Life Scout, Jeffrey Gomez, loves the water. The 17-year-old Chelsea resident is a lifeguard at the New England Base Camp, an adventure park in Milton’s Blue Hills Reservation. When he learned about the depleting numbers of saltmarsh sparrows from the local Department of Conservation and Recreation, he was immediately inspired to intervene.
Gomez, a member of the Boys Scouts of America Troop 56, of Cambridge, has devoted himself to increasing the population of these orange-breasted birds that live along the tidal waters of the Atlantic coast of America.
“I wanted it to be meaningful,” said Gomez, who hopes to earn the highest rank of Eagle Scout through this project. “It was absolutely perfect for me.”
According to the American Bird Conservancy, there are 30,000 saltmarsh sparrows in the United States, and the population has decreased over 75% between 1990 and 2010. Scientists estimate that the birds will become extinct by 2050 without extensive conservation efforts.
“The restrictions for where they live are strict,” explained Gomez, who studied marine science. “If their habitat is failing, their population is failing.”
In October, Gomez – with the assistance of his Troop friends and 12-year-old Boy Scout sister, Emily Green – constructed 35 bird houses, which will generate an average of 150 birds a year.
“I went to Home Depot in Chelsea for the wood in August, and the manager gave me 194 feet of wood for free, for which I am appreciative,” added Gomez, who plans to install the bird houses throughout Belle Isle Reservation in March.
Saltmarsh sparrows build grassy nests above the tide mark to remain safe from flooding, but ocean expansion and city construction have reduced their habitat.
“The birds’ houses are low-lying, so the houses I built are on a pole a bit higher so they don’t suffer from rising sea levels from climate change,” described Gomez. “The globe is getting hotter, water expands, and marshes are now smaller, and their habitats are gone.”
Gomez is a first generation Costa Rican American, who grew up in Revere, and has been scouting since he was in first grade. Now, the 11th grade student at the Pioneer Charter School of Science, Everett, has lofty aspirations.
The mathematician plans to graduate high school with at least seven Advanced Placement courses completed, and hopes to enroll in Calculus 2 at Bunker Hill Community College this spring. By senior year, Gomez intends to enter Linear Algebra, Calculus 3, and Statistics, college courses.
“Any of the sciences I love: physics, chemistry, mathematics, engineering, aviation,” asserted Gomez, whose goal is to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or Harvard University.