife to DNREC’s toll-free environmental hotline, 800-662-8802.

The month-long multi-agency response to tar patties began on October 19, 2020, after reports of oil patties impacting the Delaware Shoreline from Fowler Beach, and downward along the Delaware Bay coast to the state’s Atlantic Ocean beaches from Cape Henlopen to Fenwick Island and to the Assateague Island State Park in Maryland. As of late Friday, the only cleanup that remains is an area of Gordon’s Pond, part of Cape Henlopen State Park. It is expected this area will be clear on Monday.

“As the unified command suspends, and we pick up the final bits of oily debris, we can reflect on consolidating our environmental resources into a model of teamwork that eliminated this threat to our coastline,” said DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin. “We are grateful for the commitment by our federal partner, the U.S. Coast Guard, to see it through, and for the DNREC responders — including emergency response personnel, environmental scientists and engineers — who worked to avert serious harm to our environment, particularly to our beaches. The collaborative effort under the unified command has accomplished its goals in combating this oil spill.”

Since the oil began breaking up, scattering, and spreading to various locations along the coast, about 85 tons of oily debris has been removed by cleanup crews during the spill response.

The oiled sand and debris are being disposed of in a special landfill designed for petroleum-contaminated material.

“The collaborative effort of the first responders, assessment teams, investigators and response workers who spent weeks on the shore of Delaware using technology and hand tools to remove tar balls over the past three weeks, has resulted in exceptional progress during a dynamic spill response,” said Lt. Cmdr. Fredrick Pugh, U.S. Coast Guard Incident Commander. “Our state, local and federal partners have come together to help clean the beaches of Delaware and Maryland; and while the source of the spill is still unknown and under investigation, we will continue to posture ourselves to monitor, and if need be, assign resources in the event more tar balls were to appear.”

While the origin of the spill is still unknown, it is still under active investigation by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Marine Safety Lab in New London, Connecticut.

About DNREC
The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control protects and manages the state’s natural resources, protects public health, provides outdoor recreational opportunities and educates Delawareans about the environment. For more information, visit the website and connect with DNREC on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

Media Contacts: Nikki Lavoie, nikki.lavoie@delaware.gov; Michael Globetti, michael.globetti@delaware.gov

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Some Southern Delaware, Maryland Beaches Cleared of Oily Debris, Tar Balls

Remaining Cleanup Operation Focuses on Delaware Bay and Delaware North Atlantic Ocean Beaches

Cleanup crews for the unified command have cleared oily debris and tar balls from a significant stretch of coastline from the southern side of the Indian River Inlet in Delaware to the Assateague Island State Park in Maryland. Beaches cleared include Bethany, South Bethany, Fenwick Island, Ocean City, the Assateague Island State Park, and part of Cape Henlopen State Park along the Atlantic Ocean.

The unified command under the U.S. Coast Guard, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and the Maryland Department of the Environment has stood down its on-site incident command post at the Slaughter Beach Memorial Volunteer Fire Company on Wednesday, after about two weeks of operations, and shifted to a remotely coordinated response.

The cleanup operations will go on, and also shift resources to more affected areas, as crews continue their process of validating beaches to be clear of oiled material and tar balls.

With Maryland beaches no longer affected, the MDE will step back from the unified command. The Coast Guard, MDE, and DNREC will continue to monitor cleared beaches and continue daily evaluations of areas previously impacted but cleared. Clean up crews may be dispatched to conduct remedial spot checks of areas as necessary.

“Our team came together to address an urgent threat to the environment, and though that threat isn’t over, we believe we have structures, procedures and relationships established to shift our cooperative efforts to manage clean up remotely,” said Lt. Cmdr. Frederick Pugh, U.S. Coast Guard Incident Commander. “We will continue to watch areas that have been impacted and will shift resources as necessary.”

After an oil spill, winds and waves tear the oil into smaller pieces that can be scattered many miles along the coastline. It mixes with water and is changed, known as “weathering,” and also mixes with sand and other marine debris. About 75 tons of oily debris has been removed by cleanup crews during this response.

“We got tons of oily debris and weathered oil off our beaches, but we’re not done yet,” said DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin. “Our experts continue to survey our coastline, assessing the cleanup operation, and as we move ahead, conducting final evaluations of our beaches to make sure the job is done.”

The cause of the oil spill remains under active investigation by the U.S. Coast Guard. If a source is identified, the responsible party would be required to reimburse the federal government for the cleanup operation.

As cleanup ends on individual beaches over the next several days, the public may still see small spots of oil or isolated bits of debris. The beach in Lewes remains temporarily closed, and beachgoers to other affected areas are strongly advised to stay out of the water and avoid walking along the wrack or high tide line.

The public is asked to continue reporting sizeable sightings of oiled debris, tar balls or oiled wildlife.

For reports concerning the Delaware coastline, call DNREC’s toll-free environmental hotline at 800-662-8802. For reports concerning the Maryland coastline, call the Maryland Department of the Environment at 866-633-4686.

About DNREC
The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control protects and manages the state’s natural resources, protects public health, provides outdoor recreational opportunities and educates Delawareans about the environment. For more information, visit the website and connect with DNREC on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

Media Contacts: Nikki Lavoie, nikki.lavoie@delaware.gov; Michael Globetti, michael.globetti@delaware.gov

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Cleanup Operation Extends from Upper Delaware Bay to Ocean City, Md.

Officials Warn Beachgoers to Avoid Oily Debris

The Maryland Department of the Environment has joined the U.S. Coast Guard and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control in a joint response, Wednesday, overseeing the cleanup operation of weathered oil called tar balls and oiled debris scattered along the shoreline from Bowers Beach, Delaware to Ocean City, Maryland.

