DNREC Division of Fish & Wildlife’s artificial reef program sinks retired cruise ship as addition to Redbird Reef

Newest reef addition will be ‘magnet’ for fish and other marine life

ATLANTIC OCEAN 38° 40.494’N 74° 43.726’W – DNREC’s artificial reef program within the Division of Fish & Wildlife today enhanced the state’s renowned artificial reef system by sinking a retired cruise ship on Delaware’s Redbird Inshore Artificial Reef Site #11 located 16.5 nautical miles off Indian River Inlet. The newly-reefed ship, which cruised the Chesapeake Bay and coastal waters for more than 15 years, will provide angling opportunities and exciting dive trip possibilities on the Redbird Reef. Delaware’s most diverse marine habitat as home to 997 retired New York City subway cars and a variety of vessels including decommissioned tugboats, trawlers, barges, and military armored vehicles. At 215 feet in length, the former cruise ship sunk today becomes the largest component of the Redbird Reef.

Pictuere of the DNREC Delaware Division of Fish & Wildlife Division

The retired cruise ship’s sinking was carried out by Norfolk, Va.-based marine contractor Coleen Marine, which has performed reef vessel and material preparation and deployment for Delaware, most prominently the Del-Jersey-Land Inshore Artificial Reef’s submerged fleet. Among the Del-Jersey-Land reef fleet are the ex-destroyer USS Arthur W. Radford, which was deployed in 2011 as the longest ship reefed on the East Coast; the Zuni/Tamaroa, the one-time harbor tug and World War II Battle of Iwo Jima survivor turned US Coast Guard cutter that plied Atlantic waters for almost 50 years, which was added to the reef two years ago; and the MV Twin Capes, the 325-foot-long retired Lewes-Cape May ferry that was sent to the ocean floor in 2018.

“Delaware’s artificial reef system continues to grow in both its renown and disparate natural resources,” said DNREC Secretary Shawn M. Garvin. “Our reef system is without compare in the Mid-Atlantic region, and the diversity of materials – from a former destroyer and other retired warships to almost 1,400 retired New York City subway cars reefed since 2002 – makes it a fish magnet for angling action and diving excitement, and more importantly making more fish habitat for helping sustain some of our leading fisheries including sea bass and tautog (blackfish).”

The ship’s vertical profile – much like the reefed ex-Twin Capes ferry – gives it a great attraction both as fish habitat and for underwater exploration by divers. For dive trips, the former cruise ship offers four passenger decks for exploration and meeting up with new aquatic residents drawn to the ship’s structure such as tautog and sea bass. Divers may also reflect on the ship once having more than 40 staterooms, most of them offering an ocean view when it cruised Atlantic coastal waters.

Delaware has 14 permitted artificial reef sites in Delaware Bay and along the Atlantic Coast, with development of the state’s reef system having begun in 1995. Funding for acquisition, environmental preparation, and sinking of the retired cruise ship as the latest addition to the system was provided by DNREC’s Division of Fish & Wildlife using federal Sport Fish Restoration grant funds administered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Media contact: Michael Globetti, DNREC Public Affairs, 302-739-9902


DNREC, federal, local and conservation partners gather to celebrate completion of Mispillion Harbor restoration

MISPILLION HARBOR – Against a backdrop of migrating shorebirds and spawning horseshoe crabs on the beach at Mispillion Harbor, DNREC Secretary Shawn M. Garvin was joined by U.S. Senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons, and Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester to celebrate the completion of the Mispillion Harbor restoration. The three-year project restored the area in the wake of damage inflicted by a series of coastal storms including 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, and built resiliency against future storms impacting this vitally important habitat. Also joining the Secretary and the Congressional Delegation were U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Northeast Regional Director Wendi Weber, and National Fish & Wildlife Foundation Vice President of Conservation Programs Eric Schwaab.

