Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Healthy Coastal Habitats: Cat for the Birds in Lake Michigan’s Green Bay

By Moira Herrington, Wisconsin Sea Grant

It’s for the birds is a phrase often used to disparage something. But there’s nothing to disparage about the “spine and fingers” stretching into Lake Michigan’s Green Bay. These form the anchor for a restoration project of a chain of barrier islands, known as the Cat Islands. The final restored chain will be the result of 30-plus years of planning with involvement from four Wisconsin 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 Cat 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. Now in the headlights are more than 1,400 acres of emergent wetlands and 272 acres of barrier islands. The islands are being constructed using dredged materials for the shipping channel of the bay.

“Shipping operations generally place channel and harbor dredged materials in confined disposal facilities, which are big-ticket items,” said Gene Clark, a Wisconsin Sea Grant coastal engineer. “The facilities can cost $30 million or more to build and many in the Great Lakes are nearing capacity because the material is left in the facility forever. The dredged materials that go into them—if clean and not contaminated—can be, alternatively, put to a sustainable re-use at construction sites, for beach nourishment or habitat creation or restoration. Habitat restoration is, in fact, precisely what’s going on in Green Bay through an ingeniously designed disposal facility.”

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

In fact, the chain does hold out hope for an endangered 2-ounce bird called the piping plover. The delicate buff-colored bird with a black band encircling its neck is found on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, as well as inland. It’s been scarce in the Great Lakes region, though, since human activity has compromised its habitat and ability to reproduce. Residential and commercial development limits nesting options. If there is too much activity around ground-based nests, the pair will abandon eggs. A 2007 survey found only six nesting pairs of piping plover in Wisconsin.

This summer, one pair nested on the emerging Green Bay islands and successfully fledged three chicks. Other birds are finding the slowly emerging islands a haven. Shorebirds—30 different types—have been spotted, including the red knot, which is classified as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. The rare-in-Wisconsin gull-like Forster’s tern has also bred in lower Green Bay for the first time in 20 years. In fact, there are four different tern species that have now been documented.

Now, the islands really are for the birds—and for a clearer shipping channel and protected mainland.

Related Posts

Virginia Sea Grant Launches the USDA and NOAA-Supported Aquaculture Information Exchange Online Community Platform

The Aquaculture Information Exchange (AIE) online community platform website is now live and open for new user registrations. The AIE represents a joint effort between NOAA’s National Sea Grant Office, NOAA’s Fisheries Office of Aquaculture, USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), and Virginia Sea Grant.

Read More >
Image of Capitol Hill with a bright blue cloudless sky and blooming cherry blossom tree in the right corner
Academia to Government

Sea Grant Announces the 2024 Class of the John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Sea Grant College Program (Sea Grant) is pleased to announce the finalists for the 2024 class of the John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship program. The 85 early-career professionals selected will be placed in federal government offices throughout Washington, D.C., and join the over 1,600 individuals who have participated in the program since its inception in 1979.

Read More >
Image of plastic debris on Oregon’s Clatsop Beach by Tiffany Woods | Oregon Sea Grant.

Sea Grant announces funding opportunities to support community-engaged marine debris removal and prevention

Sea Grant announces $19 million in federal funding opportunities to address the prevention and removal of marine debris. These opportunities are a component of nearly $3 billion in targeted investments for NOAA in the areas of habitat restoration, coastal resilience and weather forecasting infrastructure through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Read More >
Scroll to Top