As crews under the unified command continue to pick up the coin- to pancake-sized tar balls, beachgoers are strongly advised to stay out of the water and avoid walking along the wrack line, where oily debris is deposited by each high tide. The oily debris that has come ashore has forced the towns of Lewes, Dewey Beach and Bethany Beach to close their beaches until further notice. The 4-wheel drive surf fishing crossing at Delaware Beach Plum Island Preserve, managed by Delaware State Parks, also remains closed so cleanup operations will not be hampered by vehicles tracking oil onto the sand.

“We’re not sure how long oily debris will continue to wash up with the tide,” said DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin, who was on scene today surveying oil on the Delaware beaches. “Unfortunately, oil can be very persistent in the marine environment, but our environmental professionals are persistent too. They’re out there, working up and down the coastline, getting it out of the sand as much as possible. I have put out a call for additional resources from within DNREC this week and the response has been outstanding – with their help and the effort from our federal partner the Coast Guard, we’re making progress on this incident.”

As of late Tuesday, cleanup crews of more than 100 personnel had successfully recovered 65 tons of oily debris and sand from Delaware beaches.

“At this point in the response, we’re critically examining our resources, looking at the big picture and seeing where the greatest needs lie,” said Lt. Cmdr Fredrick Pugh, federal incident commander for the response. “We’ll continue to assess the situation, across all impacted coastlines through our on-the-ground experts and through the diligence of our local partners in the affected municipalities.”

The unified command dispatched the cleanup crews to South Bethany yesterday, ahead of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which started a planned beach replenishment. DNREC Secretary Garvin also dispatched an advance crew of 15 DNREC personnel to comb the beach at South Bethany for tar balls and oil patties before new sand was pumped onto the beach there. DNREC established a line of communication with the Army Corps of Engineers’ replenishment contractor to ensure that any significant deposits of oil sighted on the beach can be removed before sand pumped ashore could cover it over.

Crews have surveyed the stretch of coastline by air, land and sea. This week, officials say the oily material that has been spreading along the coast is all from the original amount discovered last week that has been moved repeatedly by the waves and tide, being broken into smaller and smaller pieces. Response officials do not believe there is an ongoing or undiscovered patch of oil out in the bay or ocean.

The Coast Guard has not ruled out any possible sources. The Coast Guard has sent samples of the oil to be analyzed by its Marine Safety Laboratory for a “petroleum fingerprint” that might help determine the source of the spill. If a source is identified, the responsible party would be required to reimburse the federal government for the cleanup operation.

With Tropical Storm Zeta likely to make working conditions difficult later in the week, the unified command may suspend the cleanup operation temporarily while the storm passes through before resuming it over the weekend and continuing into next week.

The public is asked to continue reporting any findings of oil patties or oiled wildlife. For reports concerning the Delaware coastline, call DNREC’s environmental hotline at 800-662-8802. For reports concerning the Maryland coastline, call the Maryland Department of the Environment at 866-633-4686.

About DNREC
The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control protects and manages the state’s natural resources, protects public health, provides outdoor recreational opportunities and educates Delawareans about the environment. For more information, visit the website and connect with DNREC on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

Media Contacts: Nikki Lavoie, nikki.lavoie@delaware.gov; Michael Globetti, michael.globetti@delaware.gov

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Unified Command, Incident Command Post Established for Oil Cleanup Efforts on Delaware Shore

A unified command consisting of the United States Coast Guard and Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) has been established today as cleanup efforts continue on oil patties that washed ashore at various locations on the Delaware Bay coastline between Fowler Beach and Cape Henlopen, Delaware.

Crew members from Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment Lewes, DNREC, Lewis Environmental, a remediation contractor, and Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research are currently on scene conducting cleanup operations, responding to and investigating reports of wildlife impacted by oil, and assessing the oil spill’s shoreline and waterway impact. Currently, there are more than 75 contractors, DNREC responders and Coast Guard personnel responding to the incident.

The public is advised that due to cleanup operations, the 4-wheel drive surf fishing crossing at Delaware Beach Plum Island Preserve is closed.

An incident command post has been set up at the Slaughter Beach Volunteer Fire Department in Slaughter Beach.

Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research is assisting and to date has responded to reports of 24 oiled seagulls that have been spotted.

Approximately two tons of oily sand and debris was removed from the affected areas as of 7 p.m., Tuesday.

“We are focused on cleanup operations and getting the oil off our beaches and out of our coastal communities as quickly as possible,” said DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin, who was on scene today surveying affected areas. “Expediency is key. We want to capture as much of the oil as we can before it disperses further and causes more environmental harm. We’re thankful for the dedicated staff from our different divisions who rushed into the breach to assist DNREC’s Emergency Response and Strategic Services Section with their cleanup mission. To accomplish it, we have put additional resources into the collaboration with our federal partners the U.S. Coast Guard.”

The formation of a unified command brings together partner agencies and response organizations to effectively conduct response efforts in an efficient and expeditious manner,” said Lt. Cmdr. Fred Pugh, Coast Guard Incident Commander. “We currently working to attempt to identify the source of the oil, and we are continuing to work together to adapt and respond to the dynamic nature of this spill.”

The public is strongly advised to not handle any product found or attempt to assist affected wildlife along the shore and to report findings to DNREC’s environmental hotline at 1-800-662-8802.

 

About DNREC
The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control protects and manages the state’s natural resources, protects public health, provides outdoor recreational opportunities and educates Delawareans about the environment. For more information, visit the website and connect with DNREC on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

Media Contacts: Nikki Lavoie, nikki.lavoie@delaware.gov; Michael Globetti, michael.globetti@delaware.gov

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