Each year Plum Island beachgoers must pack up their gear and vacate The Parker River National Wildlife Refuge when the piping plovers swoop in for nesting and breeding season causing a Plum Island refuge closure. The majority of the refuge beaches shuts down to the public from April 1st to early July to protected these shorebirds listed as threatened on the Federal Endangered Species list. Thank you to local wildlife photographer and environmentalist Dan Graovac for capturing these amazing Piping Plover images. Visit Dan’s Instagram or facebook pages to view more of his stunning pictures.
Why does Parker River close down? There are several reasons. While plovers nest and breed at other local beaches in the area that do not close to the public, Parker River is part of the National Wildlife Refuge System. This means their focusing is on preserving and encouraging wildlife, not on recreational fun. Unlike some other local coastal areas, the beaches on the refuge also have a very narrow shoreline. This makes keeping humans and their impacts on the environment at a safe distance from the plovers much more difficult. It is recommended that people stay at least 55 yards from piping plover habitats. At high tide, many stretches of Parker River are only 15 yards wide, making keeping a safe distance impossible.
There are a few exceptions to the Plum Island refuge closure. Because the popular Sandy Point State Reservation, located at the southern tip of Plum Island, is run by the state and not federally controlled, the beach remains open. There are marked off areas and signs to protect piping plover nesting zones. The reservation also keeps open a small stretch of beach at Parking Lot 1 where the shoreline is wider open a bit longer than the rest of the refuge, but it does eventually close too. But luckily you can still catch some rays on Plum Island during nesting season. Visit the Plum Island Beach page for other options during the Plum Island refuge closures.
The good news is these annual closures are working. Breeding pairs have increased since they began closing the beaches each year and Parker River is now home to the second largest plover population on the North Shore.
How can you help? Make sure to take away any food or trash that could attract piping plover predators to the area. If you happen across a plover, make sure to watch from a safe distance.
Threatened birds use up energy needed for growth and migration fleeing to safety. Finally, you can volunteer to become a plover warden. These volunteers help inform visitors about the rules for the Plum Island refuge closures and report any violations. To volunteer, call Visitor Services at (978) 465-5753.
For the most up-to-date information on beach closures, be sure to check the refuge’s official site.