Birds, beaches, and boardwalks

Parks Canada Youth Ambassadors summer adventure part 4:

Birds, beaches, and boardwalks

By Clara Vuillier-Devillers

2022-2023 Parks Canada Youth Ambassador

After our long hot drive from Halifax, my co-Youth Ambassadors and I were craving a dip in the cool salty ocean. As soon as we arrived at Kouchibouguac National Park, the first thing we did was head over to the park Visitor Center. Once checked into our campsite and outfitted with some Kouchibouguac merchandise, we headed straight to the beach for a swim. We decided to take one of our Kouchibouguac colleague’s recommendations and check out Kellys Beach. In order to access this particular beach, we had to cross a boardwalk over a salt-marsh and lagoon brimming with amazing sea life! We were lucky enough to see cormorants, gannets, jellyfish, moon snails and hermit crabs. Once we got to the beach, we even learned how to catch Atlantic rock crab from one of the Outreach students at the park.

The soft sand felt cool under our feet as the gentle waves washed up along the shore. It sure does feel good to be on the road again rather than working remotely from home. One of the best parts of this job is that all of Canada becomes your office!

There is a lot of work and initiatives happening behind the scenes in order to keep the beach and wildlife both safe and clean. This year, the first cases of avian influenza (H5N1) have been reported in some of the park’s sea birds. Avian influenza is a naturally occurring virus that affects both wild and domestic birds. The disease is transmitted through contact with an infected bird’s bodily fluids, such as fecal matter and saliva. The resource conservation team is working hard to collect infected birds along park beaches and coastal areas in order to prevent the mass spread of avian influenza throughout the local seabird population and so it remains safe to visit Kouchibouguac National Park.

In order to learn more about the efforts put towards reducing the spread of avian influenza, we were lucky enough to tag along with Daniel – one of the Parks Canada resource conservation team members – on a shoreline cleanup walk in order to remove all seabird remains from the area.

Parks Canada staff (Daniel) equipped with a wagon to clean up the beach area.

Daniel explained to us that the removal of the infected seabirds not only helps reduce the spread of the disease, but also helps the park’s Piping Plover recovery strategy. The Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus) is a small endangered shorebird found only in North America. These birds face many threats such as predation, human disturbance, habitat loss and habitat degradation. Currently, Kouchibouguac National Park is home to around a dozen reproducing Piping Plover pairs per year, all of which are nesting throughout the park’s barrier island system. In order to promote population recovery and give the birds a safe place to nest, a section of Kelly’s Beach (which is one of multiple critical habitats along the barrier islands) is roped off and off limits to visitors. With the arrival of avian influenza in the park, it poses a potential threat to the Piping Plover population and the clean-up work being done is a pre-emptive attempt to make sure they are not adversely affected. An increase in dead seabirds attracts more predators like the red fox to the sand dunes and coastal areas where the Piping Plovers nest. Preventing predator attraction into this critical nesting habitat is key to protecting the threatened population.

Fortunately, on our tag along patrol with Daniel we encountered no dead or infected seabirds! Unfortunately for us, our search was cut short by a torrential downpour of rain and lightning along the coastline. After running back down to the beach soaked from head to toe, we finally made it to the lifeguard station to take refuge. There, we were greeted by some very friendly (and dry!) Parks Canada student employees. Once the storm cleared, we made it back to our campsite to find pools of water inside of our tents… Lesson learned about bringing extra tarps next time!

Despite unexpected weather conditions, we truly did have an amazing time checking out Kouchibouguac National Park. Following along with Daniel gave us the incredible opportunity to see first hand some of the important behind the scenes conservation jobs that happen in national parks to maintain ecological integrity and promote visitor safety. With the help of Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Parks Canada team is working hard to better understand avian influenza and keep a healthy environment in Kouchibouguac National Park. So, next time you’re at the park enjoying the beach, remember to keep in mind all the hard work that goes into keeping it clean and safe for everyone to enjoy! Oh, and also remember to bring a raincoat and umbrella just in case… 🙂

– Clara

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