OCEAN CITY — With Labor Day fast approaching, it appears there were few if any conflicts this summer over the new regulations governing sensitive bird-nesting islands in the coastal bays.
Last year, after the federal Army Corps of Engineers dredged the navigation channels in and around the coastal bays behind Ocean City last year, roughly 400,000 cubic yards of sand and dredged material was dedicated to restoring some of the long-forgotten islands in the bays that hadn’t appeared on charts since the 1930s, including a four-acre spit now called Tern Island.
Tern Island quickly became a hub for recreational boating last summer as weekend enthusiasts waded ashore with beach chairs, umbrellas and coolers. At one point early last summer, recreational boaters unofficially claimed the island as their own, wading ashore with an American flag, a flag pole and bags of concrete in a spontaneous act of patriotism.
From then on, Tern Island and other similarly situated islands in the coastal bays were used almost exclusively by recreational boaters. The intent was never to have the island used by the boating public, but because the endangered colonial nesting bird period had passed for the most part last year, the Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) largely looked the other way.
However, before the summer season this year, the state’s Board of Public Works officially conveyed ownership of Tern Island to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) as part of the Sinepuxent Wildlife Management Area. As a result, Tern Island and other similar islands in the coastal bays were deemed officially off limits to the public from April 1 to Sept. 1 when the migratory birds are nesting.
There was some pushback initially as the boating public continued to lay claim to the sandy islands created with taxpayer money, but through an public awareness and outreach program including signage posted around the islands, recreational boaters and other users generally got the message this summer with few if any clashes reported, according to NRP Area Commander Lieutenant Art Windemuth.
“There have been no citations and no arrests,” he said. “There have been a few incidents of non-local boaters on the islands, but they left the islands when they were contacted by officers and informed of the regulations. In general, we received support and assistance from the Ocean City community about keeping the islands for the birds.”