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Share the shoreline: Push to protect piping plovers, key indicator of coastal health

Protecting piping plovers on New York beaches
Protecting piping plovers on New York beaches 02:07

NEW YORK -- As temperatures start to warm up and some people find themselves heading to the beach, environmental experts are urging New Yorkers to share the shore.

It's nesting season for piping plovers and the rare birds need all the help they can get. 

From Long Island's North Shore to the beaches of the southern side of Queens, there's a warning to beachgoers: Don't disturb the piping plovers.

"Piping plovers in New York City are not doing well," Chris Allieri, founder of NYC Plover Project, told CBS2's John Dias. 

NYC Plover Project is a nonprofit dedicated to helping the rare and endangered birds. Allieri said last year was the worst breeding season for the birds ever recorded in Queens. 

"We had more than 116 piping plovers on the beaches of the Rockaways, but very few surviving chicks. Everything from widespread nest vandalism to drones, to dogs," he said. 

He said plovers are indicator species, so if their population is in trouble, so are beaches and coastal habitats. 

"If the piping plovers, the most vulnerable can do well, it's a domino effect to other species," he said. "There are very few of them left. There is somewhere between 6-and-8,000 globally left."

Which is why environmental experts and volunteers have spent days hanging up what's called symbolic fencing, protecting areas where they nest and creating zones humans and pets should avoid. The symbolic fencing doesn't stay up all year long. When the birds migrate south come August, the fencing comes down.

On Long Island, experts warn to keep an eye out for the birds, even in areas not blocked off, since plovers have to make their way to the shoreline to feed. 

"Make sure that there aren't any accidents, there's no anyone accidentally stepping on a nest," said Shelby Casas, coastal program associate with Audubon NY. "You might not even notice a pair or a little chick running around the beach right next to you."

So while it's a small ask to share the shore, the results are extraordinary for some of New Yorkers' favorite feathered friends. 

Piping plovers are federally protected birds under the Endangered Species Act, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. 

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