By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Sea Isle City’s wildlife is far more diverse than those obnoxious, squawking seagulls that seem to relish swooping down on beachgoers to try to steal a quick meal of pizza or French fries.
Foxes, raccoons, opossums, eagles, ospreys, diamondback terrapins and even monarch butterflies passing through Sea Isle while making their migratory journey are just a few examples of the array of wildlife that live in or visit the beach town.
“We want to make room for every species living here,” city spokeswoman Katherine Custer said.
Putting those words into action, Sea Isle is part of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Wildlife Action Plan, which provides a comprehensive agenda to conserve wildlife, protect critical habitat and promote clean water.
Voting 5-0 at a meeting Tuesday, City Council approved a resolution that formally supports Sea Isle’s continued involvement in the Wildlife Action Plan.
The resolution says that Sea Isle recognizes that wildlife is “an integral and valuable part of all communities” and that the wellbeing of wild animals and species “is a hallmark of a sustainable natural community.”
“Sea Isle City has a lot to be proud of when it comes to the environment,” Custer said. “Sea Isle City is an example of a town that greatly respects the environment.”
Christie Ostrander, a Sea Isle employee who oversees the town’s involvement in the Wildlife Action Plan, said points are awarded to municipalities based on their wildlife conservation efforts, clean water programs and environmental policies.
Those points, in turn, help municipalities win state grants that can be used to fund programs to promote the environment and protect wildlife. Sea Isle has an Environmental Commission comprised of local volunteers to help oversee its wildlife conservation plan.
Ostrander hopes that the Wildlife Action Plan is helping to make Sea Isle’s residents and visitors even more aware of the wildlife that inhabits the island, including the foxes.
“It’s becoming more and more that foxes are what people are talking about,” she said.
Sea Isle’s involvement in the Wildlife Action Plan is also connected to the city’s programs for clean water and its efforts to reduce its carbon footprint, Ostrander explained.
One prime example of the town’s environmental programs are the family-friendly summer beachcombing tours that teach children and adults about the shore’s wildlife, marine life and fragile eco-system, Ostrander said.
Sea Isle is also well-known for its efforts to protect the female diamondback terrapins that emerge from the marshlands in summer to find sandy nesting areas for their eggs. There are also two manmade sandy nesting boxes, overlooking the marshlands behind the library at 48th Street, that serve as a protected place for diamondbacks to lay their eggs.
Inspired by the diamondbacks, the fictional “Sara the Turtle” is famously known as the town mascot, symbolizing Sea Isle’s concern for the environment.
“Sea Isle City takes turtle awareness seriously,” Custer said.
“Watch for Turtles” and “Turtle X-ing” signs are scattered around the city to remind motorists to be careful about the diamondbacks lumbering across the road while searching for nesting spots.
Ostrander noted that the city, in partnership with the state Department of Environmental Protection, also has a series of protected shorebird nesting areas as part of the Wildlife Action Plan.
The nesting areas help shorebirds that are under pressure from predators and loss of habitat. The birds include least terns, American oyster catchers, piping plovers and black skimmers.
Dogs are banned from Sea Isle’s beaches over the summer to prevent them from damaging the nesting areas of threatened or endangered migratory shorebirds as well as harming environmentally sensitive plants, Custer pointed out.
“Obviously, a healthy environment is good for everybody and that is evident in all we do,” she said of the city’s environmental policies.