Week 6: Friends of Cape May National Wildlife Refuge: Local Action, Global Impact
Hope is not only something you feel. It is also something we can construct through confidence and action. Individuals can make a difference and communities of active individuals can have great impact on a global scale.
I was at the Two Mile Beach section of the Cape May National Wildlife Refuge, ready for a group information and bird watch tour. I’d come to learn all about the refuge and ways to volunteer. Binoculars and wildlife checklist in hand, we trekked off towards the dune trail area.
The Cape May National Wildlife Refuge is comprised of 11,000 acres of critical habitat for a wide variety of birds and other wildlife. It supports 317 bird species, 41 mammal species, 50 reptile and amphibian species and a variety of fish, shellfish and other invertebrates. To put the importance of the Refuge into perspective, each spring, hundreds of thousands of shorebirds – almost 80 percent of some entire populations of species – stop to rest and feed here during their migration from Central and South America and the Caribbean on their way to Canadian and Arctic breeding grounds. In addition, the Refuge’s marshes and tidal creeks provide important nursery areas and nutrient resources for a variety of fish and shellfish. In fact, 70% of the species sought by recreational and commercial fishermen off the coast of southern New Jersey depend on shallow water habitats such as these for at least part of their life cycle.
Our guides, Derek and his mom Dana, are volunteers and members of the Friends of Cape May National Wildlife Refuge (FRIENDS). They had been birding for several years and taught us how to identify species based on size, shape, color, call and movement. Taking us through dunes and marshland that were both beautiful and rugged, I was surprised by the variety of habitats, wildlife and plants. It was obvious Derek and Dana really enjoyed volunteering with FRIENDS and sharing their passion. They gave us tons of information and interesting tidbits on breeding, feeding, nesting and seasonal migrations.
During my visit to the Refuge I was surprised to learn the level of impact of FRIENDS. With only 5 full time employees, the group relies heavily on a community of volunteers who work together to preserve and protect this amazing wildlife habitat.
The Refuge is threatened on many fronts including infrastructure development, local population increase, pollution, the introduction of invasive species and the impacts of global climate change such as rising water and tides, stronger storms and changing seasonal temperature fluctuations. In the face of these large-scale challenges it would be easy for individuals to feel fearful about the future, or overwhelmed and powerless, or to feel guilt about the impact of our behaviors on future generations. But the members of FRIENDS have turned those feelings into positive action by fighting large-scale challenges with everyday actionable steps. And these everyday actions add up to global impact.
Individual FRIENDS members provide extensive volunteer work, trail clean up, bird and wildlife tagging and tracking. They work with US Fish and Wildlife personnel and provide community education. As a community with a shared vision, FRIENDS works to secure additional acreage for the park. Their goal is to double the size of the Refuge to almost 22,000 acres, and they are working relentlessly towards that achievement. The members of FRIENDS also fight for stronger legislation at the municipality, State and Federal level. And it’s working. Legislation is in place to protect these fragile lands.
By focusing on protecting and improving their corner of the world in the face of global and local challenges, FRIENDS has had huge impact on the entire hemisphere by ensuring critical lands for migrating birds are available and healthy. Migrating birds provide economic, ecological and cultural importance to communities and regions throughout the hemisphere. They move seeds and nutrients. They control insect populations which affect crop growth and disease. Their resting and breeding grounds protect ecosystems (for example, the wetlands provide protection from flooding). Migrations provide huge economic tourism boons in places like the Arctic. Without the thousands of birds that either live in the Refuge or migrate through the Refuge each year, various ecosystems from South America to the Arctic would experience environmental and economic problems. Simple actions such as educating communities and fighting for legislation here at the Refuge are having great impact throughout the hemisphere!
The Refuge itself is beautiful and peaceful and we saw tons of birds of many varieties, along with ghost crabs and the shells of horseshoe crabs. We learned about the Red Knot, a bird who migrates more than 9,000 miles from the Arctic to the tip of South America each year (one of the longest migrations of any bird). Almost the entire North American population of Red Knots stops in the Refuge during their migration each year.
I left in awe of the tremendous importance of the refuge, amazed by the treasure of wildlife and plant species within the reserve and inspired by the message of FRIENDS that simple, focused, individual and community actions can solve big issues and lead to a better tomorrow. Each of us can have impact, and together we can support a shared vision.
It left me with the confidence that I can have impact too.
To learn more about the refuge or to support FRIENDS check out their home page here: http://www.friendsofcapemayrefuge.org/
For a great brochure on the Cape May National Wildlife Refuge please click: http://www.friendsofcapemayrefuge.org/uploads/2/8/4/6/2846592/cape_may_nwr_brochure.pdf