Eighteen piping plovers have commandeered some 500 feet of Revere Beach, an encouraging sign for the birds’ champions but an annoyance for some residents.
Growing numbers of the endangered birds, which have nested on this beach for years, mean more areas deemed off-limits to beachgoers, riling some residents and potentially deterring some of the beach’s more than 2 million annual visitors.
“It was at first a small area, and no one objected,” said Revere city councilor John Powers, who heard resident complaints at a meeting in June. “Ever since it has been growing and growing — they’re going to take over the whole beach, it seems. It just got to be a little too much.”
Shoreline development and high pollution levels pushed the small birds to the brink of extinction decades ago, and in the late 1980s, state and federal agencies drafted a plan to save the species. That plan includes roping off a 50-meter area whenever a plover nest is discovered. “We are trying to make space to give them a little breathing room,” said Jack Clarke, the director of public policy and government relations for the Massachusetts Audubon Society. “Once they move out, those fences are removed.” Plovers usually leave their nests by late July to early August.
Newborn plovers are the size of half dollars and blend in with the sand, making it necessary to give the nests a wide berth.
Powers, who represents the residential area adjacent to the north end of the beach, said that about three years ago, residents were led to believe that only 50 feet would be cordoned off for nesting.
But the amount of restricted space has grown exponentially since then, he said. That is not likely to change anytime soon, even though the state’s plover population has been on the rise.
“They’ll be managed for protection until they are off the federal endangered species list,” Clarke said. “But they are on the brink of extinction, so that could take decades.”
The birds prefer nesting in dry sand with protection from the elements — typically high on dunes with grass or rocks — but one nest was discovered in a Massachusetts parking lot, so it is impossible to predict where they will appear, Clarke said.
“But it’s not likely they would nest right near the water or where there is heavy foot traffic,” Clarke said.
The bulk of the protected sands are on the north end of Revere Beach, near Point of Pines, but there are also at least two nesting areas toward the south edge, closer to the main tourist areas.
Revere Beach is home to one of the top five populations of piping plovers in the state, Clarke said, a testament to the recovery and cleanup of the beach and Boston Harbor.
Some Revere residents said Monday that they do not believe that beach restrictions will affect summer tourism.
Because the piping plovers mostly claim rocky areas with vegetation, they are not in competition with beach-goers, said Mike Pietrello, 46, as he scoured the sand with his metal detector. “Who comes to the beach to lay on piney grass and rocks,” Pietrello said. “Nobody.”
Gene Giardima, a beach regular, said the southern area where the birds are nesting is usually not sought after. “That’s the last place people would set up,” Giardima, 69, said. “Even for the Fourth of July, on a weekend, you wouldn’t see it crowded.”
Even if the nesting areas are not attractive to beach-goers, restrictions could deter prospective tenants and cost Revere economically in the long run, Powers said.
“People that are buying a condo are buying because they want access to the water,” said Powers. “They don’t want to come out and have to walk 400 to 500 feet to get to the water.”