By Beth Sullivan
Sandy Point is Avalonia’s lovely
little gem of an island, situated East of Stonington Point, South of
Barn Island and North of Napatree Point. It is a spot treasured by
many for the sandy beach, clear cool water, and peaceful
surroundings, but also as a premier wildlife preserve. Situated
partly in CT and mostly in RI, it poses a unique set of issues for
stewardship and preservation.
|Oystercathers nest on Sandy Point.|
|Sandy Point. One island, two states.|
Shorebirds flock to Sandy Point
The real Sandy Point season begins
with the arrival of the shorebirds. Some just stop over on their way
farther north. Others, like the Piping Plovers and the American
Oystercatchers, arrive to make their homes here. These birds are
federally protected ,and this little island is known as one of the
most successful breeding areas for the Oystercatchers. Unfortunately
the gulls, especially the Black Backed Gulls, present some real
difficulties with competition and predation. The US Fish &
Wildlife Service has had a keen interest in the island for protection
of the shorebirds here. Their stewards arrive on the island when the
birds do, note where they are setting up their nests, and will place
signs and roping around large areas to deter people from walking
through and disturbing birds or destroying nests. Avalonia has an
agreement with the Stonington COMO
which issues passes for usage of the private island.
This helps fund their stewards who go out several times a week to
help monitor the beach, look for violations of the simple rules, and
to educate the public about the significance of the nature preserve.
Not everyone appreciates the efforts to protect the birds. Sadly,
the stewards are often harassed. Some visitors to the island will
deliberately flaunt their disrespect for the rules, let dogs run
loose, and set up within the roped areas. How sad that in this day
of enhanced understanding about the environment and our increased
roles as defenders and protectors, some people just refuse to be
compliant, or to care.
|These signs help protect the nesting birds.|
Horseshoe Crabs in decline?
Another wave of wildlife arrives in
May. During the new moon and full moon high tide cycles, the ancient
species of Horseshoe Crabs arrive offshore and prepare to make the
island their breeding grounds. Last year we reported on several
nights of adventure on the island, when teams of us paddled out and
spent hours counting and tagging the crabs. Look here
, and here
and see a video
nearly a thousand crabs in the area over last year's late spring and
early summer, reporting our data back to the scientists at Project
Limulus at Sacred Heart University. This year we have been
discouraged. We are all trying to make excuses and wonder why there
have been so few Horseshoe crabs , not only at Sandy Point, but also
at local beaches and Bluff Point. We had far fewer tags available to
us this year, and we actually had a hard time coming up with enough
crabs to use them on. Admittedly we had several nights of bad
weather, with storms or rain and wind that made the kayak trip
impossible. We spent one long night out there in late June; we walked
from one end to the other and back again, and we found only 137 new
crabs plus about 20 that had been tagged in previous years. Where
are they all? Are they nesting elsewhere? Did we miss a big night?
Or are we experiencing a terrible population crash? Scientists from
DEEP and Project Limulus are all concerned. We continue to make trips
out and count. It is not as exciting as last year.
|Please report any tagged crabs you may see.|
|Black-backed Gulls are a serious threat to the Horseshoe Crab.|
|Horseshoe Crab with a visible tag.|
So the birds
have had a decent year, with good numbers of Oystercatchers fledged.
Piping Plovers are about average with other years. Horseshoe crab
numbers are way down, and human numbers remain high. We are grateful
for all those visitors to the island that enjoy and respect the
nature there, who offer their own efforts at stewardship to encourage
understanding by others. We thank those who make reports, pick up
trash, and help with public education. Every eye and helping hand
|A breach for nature and people too.|
Let’s see what the second half of
the summer brings.
Photographs by Rick Newton.
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