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Great Gull Island dock repairs get funding

Great Gull Island project volunteers organize a line

Great Gull Island project volunteers organize a line -- like a search party -- to identify terns' nests and count eggs. Credit: Peter Bengelsdorf

A Sandy-damaged dock on a tiny island off Long Island that serves as a critical habitat for endangered terns will be repaired with a federal grant.

The dock on Great Gull Island, which encompasses 17 acres about two miles east of Plum Island at the eastern end of Long Island Sound, was torn apart in superstorm Sandy.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency late last month granted New York State nearly $126,000 for repairs to the dock at the American Museum of Natural History's education and research facility at Great Gull Island. The island is owned by the museum.

The money, awarded July 31, will be used to demolish and reconstruct damaged walkways and the gangway, create new handrails, bend the ladder frame "back to a vertical position" and create new steel-support brackets, according to FEMA.

No one from the museum was available for comment Monday.

Researchers used the dock to gain access to the island under the museum's Great Gull Island project, which monitors nesting pairs of roseate terns -- a federally listed endangered species. About 1,500 pairs of roseate terns nest on the island -- the largest concentration in the Western Hemisphere, said Meagan Racey, spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"Virtually all of the roseate terns that nest in New York are nesting in that location," said Joe Jannsen, conservation lands director for The Nature Conservancy on Long Island, which does not have direct involvement with Great Gull Island.

In addition to damaging the dock, Sandy's force also eroded portions of the island, leading to less habitat area for the birds, Racey said.

The project also monitors common terns, which are listed as a threatened species in New York State. About 9,500 pairs of those birds nest on the island, which once was home to Fort Michie, a defense installation that was decommissioned after World War II.

In April, the Connecticut Army National Guard airlifted thousands of pounds of lumber to the island so volunteers could begin rebuilding bird blinds and other structures that also were damaged by Sandy.

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