(ASSOCIATED PRESS) Jason Dearen — SEAHORSE KEY, Fla. — The din created by thousands of nesting birds is usually the first thing you notice about Seahorse Key, a 150-acre mangrove-covered dune off Florida’s Gulf Coast.
But in May, the key fell eerily quiet all at once.
Thousands of little blue herons, roseate spoonbills, snowy egrets, pelicans and other chattering birds were gone. Nests sat empty in trees; eggs broken and scattered on the muddy ground.
“It’s a dead zone now,” said Vic Doig, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist. “This is where the largest bird colony on the Gulf Coast of Florida used to be.”
For decades, Seahorse Key has been a protected way station for myriad bird species. It’s part of the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge, which was established in 1929 as a sanctuary for birds devastated by decades of hunting for their colorful plumage. Accessible only by boat, today it’s a rare island off Florida not dominated by human activity and development.