Thousands of elegant tern eggs were abandoned recently after an errant drone crashed among their nesting field at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, frightening the birds away from their natural breeding ground.
The 1,300-acre coastal estuary is a premier birding location in Southern California sought by many populations of migratory birds, including numerous tern species. Bolsa Chica is home to the largest colony of elegant terns in the United States.
Found strictly along coastal areas, the elegant tern is a medium-sized, slim, long-billed species that has been nesting in California since the late 1950s.
According to the Audubon Society, elegant terns usually lay one spotted egg each season, rarely two. After breeding, the terns move to Northern California or further north in late summer and early fall, moving south again in October.
With more people recreating outdoors due to COVID-19 restrictions, the ecological reserve has seen an increase in visitors, some of whom ignore posted signs restricting dogs, bikes, and aerial craft from entering sensitive zones such as where the elegant terns nest, thus wreaking havoc on their natural migration and breeding habits.
“We understand there are lots of legit reasons for drones to be flown and for photos to be taken,” California Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Tim Daly told The Epoch Times.
“We restrict drone use over ecological reserves. It’s a regulation passed by the Fish and Game Commission for the benefit or safety of the wildlife at the reserves.”
Daly said there have been several drone incidents in the recent past, and that while they are not looking to punish anyone, it’s vitally important that all visitors to the ecological reserve understand how their behavior can harm the sensitive ecosystem if visitor guidelines aren’t followed.
“The rules are there for a reason; we are trying to educate people more about the importance of those rules and how delicate the balance is for the wildlife who live and migrate to Bolsa Chica,” Daly said.
He said he doesn’t expect the terns to return to their breeding area.
Due to their negative impact on park resources and public safety, an order was posted in May by California State Parks District Superintendent Todd Lewis, restricting the launch, landing, or operation of drones at lands and facilities located within the Orange Coast District, which includes Bolsa Chica State Beach.
Although no specific ordinance has been enacted in the city of Huntington Beach, the Association of California Cities–Orange County has a drone ordinance working group that’s developing a model ordinance that can be used as a basis for all Orange County cities.
In 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that all drone units weighing between 0.55 pounds and 55 pounds must be registered with the FAA.
Civil penalties for anyone caught flying without proper registration could include a fine up to $27,500, with criminal penalties as high as $250,000 and up to three years in jail.
The FFA developed an educational campaign, Know Before You Fly, in conjunction with the Academy of Model Aeronautics, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, and the Consumer Technology Association, to help educate operators about the rules and regulations associated with drones and the areas in which they can be appropriately deployed.
“We are heartbroken by this news,” Amigos de Bolsa Chica, a conservation organization dedicated to the preservation of the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, posted on its Facebook page.
“Please remember that drones, dogs, and bikes are prohibited on the reserve, and we urge you to always stay on official trails and pick up after yourself when you visit.”