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Port looking to work around hundreds of nesting least terns

GULFPORT — Hundreds of least terns are nesting on the state port’s West Pier in Gulfport.

Port Restoration director Joe Conn tells the Sun Herald the port is submitting a plan to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to work around the birds.

The port’s West Pier is being expanded, elevated and updated to house a modern containerized cargo operation. When completed, the pier will include 180 acres elevated for storm-surge protection by 15 feet, to 25 feet above sea level.

The port has been proactive in dealing with the birds since an employee discovered them a few weeks ago, Conn said. Employees contacted appropriate authorities and have been studying up on the bird’s habits. Nesting areas have been cordoned off.

“I think we all know a little bit more about least terns than we did a month ago,” Conn said.

Handled properly, he said, the dredging operation should not disturb the birds.

The terns are nesting on hard-packed dirt mixed with gravel on the pier’s south and north ends, but not so much in a central area that is soggier and includes vegetation. The terns should fly away before Aug. 1, Conn said.

Least terns are a species of concern because of dwindling numbers. They also are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

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