On the afternoon of November 10th, two large aircraft flew at an estimated altitude of 300-feet over the islands off Cedar Key. The large and noisy planes raised concerns about their mission and the possible disruption they can cause wildlife. And, this isn’t the first time that this type of aircraft has made disturbing passes over the islands.
Though not confirmed, the planes are likely based out of the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville and are presumed by Refuge staff to be military aircraft developed to operate in the anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, and shipping interdiction roles.
Refuge staff are making inquiries with NAS/JAX to discuss the situation and discourage or prevent future flyovers. Jim Wortham, FWS wildlife biologist pilot, reports that civilian pilots are requested to remain above 2000' while flying over national wildlife refuges for the protection of wildlife. Disturbances from aircraft overflights have proven to be harmful to seabirds and shorebirds due to reduced reproductive success, increased predation, increased energy expenditure and reduced habitat use.
A close-to-home example of this type of disastrous impact to wildlife occurred in 2015 when early one morning an employee arrived for work on Seahorse Key and discovered all of the colonial nesting birds had abandoned the key. There was no obvious explanation. To this date, scientists continue to study the situation, but no definitive answers have been provided. Early speculation included flyovers as one of the possible causes. Fortunately, most of the birds relocated to Snake Key, and some active Osprey nests remain on nesting poles around Seahorse Key.
When available, updates will be provided.