Noted Southwest Florida ornithologist and CCAS board member, Ted Below, responded recently to the news that the US Fish and Wildlife Service has taken the brown pelican off the endangered species list nationwide.
“There is evidence that in the US, Texas and Louisiana pelicans are increasing and from there around the coast to North Carolina they are declining and have been for some time,” commented Below from his home in Naples. Below, a former Audubon warden and biologist with Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, additionally noted that little research and monitoring of the brown pelican is occurring currently, so confidence in the species’ status may not be well grounded in every region.
Below points to his census data on brown pelicans which reaches back to 1974 from the present (see accompanying graph). During that time, brown pelicans have experienced approximately a 4% average annual decline in population in the Marco Island/Cape Romano region of the Gulf coast. His advice? The species should not be delisted nationwide.
While it is true that the species was delisted federally in 1985 in Florida and Alabama, it remains on the state of Florida imperiled list as a Species of Special Concern. Pelicans are vulnerable to coastal impacts to nesting habitat from hurricanes, sea level rise and pressures from human uses on the coasts. Among those latter concerns are significant mortality and harm from fishing line and tackle, garbage and human feeding.
Certainly, CCAS celebrates the remarkable recovery success throughout much of the species’ range. However, there are justified concerns for brown pelicans that warrant continued vigilance in the southeastern U.S. on both the Gulf and Atlantic coasts.