A large part of Richardson Bay's waters will be closed to boat traffic and other water activities beginning Tuesday to protect tens of thousands of birds that are starting to fly into the area.
Migratory ducks, geese and shorebirds swoop into the bay on their journeys as they migrate south, while other species stay for months. All need quiet to survive and thrive.
"They use the bay to feed and to rest, which is very important," said Kerry Wilcox, manager of the Richardson Bay Audubon Center & Sanctuary, which oversees the closure. "When they are disturbed they use up their precious energy, which reduces the chance of survival."
Boats, including kayaks, canoes and sailboats, are off limits in about 900 acres of bay waters through March 31. The entire bay is roughly 3,000 acres. The closed area -- which is well marked by signs and buoys -- extends south from the edge of The Cove housing complex to the tip of Strawberry Point, east to Belvedere and north to Blackie's Pasture.
"People are generally really good about observing the limitations," Wilcox said. "They understand the importance."
With much of the bay bustling with boat traffic, Richardson Bay offers close to pristine autumn conditions where birds can recuperate from long flights.
The closures -- which have occurred since 1992 -- may be paying dividends. Bird populations in the bay surpassed 10,000 last year during the peak day, and were as high as 13,000 during the peak day in 2010-11. There were as few as 6,500 counted on the peak day in 2006-07. Food sources also play a role.
"As a result of the herring spawn successes of the last couple years, the number of birds in the sanctuary is expected to be high (this year)," Wilcox said.
The annual closure is required by the Richardson Bay Regional Agency and enforced by staff at the Audubon Center and the sheriff's office.
"The human presence has an impact," said Martha Jarocki, who handles publicity for the Marin Audubon Society. "Especially on the breeding birds. The closure is important."
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