50 years after near extinction Louisiana’s brown pelican population exceeds 100K

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(WAFB) – Fifty years ago, there wasn’t a single brown pelican in the entire state of Louisiana.

Queen Bess Island has a population of over 8,000. And that’s just the adult pelicans.

Today, it’s hard to imagine a time when there were none — not just here, but in the entire pelican state.

“In 1961, was the last nesting pair. ’63, they were effectively gone from the entire state,” says Michael Seymour, who keeps an eye on the pelican population for the state.

“Right now, there’s probably 1,500 to 2,000 nesting pairs on this island.”

The pelican’s demise in the 1960’s can be traced to the pesticide DDT.

Touted as a miracle chemical back in the 1950’s and 60’s, the pesticide DDT worked so well killing insects that it nearly eliminated the threat of malaria from mosquitos.

It’s effect on large birds like the bald eagle and the pelican was devastating.

“It caused their eggshells to not be as thick as they should,” explains Seymour.

Weak shells meant fewer births until there were none left.

In 1968, a couple of scientists from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries hatched an idea.

If they could get young pelicans to call Louisiana home maybe they would come back when it was time to breed.

David Richard was one of those scientists. “I don’t think people knew. There were so many unknowns with the project,” he says.

Richard and his partner took fledgling pelicans from Florida and transported them to Queen Bess Island with no parent to care for them.

“Through persistence and gumption, it worked,” explains Richard.

In 2009, the brown pelican came off the endangered species list. Today, close to 100,000 brown pelicans call the Louisiana coast home. But their future is still uncertain.

“The middle of the island, now, is a big pool of water at this point. It has subsided so much in the middle of the island that you can’t use that for nesting, obviously,” Seymour says.

The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has a plan to rebuild Queen Bess to its original 36-acre footprint.

It’s currently searching for the $17.5 million it will take to fund the project so that pelicans will call coastal Louisiana home for a long time to come.

The LDWF hopes the U.S. Department of the interior will fund the project next year.

If so, the island could be complete by late 2020. 

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