Who is in the Photo?
Located east of Milford within the Milford Neck Wildlife Area, Mispillion Harbor is globally significant for the high numbers of migrating shorebirds that stop there each spring to refuel by feeding on the eggs of spawning horseshoe crabs, with both species favoring the harbor’s sheltered sandy beaches and calm waters than other less-sheltered sites along Delaware’s Bayshore. Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) led the task of restoring balance to this critical habitat, as well as planning the restoration of the surrounding Milford Neck tidal marsh, in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), National Fish & Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), The Nature Conservancy, and Delaware Wild Lands, with support from other conservation partners and local community members.

Federal funds totaling $5.8 million through USFWS and NFWF were paired with $2 million in state matching funds to complete restoration of Mispillion Harbor and to create a longer-term plan for restoring the integrity of Milford Neck’s marshlands and forest habitat.

“I want to commend everyone involved – the Congressional Delegation, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, and all of our other conservation partners – for their support in bringing this important project to completion,” said DNREC Secretary Shawn M. Garvin. “Through this partnership, we have restored one of the Delaware Bayshore’s most extraordinary places. Mispillion Harbor can now continue to provide safe haven to migrating shorebirds, including the threatened red knot, and to the spawning horseshoe crabs whose eggs fuel their long journey, as well as drawing visitors from around the world to observe the vital interaction of these species.”

“The funding that the congressional delegation worked hard to acquire for Delaware projects after Hurricane Sandy not only saved this area, but saved a part of Delaware’s tourism economy,” said Senator Tom Carper, ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee in the U.S. Senate. “That money was put to good use. We didn’t just fix the damage, we created a long-term plan to mitigate damage from future storms. Some people say we can’t have a strong economy and healthy environment at the same time, but I believe this project is a great example of how we cannot have one without the other.”

“Delaware’s wetlands and coastal habitats are not only beautiful, they’re also unique parts of our ecosystem and critical to our economy,” said Senator Chris Coons. “In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, these wetlands were truly at risk, and I’m so proud of everyone at the state, federal, and local level who came together to protect the Mispillion Harbor Reserve, the Milford Neck conservation area, and all the creatures who call these places home.”
“This vital conservation project is a great example of steps we can take to restore ecological balance along our coast. With the completion of the Mispillion Harbor Restoration, horseshoe crabs now have a new beach to spawn their young, red knots have a place to refuel on their journey north, and Delaware is revitalizing its pristine coastline,” said Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester. “It’s only through the continued efforts of local, state, and federal collaborators that we can both save endangered species and preserve the First State’s beauty for all to enjoy.”

In Mispillion Harbor, habitat restoration work began in 2016 and was completed this spring, including:

  • The existing rock structure – originally constructed in the 1980s to protect the harbor – was raised by an average of 3.5 feet to a height of 6 feet over a distance of 2,300 linear feet, and was extended westward by an additional 400 feet, tying into the existing dune. To increase stability, the base of the structure also was broadened by 18 feet.
  • Sandy beach areas were expanded by adding 40,000 cubic yards of sand along the inside of the rock structure between the north groin and south groin, and on the south side of the south groin.
  • Five new groins ranging from 80-150 feet were constructed perpendicular to the rock structure to hold the sand in place.
  • Swains Beach was restored by adding 500 cubic yards of sand, after removing materials used as riprap by a previous owner, including: concrete waste, two truckloads of old tires, two truckloads of metal debris and other waste. Also, volunteers planted 5,000 beach grass plugs to help hold the sand in place.

For the Milford Neck conservation area, hydrodynamic modeling, restoration alternatives, and a restoration plan were collaboratively developed by DNREC’s Division of Fish & Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy and Delaware Wild Lands, who collectively own 10,000 acres of Milford Neck, including the state-owned Milford Neck Wildlife Area.

“The success of this collaborative restoration effort has played out this spring on the shoreline of Mispillion Harbor, with horseshoe crabs spawning on the beaches and shorebirds eating their fill of eggs,” said Regional Director Weber, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “This project truly exemplifies the power of partnerships. When we combine our investments, energy, and innovation to restore Mispillion Harbor and build a stronger Atlantic Coast, we can accomplish far more for wildlife and people than any single agency or organization can accomplish alone.”

