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Cleaning Up Home For Endangered Species In San Diego

— Crews scouring the oceanside of the Silver Strand in Coronado picked up everything from cigarette butts to a large metal wire buried in the sand. Much of the debris was small, but all of it was a threat to the natural habitat.

Photo credit: Estelle Nicolas

Picking up garbage along the Silver Strand in Coronado

Dozens of sailors and concerned citizens spent Thursday morning picking up trash along the ocean at the Silver Strand in Coronado. The cleanup is a small part of a larger effort to protect two endangered birds.

The cleanup is about more than just picking up trash. It is about figuring out the source.

"We want to move past just picking up the number of marine debris items and look to source identification so that we can begin to better prevent the problem," said Katherine Weiler of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Identifying where the garbage comes from can help keep the trash from ending up on the Silver Strand. And that is great news for two endangered birds.

This long spit of sandy beach is a nursery for two ground nesting species, least terns and snowy plovers. Naval Base Coronado Wildlife Biologist Tiffany Shepherd said least terns look for flat sandy terrain.

"The way they build their nests is called a scrape," she said as she kneeled down and scooped out a little patch of sand. "So all they do is just create a little divot with their body in the sand. And then they lay their eggs right in that divot."

Twenty percent of the nation's least terns nest here along with about 10 percent of snowy plovers. The birds thrive largely because of the Navy's efforts to protect them, and because this area is also a busy training zone.

"This area on the oceanside is strictly for military training only. We have agreements with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that allow us to train at the levels we need while maintaining nesting," said Shepherd.

The cleanup carries added significance for the endangered birds. Keeping the region free of trash helps protect this sliver of habitat considered crucial for their long-term survival, according to Shepherd.

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