Responsible Wildlife Viewing at Island Beach State Park

by Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager, Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ

A snowy owl perched in the dunes. photo by Northside Jim.

In New Jersey, it is often hard to escape our human dominated landscape, especially along the coast. One exception is Island Beach State Park, which is one of the few remaining undeveloped barrier islands in the northeast. It is a unique ecosystem that is home to an amazing diversity of wildlife and plant communities throughout the year. Island Beach and its white sandy beaches attract thousands of visitors each year who enjoy a plethora of outdoor activities.

Many people visit Island Beach to view and photograph wildlife in their natural environment. Watching wildlife is a fun and rewarding activity, where the whole family can get involved. You can learn a lot about an animal if you watch it in its natural environment. It can instill a deep appreciation for the conservation of a species through education and awareness. From the beach, where you’ll find shorebirds chasing waves, to the bay, where many ospreys nest on man-made platforms, there are many animals that are fun and easy to view.

For those who seek to view wildlife, special considerations should be made to ensure the health of the animal and its habitat. Viewing wildlife in a responsible manner is good for both people and wildlife. Being responsible allows you to enjoy watching an animal while not having an impact on its survival. While being disrespectful to wildlife and their habitat is not in anyone’s best interests.

Standing guard on Island Beach State Park. photo by Ray Hennessy.

Follow these tips to help reduce your impact while recreating outdoors. Please Carry in; carry out. If you see trash or litter on the ground, pick it up and help keep Island Beach beautiful! The ribbon attached to that balloon might entangle an osprey… Keep off the dunes! Not only is this illegal, it also damages the vegetation and their root system, which help hold our sandy dunes in place. Keep your voice down and silence your cell phone. Nothing ruins the serenity of viewing a wild animal more than someone yelling or a phone ringing loudly. Do not feed wildlife! Wildlife have evolved to survive on their own, without human intervention, the free meal offered might endanger the survival of that animal.

Most importantly: Give wildlife the space they need to survive. Don’t “push” wildlife by approaching too closely. Don’t attempt to make an animal move so that you can get a better photo. A good distance for watching or photographing wildlife is one where that particular animal does not notice you. If you get too close then it may unintentionally cause a nest failure, injury or death, or at the very least, you may cause the animal to expend precious energy making it more difficult to survive.

An ethical photographer does not interfere with the natural behavior of the animal they wish to depict. photo by Ray Hennessy.

If you venture outdoors with your pet, be sure you always have control of it. If you allow your dog to go off-leash on beaches, be aware that seals may be present in the winter and that they will bite in order to defend themselves. During the summer, beaches are home to beach nesting birds whose eggs and young could easily be harmed by an off-leash dog. Pet-wildlife interactions not only expose a risk of harm to wildlife but also keep in mind that that it is possible for wildlife to injure and spread disease to your pet.

Following these simple guidelines will allow others to enjoy the same natural experience that you did. Talk to others about the importance of viewing wildlife in a responsible manner. As stewards for our environment, it’s our duty to protect what we are passionate about.