OCEAN CITY — After some early growing pains and education and outreach efforts, it appears with the arrival of the height of the summer season most people are heeding the warnings to avoid sensitive bird nesting islands in the coastal bays.
Last year, a sandy spit in the Isle of Wight Bay became a focal point of sorts in the ongoing skirmish between public access and habitat protection. When the federal Army Corps of Engineers dredges the navigation channels in and around the coastal bays behind Ocean City in 2015, roughly 400,000 cubic yards of sand and dredged material was dedicated to restoring some of the islands in the bays that hadn’t been seen since the 1930s, including a roughly four-acre spit now called Tern Island.
Tern Island quickly became a boating hub and about this time last year a small group of boaters waded ashore with an American flag and bags of concrete and raised Old Glory in a spontaneous act of patriotism. For the rest of the summer, the island was used extensively by recreational boaters.
The intent was never to have the island and similarly situated islands used by the boating public, but because the endangered colonial bird nesting period had passed for the most part, the Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) largely looked the other way during the first year for the new Tern Island and allowed boaters to continue to access the weekend retreat. However, it was widely believed sweeping changes were afoot.
That became a reality in May when the state’s Board of Public Works formally conveyed ownership of Tern Island to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) as part of the Sinepuxent Wildlife Management Area. As a result, Tern Island is now officially off limits to the public from April 1 to Sept. 15, when the colonial migratory birds are nesting.
Some pushback was expected from the boating public and that did occur to some degree early in the season, but according the NRP spokesperson Candy Thomson, the boating community is now largely respecting the limitations.
“The public has been respectful of the bird sanctuary islands and other restrictions on visitation,” she said. “We thank them for their understanding and conservation ethic. Our officers have had very few reasons to intervene, giving them more time to patrol the bays and ocean and aid the public.”