In addition to supporting the recovery of the federally-listed threatened red knot by helping provide a stable food source for shorebirds in a protected area, and offering a safe haven for spawning horseshoe crabs, the work at Mispillion Harbor, Milford Neck, and associated navigable waterways also benefits local residents and visitors.

Restoration work to protect Mispillion Harbor and to maintain tidal flow through coastal marshes, supports local communities and enhances recreational and commercial boating and fishing access, as well as other outdoor opportunities in the area, including:

  • Public boat ramps at Cedar Creek a half-mile upstream from the harbor and on the Mispillion River in Milford 10 miles upstream;
  • The DuPont Nature Center, which overlooks the harbor with its deck offering a sweeping view of the spring spectacle of shorebirds and horseshoe crabs, is owned and operated by DNREC’s Division of Fish & Wildlife, and attracts thousands of local, regional, national, and international visitors each year;
  • Local businesses near the harbor – Cedar Creek Marina, a commercial marina and dry-dock facility, and Delaware Bay Launch Services, which operates a fleet of boats servicing ship and barge traffic on the Delaware Bay and River headed to ports in Philadelphia, Trenton, Camden, and Wilmington; and
  • Farmlands and residential areas, notably the nearby Town of Slaughter Beach, which has more than 350 homes, a volunteer fire company, and public recreation facilities including beach access, a picnic pavilion, public restrooms, and interpretive signs. The town serves the region by supporting school and nature center programs, fishing, wildlife viewing, kayaking, and other recreational uses of the beach and bay.

Restoration work planned for Milford Neck will expand on the benefits from the Mispillion Harbor restoration, further facilitating movement of storm and spring tide waters throughout the tidal marsh system woven into the area of Slaughter Beach, Milford Neck, Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, and other state and conservation partner-owned properties as well as residential and agricultural areas.

Media Contact: Joanna Wilson, DNREC Public Affairs, 302-739-9902

Bridge-nesting peregrine falcon fledglings take a tumble but get helping hands toward survival

USFWS biologist Craig Koppie returns two rescued peregrine falcons to their nest atop the St. Georges BridgeST. GEORGES (June 18, 2013) – A winning combination of citizen awareness, DNREC Division of Fish & Wildlife Enforcement, Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research, and the US Fish & Wildlife Service collaborated recently to rescue and subsequently return a pair of juvenile peregrine falcons to their nesting location on the St. Georges Bridge over the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal after the birds had “crash-landed” on the bridge’s roadway while attempting their first flight.

Known as the world’s fastest bird, peregrine falcons have nested in Delaware since the late 1980s when they were carefully reintroduced to the eastern United States as the population rebounded from a federally endangered species listing. Due to the pesticide DDT, the entire eastern population had completely disappeared and recovery was uncertain. Delaware was not an obvious place for bringing them back, as the landscape lacks any naturally-occurring cliffs, the peregrines’ preferred habitat. However, the state boasts several large and high bridges that the falcons find as a surrogate for cliffs. The first nesting pair was on the Delaware Memorial Bridge, and over the past three decades, falcons have also taken up residence on the Summit, St. Georges, and Reedy Point Bridges over the C&D Canal. 

Three years ago, the Division of Fish & Wildlife began monitoring a new pair of peregrines atop the St. Georges Bridge. The steel truss bridge serves well as nesting location, or aerie, but it also can be a perilous place for juvenile falcons as they prepare to make their first flights. With their nest scrape high in the arches of the bridge, young birds have fallen into the C&D Canal or landed on the deck of the bridge, often resulting in mortality.The two rescued falcons are safely returned to the catwalk during a successful release atop the St. Georges Bridge.

