10/5/23 (New York) – The National Audubon Society’s Connecticut and New York office celebrated the impact of collective action on bird conservation at this year’s 2023 Keesee Awards Luncheon. The prestigious Thomas W. Keesee, Jr., Conservation Award recognizes those who show remarkable leadership and commitment to protecting birds and the places they need. At this year’s event, three organizations were honored for their efforts to help increase the threatened population of Piping Plovers both locally and at a hemispheric level: Bahamas National Trust, Mass Audubon, and the NYC Plover Project.
“Audubon is proud to honor these conservation champions for coordinating action to reverse Piping Plover declines,” said Michael Burger, executive director of Audubon Connecticut and New York, in his opening remarks. “Through their efforts to engage beachgoers, school-aged youth, policymakers, state and federal agencies, and other environmental organizations, they are proactively building a road to recovery for Piping Plovers before they become federally endangered. Effective conservation of migratory species like Piping Plover requires a specialized approach to each phase of their annual life cycle, which is what these organizations are providing.”
The Piping Plover is a small shorebird that nests directly in the sand on beaches and offshore islands. Many of its North American nesting areas are subject to human disturbance or other threats, and it is now considered endangered or threatened in all parts of its range.
Because the most impactful conservation actions come out of an authentic love for wildlife and nature, Audubon was honored to have David Sibley accept the 2023 Audubon New York Award for Environmental Writing.
Though he joked about an artist being unlikely to receive the award, David has revolutionized the way we study birds. His art reflects his belief that “simple observations always lead to new ideas and new discoveries.”
He continues to learn incredible new facts about even the most common birds, and seeks to share some of this information in his latest book, What It's Like to Be a Bird. An adapted version for middle school-aged children was just released this month.
“We are honored to share the stage with Bahamas National Trust and Mass Audubon, and to be recognized for our shared commitment to fiercely protect Piping Plovers throughout their range,” said Chris Allieri, founder and executive director, NYC Plover Project. “Threats ranging from rapidly narrowing beaches due to climate change, increased predation and human disturbance, all contribute to declines in plover nest productivity. In New York City, there is one federally-listed threatened or endangered species that nests here. It is incumbent upon all of us to do everything we can to protect them. We can and we must do more, and NYC Plover Project is here to help lead the charge.”
“Long term partnerships are a blessing. The Bahamas National Trust and National Audubon Society have shared a 64-year relationship that has benefited the birds of the Bahamas,” said Lakeshia Anderson-Rolle, executive director of the Bahamas National Trust. “Audubon supported flamingo research which resulted in the establishment of the Inagua National Park and the bouncing back of our flamingo population. Their assistance in working with Bahamian hunters in banding and censusing our popular gamebird, the White-crowned Pigeon, resulted in the ethical and sustainable hunting of this species while respecting the cultural hunting tradition. Our recent work to protect shorebird habitat supports the acknowledgement that working together to protect habitat both wintering and breeding is the way forward for the future of avian wildlife.
“Mass Audubon is honored to be recognized along with Bahamas National Trust and NYC Plover Project and grateful for events like the Keesee Awards Luncheon which allows for the building of critical conservation partnerships to protect birds,” said Lyra Brennan, director of the Coastal Waterbird Program at Mass Audubon. “With shorebirds in steep decline and flyway-wide conservation efforts necessary to protect Piping Plovers, we must combine our 120-year legacy with innovative new approaches and strategic partnerships to ensure the survival of these species.”
The 2023 Keesee Awards was co-hosted by Laurie Hodgson, Thomas W. Keesee III, Victoria Shaw, and Virginia Stowe and held at the Metropolitan Club in Manhattan on October 4.
ABOUT THE HONOREES
The Bahamas National Trust (BNT) is a science-based organization dedicated to effectively managing 33 national parks comprising over 2.2 million acres of both terrestrial and marine areas. These parks conserve and protect Bahamian natural resources, managed by the BNT in a unique private – public collaboration established by an Act of Parliament in 1959. The National Audubon Society has been an appointed member to the BNT Council for 64 years, contributing to many conservation successes over BNT’s history. Over 33 shorebirds, alongside many important marine species, depend on the resources and habitat provided on The Bahamas’ coasts to survive. Thanks to a collaborative effort of national and international organizations and volunteers, among them the National Audubon Society, US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Government, over 1,000 wintering Piping Plovers were recorded in The Bahamas representing nearly 10% of the global breeding population. In 2016 , The Government of The Bahamas recognized the importance of the Joulter Cays, and approved its designation as a protected area, protecting against unregulated development and destructive practices such as sand mining. In 2022 the Joulter Cays, Kemp Cay to Pigeon Cay, and Stafford Creek to Andros Town were identified as critical “Key Biodiversity Areas,” critical for the global persistence of Piping Plovers.
Mass Audubon’s statewide Coastal Waterbird Program monitors and protects more than a third of the state’s breeding Piping Plovers, approximately half of the state’s Least Terns, and about a third of its American Oystercatchers. In partnership with federal, state, and municipal agencies (along with private landowners), the program helped to recover the number of nesting Piping Plovers in the state from 135 pairs in 1986 to 1,302 pairs in 2022—more than 50% of the entire Atlantic Coast population.
The NYC Plover Project is a group of New Yorkers working to fiercely protect endangered piping plovers and other shorebirds that nest on busiest public beaches of Queens, New York. Founded in March 2021, the 501c3 non-profit organization has grown to a staff of four with more than 250 volunteers who have performed some 10,000 hours of volunteer service connecting with residents and beachgoers on the beaches of Fort Tilden, Breezy Point Tip and Jacob Riis Park at Gateway National Recreation Area, and the NYC Parks & Recreation beaches of Far Rockaway and Rockaway Beach. The NYC Plover Project connects with many thousands of New Yorkers via social media, webinars and events where they distribute stickers, temporary tattoos, buttons and educational materials about the plight of the city’s endangered species. NYC Plover Project received the National Park Service’s George & Helen Hartzog national volunteer group of the year award in 2022 and is expanding a school-based program across the Rockaway Peninsula this fall and winter.