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A Single Drone Has Harmed A Generation Of Wildlife

NOEL KING, HOST:

A single drone has hurt an entire generation of wildlife. Authorities are looking for a pilot who crashed a drone on a protected nesting ground in Southern California.

TIM DALY: It's heartbreaking to see the damage that occurred, considering it was certainly avoidable.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Tim Daly of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife says drones are illegal at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, but a craft carrying a camera plowed into the sand and spooked thousands of elegant terns, which is a type of seabird.

KING: The terns are very elegant. They're like black-and-white swallows with vivid orange beaks. Those birds were incubating at least 1,500 eggs when they abandoned their colony.

DALY: Once the eggs were exposed the way they were, you know, other wildlife moved in to complete the cycle, as it were. A lot of them were consumed or disrupted by probably ravens.

KIM KOLPIN: This is the largest nest abandonment on record here at the reserve.

INSKEEP: Kim Kolpin is executive director of the Bolsa Chica Land Trust and has spent 25 years on restoration efforts. She says these terns aren't coming back this season, and there aren't many places for them to go. The Audubon Society reports there are only four elegant tern nesting sites left anywhere.

KOLPIN: We have left very few places for these animals to breed and nest and raise their young. So when we have impacts like this to this particular species, it is severe.

KING: During the pandemic, attendance was up at the reserve. That meant more dogs off their leashes, more people riding bikes and more drone hobbyists breaking the rules. And the Department of Fish and Wildlife has only limited patrols.

KOLPIN: We lost an entire generation of elegant terns in one afternoon. So these rules and regulations are there for, you know, human protection but also for the protection of our wildlife.

INSKEEP: Law enforcement officials are looking for the drone pilot, who could face federal charges.

(SOUNDBITE OF HIDDEN ORCHESTRA'S "WESTERN ISLES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.