Twice this month, two fledglings leaving the St. Georges Bridge nest for the first time might have met with such misfortune. Instead, quick thinking by citizens who saw and reported the falcons on the deck and roadbed of the bridge – amidst passing traffic – triggered a quick response from Division of Fish & Wildlife Enforcement agents who rescued the falcons and transported them to the nationally-renowned Tri-State Bird Rescue in Newark. 

After thorough examination and a few days of observation, Tri-State Bird Rescue reported that both falcons were in great condition and ready to be returned to their nest. On Wednesday, June 12, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service raptor biologist Craig Koppie attempted to reintroduce the two juveniles, both females, to their parents.  

With the actual nest site a precarious perch inaccessible to humans, Mr. Koppie elected to place the falcons on the catwalk of the bridge, giving them a safer venue for continuing to exercise their wings and to make short flights. “Returning the young to the nest at this age is often difficult and requires a plan so the release will not end up in the same manner – with birds falling to the ground again,” he said. “To minimize risk of the birds immediately taking flight before they’re ready, I immersed the young falcons in water to soak their body and flight feathers. This makes the fledglings heavy and wet, and they will not have the desire to bolt once released. I also placed food (quail) along the catwalk before taking them to the top of the bridge so the young falcons would concentrate on eating while they were drying off.” 

As he scaled the bridge to release the juveniles, the adult falcons recognized their offspring from on high and became aggressive toward him; Mr. Koppie took this behavior as an excellent sign that the young birds were still being defended by their parents, and that the adults would continue to attend to their offspring’s needs. 

Thus, a successful release, and it seemed that all was well with the young falcons – with a little luck they would be airborne again in a day or two, this time for good. However, heavy thunderstorms were forecast over the next few days and strong winds could have dashed hopes for the falcons’ survival. Division of Fish & Wildlife biologist Anthony Gonzon was determined to monitor the birds in the storms’ aftermath. Arriving at St. Georges Bridge in the early morning Friday, June 14, he immediately located one of the adult peregrines on the catwalk beneath the bridge. Panning across the arches, he spotted one of the juveniles, a poignant sighting, Mr. Gonzon recalled: “At the very least, one of the young birds had survived the storms, and better yet, it could fly!” 

Gonzon spent more time combing the horizon for the second juvenile rescue. During that time, the other adult falcon flew in with food for the first juvenile and tried to coax it off the crossbeam of the arch where it was first observed. The young bird made a couple of attempts to take flight, but elected to stay put and wait for the adult to deliver its food. When the adult landed, the young falcon quickly ran to it, stole the carcass of a bird away and made a fast break for cover. 

“But there was still no sign of the second juvenile,” Mr. Gonzon recalled. Time and circumstances conspired against a sighting when, suddenly, on the north bank of the canal, he saw both adult falcons, clearly agitated and diving at some unseen threat. “A quick look through a spotting scope and there it was – the second peregrine fledgling! The parents obviously had been protecting her. Although she still had a little down on her head, she could fly, and fly well enough to perch on a dead tree along the canal.” The peregrine parents successfully drove off whatever threat they had detected, and the young bird flew back to the catwalk under the bridge, capping a restoration success. And evidence, according to Mr. Gonzon, “that Delaware’s peregrine falcon population had grown by two!” 

“We work hard to reunite young birds of prey with their parents or a foster family whenever we can,” said Lisa Smith, executive director of Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research. “Young birds of prey have so much to learn from the adults – how to hunt, how to behave socially, where to roost, etc. We are delighted that these two falcons can continue to grow up in the wild.”

Photo credits: Top, Russ Carlson. Bottom: USFWS/Craig Koppie.

Contact: Michael Globetti, DNREC Public Affairs, 302-739-9902

Vol. 43, No. 250


DNREC Falcon Cam update: Four chicks, all fit and outfitted with bands for future flight and fate

The 2013 DNREC Wilmington Falcon Cam chicks sporting new bands - Photo: Craig Koppie/US Fish & Wildlife ServiceWILMINGTON (May 15, 2013) – The four peregrine falcon chicks given starring roles on the DNREC Falcon Cam  – sponsored by the Delaware Ornithological Society and DuPont’s Clear Into the Future initiative – were outfitted for their own ornithological future this week. They were banded Tuesday by the US Fish & Wildlife Service so as to enable the gathering of biological and biographical data from them as they spread their wings into adulthood.

USFWS raptor biologist Craig Koppie gave the chicks colorful leg-bands Tuesday that will further knowledge about the regional peregrine population. Resightings of banded birds has provided valuable information on their movements, ancestry and adaptability to changing environments. “This data becomes even more important when we consider that the peregrine, once an endangered species, now inhabits more urban and suburban areas than natural cliff sites where it once resided,” said DNREC Division of Fish & Wildlife biologist Anthony Gonzon. “Resightings of these colored and numbered bands help us to identify individual birds that may have travelled several hundred miles from their birthplaces to new nesting locations.”

The fourth chick born from this year’s clutch to Red Girl, the female adult peregrine on the DNREC Falcon Cam, is on the right in the photo – and is the only chick not yet displaying colorful downy feathers. The chick hatched more than two days after its siblings. Facing a perilous possibility of survival because of its late arrival, the chick was removed from the nest box on the 19th floor of the Brandywine Building by Mr. Koppie, nurtured by him for two weeks, then returned to the nest box where it has since thrived.

CONTACT:  Michael Globetti, DNREC Public Affairs, 302-739-9902, or Bill Stewart, Delaware Ornithological Society, email: bird-del@earthlink.net

Photo: USFWS/Craig Koppie

Vol. 43, No. 197

Wilmington Peregrine Falcons again a full family unit after revitalized chick’s return to nest box

The two-day old falcon chick after it was removed from the nest - Photo: US Fish & Wildlife Service: Craig KoppieWILMINGTON (May 14, 2013) – With the recent return to the nest box of a chick that was artificially fed and cared for by human hand while it gained weight and strength to fend for itself in the box, the Wilmington Peregrine Falcons of DNREC Falcon Cam fame have regained the family dynamic as the four chicks prepare to fledge.

 Nesting high above the streets of downtown Wilmington, on the 19th floor of the Brandywine Building, adult falcons successfully hatched four eggs in April. The hatching of the fourth egg occurred three days after the first three, leaving a smaller, virtually helpless chick with little chance to compete with its larger siblings and a low chance of survival.The falcon chick at 2 weeks ago rejuvenated and ready for a return to nest box - Photo: US Fish & Wildlife Service/Craig Koppie After authorization from DNREC’s Division of Fish & Wildlife, U.S. Fish & Wildlife raptor biologist Craig Koppie made an emergency intercession, and removed the chick from the nest, nurturing it for two weeks until it reached a size – and had a fighting appetite for life – comparable to its siblings’. (See adjacent photos by Mr. Koppie for growth comparison.)

Upon returning the chick to the nest box, Mr. Koppie reported to DNREC biologist Anthony Gonzon that “The mother” – affectionately known as Red Girl” to Falcon Cam devotees – “brought in a small bird and fed the other siblings until the very last piece, which she gave to the little one. My little buddy received his first piece of food from his mother since he hatched!” About an hour and half later, Red Girl “came in with a pigeon. The young male forced his way to the front and was fed by the mother until his crop was full.” 

Mr. Koppie himself returned to the nest box Tuesday morning to band the young falcons before their first flight and eventual departure for their own territory. All four chicks from the “class of 2013” were found to be thriving. Earlier, he had reflected on his rearing of the fourth chick, which quite likely saved its life, and its return to the nest box: “I liked his overall progress and physical abilities (for returning it to the nest box). I felt confident about the timing and development stages of the other siblings and that he would likely fit in.”

Photos: US Fish & Wildlife Service/Craig Koppie

Contact: Michael Globetti, DNREC Public Affairs, 302-739-9902 

Vol. 43, No. 195