Paradise Pond: A Model of Community Conservation
by Ian Hartzler and Cecilia Riley, Gulf Coast Bird Observatory
Woodlots in the Gulf of Mexico region provide vital stopover habitat
for 269 species of neotropical migratory birds. After millions of songbirds
either cross or circumnavigate the gulf, they seek out these habitats
in which to rest and replenish fat reserves before continuing their migration.
These near-coastal habitats can mean the difference between life and death,
especially when unfavorable weather conditions occur over the gulf.
In the Gulf Coast region, urban sprawl and other development is rapidly
consuming the habitats needed by migratory birds. However, a counterbalance
is coming into play: nature-based tourism, which is developing into a
major industry in this region. Through planning and understanding the
needs of neotropical migrants, a visionary community can successfully
protect the habitat crucial to these birds, aiding in their survival while
expanding its economy.
The Gulf Coast Bird Observatory (Observatory), whose mission is to study
and conserve birds and their habitats in and around the gulf, works with
such communities to protect habitat. It stimulates the development of
partnerships and provides technical expertise. The Observatory has developed
a model for helping cities and towns conserve habitat. Its work with the
city of Port Aransas, Texas, to protect Paradise Pond clearly illustrates
The first step is to identify priority habitat. Paradise Pond, which
lies within Port Aransas’ city limits on Mustang Island, is the
only natural, permanent freshwater wetland on the island. The pond is
surrounded by a dense woodlot of black willow—an important stopover
habitat for migratory birds. Birders have long touted the value of the
pond. Analyses of aerial maps of the region and radar images of birds
in migration have confirmed their claims.
The model’s second step is to document the importance of protecting
the selected site. Over a 4-year period, the Observatory documented bird
activity at Paradise Pond, assessed threats to the site, and considered
the needs of the community. Conservation of the site was a good fit with
the city’s plan to provide residents a system of “pocket-parks”
and to increase its ecotourism industry.
The model next calls for partnership building. Port Aransas’ mayor,
city manager, and city engineer enthusiastically agreed to participate
in the project, as did a number of local birders. The project received
a significant boost when two landowners donated their properties to help
establish the Paradise Pond Sanctuary.
The model finally deals with project funding. The funding process is
facilitated when a group of partners rallies around a high-priority project.
The sanctuary’s partnership leveraged land donations, in-kind services,
and a private grant to secure additional monies for visitor enhancements
at the pond and to purchase a buffer area near the sanctuary.
With a boardwalk and state-of-the-art visitor facilities now complete,
Paradise Pond has been incorporated into Port Aransas’ pocket-parks
system and is being enjoyed by an increasing number of visitors. This
is a landmark example that demonstrates how conservation organizations
can work with communities to protect important habitat for birds and people.
For more information, contact Ian Hartzler, Gulf Crossings Project
Manager, Gulf Coast Bird Observatory, 103 West Highway 332, Lake Jackson,
Texas 77566, (979) 480-0999, firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Don Parker, Chicago Wilderness
Photos by John Weinstein, © 2002 The Field Museum
As if to pull in diners for a Friday night fish-fry on the shores of
Wolf Lake, a sign along Avenue O proclaimed “BioBlitz” in
big, red letters. The sign heralded the Calumet Biodiversity Blitz—a
biological inventory on steroids. On August 23, 2002, more than 150 expert
scientists assembled at Wolf Lake, Eggers Woods, and Powderhorn Marsh
and Prairie on the South Side of Chicago to identify and record as many
living organisms as possible within 24 hours. The purpose of this major
undertaking was to underline the extraordinary range of creatures still
living in green pockets amidst this collage of factories, warehouses,
forest preserves, residences, and highways.
One goal of the BioBlitz was to publicly launch phase II of the Calumet
Stewardship Initiative, a comprehensive education and outreach program
aimed at fostering long-term participation by local residents in efforts
to rehabilitate and protect the region’s natural resources. The
initiative seeks in part to assemble 4,800 acres into the Calumet Open
Space Reserve. Though a full inventory takes many years, the BioBlitz
provides a mass of information (and some much-needed publicity) as conservationists
continue to develop plans for habitat recovery.
The event mixed scientists and neighbors. Said Chris Merenowicz, superintendent
of conservation at the Forest Preserve District of Cook County: “A
lot of young kids get involved in a chosen field of science this way.
They see this firsthand, and a lightbulb goes on in their heads.”
At the science tent, late into the night, researchers picked through
petri dishes, sorting insects into orders, scouring leaves for mites,
scanning monitors for protozoans. All the while, soil invertebrates, projected
on the ceiling of the tent, danced for all to see.
“Where should I put this?” cried a volunteer, holding a bluegill
in a jug. “Can we have some more alcohol?!” called another
from across the tent. “I’m never going swimming in a lake
again,” declared another, picking through a dish of tiny creatures
taken from Wolf Lake.
“It’s like Planet of the Apes,” remarked Paul Marcum,
botanist with the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS), as one of the
vascular plant teams worked its way through vegetation surrounding a large
cement pillar left over from a decommissioned Nike Missile Base.
Marcum has been studying this region with other INHS researchers over
the past 2 years. So far, the scientists have found seven threatened or
endangered species, including the early lady’s tresses orchid. Marcum
also has noticed an increase in the invasive Eurasian water millfoil here.
He momentarily disappeared in a thicket of purple loosestrife and reemerged
to declare he had found the high-quality swamp loosestrife hidden among
the invasive species.
Corinne Chengary, who lives just down the block in Hegewisch, brought
her family to the BioBlitz. “We walk out here all the time, and
come fishing. But today, we can learn about what really goes on here.”
Unofficially, the BioBlitz identified some 2,400 species—some rare
and unexpected—but the final tally will likely be higher as scientists
continue to analyze specimens.
For more information, contact Debra Shore, Editor, Chicago Wilderness
Magazine, 5225 Old Orchard Road, Suite 37, Skokie, Illinois 60077, (847)