Out of America: Piping plover gives an island resort the bird

NANTUCKET - Outwardly, it was a pretty standard Fourth of July here in what was once the whaling capital of the world, now a classy and hauntingly beautiful island resort 30 miles south of Cape Cod. The fire brigade held its water-hose contest. On Main Street there were blueberry pie and watermelon eating competitions, before the traditional firework show on Jetties Beach on the edge of Nantucket town. But this year, for all the fun, there was a whiff of trouble in paradise. The cause? A small and very rare wading bird called the piping plover.

The fuss started a few weeks ago, when 10 plover pairs were discovered to be nesting on two of the island's prime fishing beaches. To the untrained eye, a piping plover is nothing much to look at. But they enjoy the protection of one of the most fearsome laws ever passed by Congress, the 1973 Endangered Species Act. Plovers, to put it mildly, are off-limits. The fine for deliberately killing one runs from dollars 35,000 to dollars 120,000 ( pounds 23,000 to pounds 78,500), and everything possible must be done to safeguard their young. Alas, plovers make their nests not in trees but on the ground. For six weeks the fluffy little chicks are unable to fly. Defenceless on the sand, they are protected only by their camouflage - fine for avoiding animal predators but not much use for getting out of the way of human feet, car wheels, not to mention dune buggies and the like. And so, until mid-August at least, the beaches could be closed, at the very height of the holiday season.

Now plover-related problems are not new around these parts: a couple of summers ago repair work on one of America's most ghoulish national monuments, the bridge at Chappaquiddick on the neighbouring island of Martha's Vineyard, came shuddering to a halt when a pair of plovers set up shop near the spot where Mary-Jo Kopechne drowned in July 1969. Senator Edward Kennedy was driving the car, and the accident ended his chances of ever becoming president. Since then, souvenir hunters had stolen so many bits of the bridge it had become unsafe. But its plight was to the plover chicks what the logging industry of the Pacific Northwest was to the ESA-protected spotted owl. And now in Nantucket, the Act has struck again. Once again rare and obscure birds are threatening human livelihoods - this time in the all- important tourist industry.

Nantucket is a pretty upmarket place. Mirabile dictu, this is one place in the US where not a McDonald's or Burger King is to be seen. Building permits are rigorously controlled, and what new houses are allowed must be built in the island style of weathered grey shingle. A decent four-bedroom overlooking the sea runs at dollars 700,000. Much of Nantucket's appeal lies in its sheer isolation. There is an airport, with regular flights to Boston and New York. But the way to arrive is by ferry in the early morning or evening, watching the outlines of the first grey houses on the dunes separate themselves from the grey sea and the ubiquitous fogbanks. At moments like that you feel the pull of Nantucket's extraordinary history.

The first settlers were Quakers fleeing the Puritan excesses of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. But it was whaling which made the island's fortunes. From the 1750s, for around 100 years, whale oil was the petroleum of its day, and Nantucket's whaleships made epic voyages across the seven seas to provide it. At times the island would behave virtually as a sovereign state. The discovery of oil finished Nantucket's whaling business, but the splendid mansions built by the captains and merchants still testify to the fortunes made from it. Separatism's last hurrah came in 1977, when Nantucketers erupted in fury over losing their special seat in the Massachusetts state assembly. But even now native islanders talk of the two-hour ferry trip to Hyannis on the mainland as 'going across to America'. And such American edicts as the Endangered Species Act do not go down too well.

When an official of the Massachusetts branch of the environmentalist Audubon Society put up a cable barring vehicle access to one of the beaches, the local police threatened to arrest him for obstructing a public highway. The committee of five 'selectmen' which runs the island's local affairs says it has no authority in the matter. The man from Audubon is now trying to operate a voluntary ban on vehicles. In fact, say many islanders, he is merely waiting for the first plover casualty, to bring the full wrath of the Wildlife and Fisheries service of the Interior Department in Washington upon insolent Nantucket.

Others liken the crisis to the closure of the beaches in Jaws, set incidentally in next door Martha's Vineyard. Then, of course, it was a great white shark, this time it's a harmless piping plover. But either way, Nantucket doesn't like it.

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn