Pelican Shoal with its rubble and sand island used to be the only nesting site in the Florida Keys for the roseate tern
Pelican Shoal is marked with a channel marker on a steel I-beam. There are 4 mooring buoys, P-1 thru P-4. The depth of the water ranges from 4' to 36'. This is a Wildlife Management Area. It’s located 15.65 miles southwest of Summerland Key, or 5 miles south of Boca Chica. The GPS Coordinates are 24'30.043N and 081'37.704W
I’ve been monitoring this reef because just a couple of miles to the west is The Western Sambo Reserve. It’s a mile wide swath that reaches from the land out to the reef. It’s a no take anything zone. I think the fish and lobster in this reserve are growing larger than the surrounding areas that are impacted by fishing. I like to dive and fish here regularly to see if I’m right. This spring I had been trolling all day offshore and had only one kingfish. I was in this area when it was time to pull lines in and head for home. I decided to troll past the marker outside the buffer zone and up the reef toward American Shoal to some of my diving and fishing spots. I just got my plug out and was setting the drag when I had a fish on. I reeled fast because I was in 12 feet of water and knew the grouper would be in a hole quickly. When I got him to the boat and weighed him, it was a 25 pound black grouper. I bet he came from the no take area to the west.
This is a beautiful dive site to snorkel. There’s lots of tropical fish and beautiful corals to see. Don’t be surprised if you have one or two large barracudas following you around the entire time you’re in the water. They’re just doing what they do, watching over their territory.
There’s a no access buffer zone that extends out from the marker 150' in all directions. It closed from April 1 to August 31 each year. It’s closed by the Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission. This shoal used to have an island of coral rubble and sand that was one of only two nesting areas in Florida for the roseate tern. The island covered a quarter acre. In 1992, 317 breeding pairs were counted here.
Roseate tern migrate each summer from South America. They would lay their eggs, raise their chicks and fly back to South America. During the hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005 the island was pounded away by large breaking waves produced by the hurricanes. Biologist knowing the terns would be returning to an island that no longer existed came up with a plan to relocate the nesting grounds.
The Dry Tortugas had also been impacted by the same hurricanes during those years. It had cleared vegetation and deposited coral rubble and sand on several beaches. They decided to place 40 plastic roseate tern decoys on one of these beaches. They added a solar powered CD player, amplifier and water resistant speakers along side the decoys and played the recorded bird calls 24-7. The site was monitored and soon there were 33 nests. A month later there were 42 nests and 16 chicks. They’re hoping the roseate terns will establish the new site as a permanent nesting area for this threatened species.
Pelican Shoal off the Florida Keys may no longer have the sweet sound of the terns but it's still a great place to fish and dive.
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