Piping Plover Protection and Management:
A Lloyd Center Legacy
Piping Plovers (Charadrius melodus) are a beach-nesting shorebird whose Atlantic Coast subpopulation nests in sandy locations on coastal beaches from North Carolina to Canada. Plovers are adapted to a harsh environment with nests often on highly exposed open sand, and have always been vulnerable to predators and storm overwash events.
Over time, human encroachment from development (homes, parking lots, roads, piers, and beach stabilization) caused net loss of habitat, with sand removed not adequately replenished by natural shoreline water flow and sand transport. The associated increased human use increased recreational use and attracted additional predators drawn to human use areas where trash is often left behind. An expanding human footprint put plovers at risk for trampling, vehicle mortality, nest abandonment, and predation.
In 1986, the birds were protected by the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973, with states following suit and offering additional, localized layers of protection. A federal recovery plan was put in place where plover “monitors” installed symbolic fencing, protected some nests with predator exclosures, monitored breeding activity, educated the public and guarded refuges, gathered detailed nesting data, including causes of nest loss, and submitted final data to agencies. This data has determined levels of progress being made each year toward the recovery goal, and helped guide future management.
In Massachusetts, pairs increased from under 200 in the early ‘90s, to just under 1,000 in 2022. In Bristol County, abundance increased from only 17 pairs to a record 77 pairs, also in 2022. Productivity (young produced) has fluctuated year to year as the plover population has occupied more habitat and put birds in harm’s way of human use and predation. Management efforts over time have focused on plovers and people coexisting, predator control, and planning for climate change-related impacts like sea level rise.
Historically the Lloyd Center managed all beaches in the county, until increased abundance called for a collaborative between multiple partners. From 2004-2017 Lloyd Center efforts became focused on the state beaches of Horseneck, Gooseberry, Demarest Lloyd, and West Island. The Lloyd Center was instrumental in establishing a management foundation at Horseneck Beach for plovers during a major dune restoration project, and a large colony of Least Terns nesting in unprecedented numbers on the public beach.
For five years since that work (2018 – 2022), the Lloyd Center has shifted its focus to smaller but equally challenging local sites, entering contracts for the town beach of West Island in Fairhaven, privately-owned Bakers Beach in Westport, and in 2022, in a new partnership with the City of New Bedford, for East Beach on Fort Rodman peninsula.