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Ponds tests look for geese’s impact

By Greg Ellison

Goal is keeping birds safe, people happy by limiting contact between them

(Nov. 19, 2020) Assessing the impacts resident geese are having on the water quality in Ocean Pines’ ponds is something the Ocean Pines Environmental and Natural Assets Committee hopes to see done.

Committee member Sharon Santacroce said Chairman Ken Wolf suggested bacterial levels should be investigated at several ponds where geese and other waterfowl regularly spend most of their time.

“Ken came up with the idea to test the water in the two ponds in the north and South Gate,” she said, adding she’d like to see the venture go farther.

“I wanted them to do DNA testing on it to drill down to the point source of any bacteria or pollutants in the pond,” she said.

Besides domestic and Canada geese, frequent winged visitors to the Pines ponds include mallards and herons, not to mention foxes and community canines.

“Everything has droppings,” she said.

Environmental Committee board liaison Tom Janasek is coordinating the effort with assistance from the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.

“It’s an independent lab the Maryland Coastal Bays has arranged for and they are going to trace the DNA source,” she said.

Santacroce said water samples from each pond would be sent to Jonah Ventures laboratories for quantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and Next Generation Sequencing to identify environmental DNA.

“They didn’t have a firm date at our last meeting,” she said.

Santacroce said two sets of tests are scheduled over the winter.

“This is what I was pushing for, because my goal is to keep the geese safe and keep people happy,” she said.

Based on earlier research, Santacroce said regardless of the test results, there is no threat to humans, while potential harm to wildlife is well-documented.

“You can check the CDC and there’s absolutely no record ever of anyone getting ill from goose droppings,” she said.

By contrast, the impacts from human interactions, specifically related to feeding, has been proven detrimental to wildlife.

“The feeding of the fowl is actually more dangerous to them,” she said.

Santacroce noted an incident from 2005 in Havre de Grace where a large number of waterfowl died from E. coli, which resulted in a local feeding restriction.

“Hundreds of ducks died and it was just horrible for the people,” she said. “They were all feeding them bread.”

Despite humans’ good intentions, bread is not nutritious for birds and, in this instance, caused water conditions to become deadly for them.

Santacroce said although many people like feeding the geese, they might curtail that practice when they understand the harm it can cause.

“Education is key,” she said. “We have to educate the public to the damage that it does.”