Volume 2 2015


Cat for the Birds

“It’s for the birds” is a phrase often used to disparage something. But there’s nothing to disparage about a new, 2.5-mile spine stretching into Green Bay, Lake Michigan. It’s the beginning of a restored chain of barrier islands, known as the Cat Islands. The chain will be the result of 30-plus years of planning with involvement from four Sea Grant outreach specialists and in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Port of Green Bay/Brown County and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The islands were completely washed away—after years of erosion and large spring storms—in the 1970s, leaving the mainland’s wetlands vulnerable to waves and bay-based storms, and compromising wildlife habitat.

Water Quality Specialist Julia Noordyk said, “This project is a great educational opportunity and the hope is that restoration of these islands will help re-establish upland and shore habitat, and the wetlands behind the island barrier, to the benefit of fish, water fowl and shorebirds.”

In fact, last year, there were 30 types of shorebirds spotted, more than in any other place in the lower Green Bay. The endangered piping plover and threatened red knot were sighted 10 times and the Forster’s tern successfully bred for the first time in 20 years. Now, the islands really are for the birds—and for clearer shipping channels and a protected mainland.

Noordyk is one of 12 members of a Cat Island Advisory Committee and will be instrumental to establishing a public access plan for the island with two primary goals. The first is protecting public safety. The islands are being restored, in part, using clean dredged materials (it will be 2.5 million cubic yards in all) taken from the bay’s outer shipping channel. Dredged material is very unstable, like quicksand, she said, so caution is the watchword.

The second goal is to ensure a successful wildlife restoration effort. “Many of the species we’re hoping come back are endangered or threatened, therefore, limiting disturbance will be critical to the effort,” Noordyk said.

The Aquatic Sciences Center is the administrative home of the
University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute & University of Wisconsin Water Resources Institute.

©2011 University of Wisconsin Board of Regents