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Climate and Environment

This Is Why Drones Aren't Allowed: Thousands Of Tern Eggs Are Abandoned in Bolsa Chica

A field of abandoned eggs, white with speckles, rest in light gray/brown dirt
Bolsa Chica Conservancy officials said they'd never seen such a large-scale abandonment of tern eggs, which was tied to a drone crash.
(Courtesy Bolsa Chica Conservancy)
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No drones, no dogs, and no bikes.

Those are the posted rules in the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach. But people have been ignoring the rules, and it's had some disastrous consequences. As many as 3,000 elegant tern eggs were abandoned last month after drones crashed into the wetlands and scared off the nesting seabirds.

The birds first fled after a drone crashed on May 3, but they returned, said Patrick Brenden, CEO of the nonprofit Bolsa Chica Conservancy. Then a second drone crashed about a week later, apparently scaring away the terns for good, he said.

Wardens with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife do issue citations to people they see breaking the rules, Brenden said. But there aren't very many wardens staffing the reserve.

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At the same time, there's been a substantial increase in visitors since the pandemic began.

"We want people to come and visit us, but they need to understand the rules," Brenden said. "And to understand the rules are there for very good reason[s]. It's not just to restrict our liberties, it is really to protect this sanctuary that's so important to the local bird population and wildlife."

The Bolsa Chica Conservancy is now raising money for new signs that explain why the regulations are so important to follow. They're also looking to place signs at Huntington State Beach, the launch site of many of the drones.

One bit of good news: The Conservancy this week was able to bring back activities at the reserve after getting clearance from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

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Those interested will need to reserve their spot, which you can do on the Conservancy's website.