The roseate tern is listed as a federally endangered species, and is currently threatened by Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station because of the high fish mortalities that occur as a result of Pilgrim’s intake of seawater for cooling. Roseate terns feed on small marine fish, such as blueback herring and Atlantic menhaden.[1] These are the same fish that are regularly impinged on Pilgrim’s intake screens. According to Entergy’s annual Marine Ecology Studies, Pilgrim has impinged 20,212 blueback herring from 1995 to 2012, and 776,842 Atlantic menhaden from 1980 to 2012.

Roseate terns use Long Beach in Plymouth mainly from about July through September as a staging ground (where they gather, rest and roost), representing an important period in their lifespan. During this time the young first learn to feed independently, and adults also use this time to rest and conserve energy reserves for their long flight south in the fall.

Roseate terns also use Long Beach for nesting, and have been doing so at least since the 1950s. Although the numbers of nesters have decreased in the last decade (suspected to be because of increased predation), recent efforts by the Town of Plymouth to reduce such predators has led to a return of some roseate terns to nest at Long Beach.

Because Pilgrim is only about 4 miles away from Long Beach, the nuclear facility is reducing the fish that the roseate terns rely on for foraging during their time in Plymouth. Entergy has asserted, in a February 3, 2005 letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), that their continued operation will have “no effect” on the roseate tern. In the letter, Entergy stated that the only time roseate terns might be present near Pilgrim is when they “may move through the site in late spring…and summer…” This is contrary to the fact that roseate terns spend extended periods of time at Long Beach in great numbers. On September 6th, 2007, 4,776 roseate terns (about half of the total North American population) were found staging on Long Beach. In the letter Entergy also asserted that “suitable nesting habitat has not been identified at PNPS [Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station].” It was true that roseate terns had not nested on Long Beach for several years prior to the letter. However, they had before, and there was evidence that they would start again, as one pair did again in 2008, and three pairs did in 2011. Just because roseate terns don’t nest or stage directly on PNPS, as Entergy has based its assertions on, it doesn’t mean that PNPS is having “no effect” on the birds.[2]

In May 2012, Jones River Watershed Association and Pilgrim Watch filed a legal appeal with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) claiming that the NRC, Entergy (owner of Pilgrim), and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act by finding that relicensing of Pilgrim would have “no effect” on the roseate tern. Read more about it here.

 

[1] Gochfeld, Michael, Joanna Burger and Ian C. Nisbet. 1998. Roseate Tern (Sterna dougallii), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/370doi:10.2173/bna.370

[2]Affidavit of Ian Christopher Thomas Nisbet, Ph.D., from: JONES RIVER WATERSHED ASSOCIATION (JRWA) AND PILGRIM WATCH (PW) REQUEST TO REOPEN, FOR A HEARING, AND TO FILE NEW CONTENTIONS AND JRWA MOTION TO INTERVENE ON ISSUES OF: (1) VIOLATIONS OF STATE AND FEDERAL CLEAN WATER LAWS; (2) LACK OF VALID STATE § 401 WATER QUALITY CERTIFICATION; (3) VIOLATION OF STATE COASTAL ZONE MANAGEMENT POLICY; and (4) VIOLATION OF NEPA