Building Partnerships to Address Environmental Concerns
Pea Patch Island, located in the upper reach of the Delaware Estuary, emerged from the Delaware River in the late 1700’s as a mud bank, which reportedly grounded a ship full of peas, giving the island its name. In 1814, after the mud bank had grown and formed into an island, a military fort, Fort Delaware, was built to guard river access to New Castle, Wilmington, and Philadelphia. In the 1860’s the fort was used as a prison for Confederate soldiers. In the early 1900’s, the Army Corps of Engineers placed dredged material from the nearby shipping channel on the north end of the island, doubling the island’s size.
Today Pea Patch Island is a Delaware State Park, protected for its historical past and because it supports a large heron rookery. It is believed that herons, egrets, and ibises began nesting on the northern part of the island in the 1950’s and 1960’s. At that time, the population was estimated at 2,000 pairs of birds. Over time, small heronries on the mainland in Delaware and New Jersey were abandoned and the population on Pea Patch Island increased. At its peak, from 1989 through 1993, the population was estimated at 12,000 pairs of birds. Pea Patch Island heronry is the largest heronry north of Florida on the east coast.
The heronry is considered a wildlife resource of national significance due to its size and location. Concern for the sustainability of the heronry has grown over the past few years because the population of birds is declining on the island. Present population estimates are at 7,000 pairs. Research conducted during the last 5 years shows that nearly half of the chicks born on the island died before they were large enough to leave the nest. This research indicates that there may be a problem with the long term viability of the heron population on the island.
Identifying what may be affecting the bird population at Pea Patch Island involves looking at more than the immediate nesting habitat on the island. The herons that live on the island forage for food in the neighboring wetlands and open fields of Delaware and New Jersey. These areas are presently challenged by rapid land use changes: changes that alter the habitat and may eventually impact the birds.
In order to better manage this
unique resource, a Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) is being developed.
Working together, representatives from local, state and federal government
agencies, nonprofit organizations, business and industry have identified
a number of sources or concerns that may manifest themselves as problems
or changes in the natural condition of the habitat that the birds utilize.
Publication of interest:
| DNREC Online Home
Home Page |