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Over the past five years, sand has naturally collected off the coast of New Jersey, resulting in a new, 40-hectare island.
The site reformed many times due to weather, the tide, and other natural factors, but in 2018, an emergent swash platform shoal formed and remained intact through several tide cycles and a recent nor'easter.
At first, the area - now referred to as Horseshoe Island - was quiet. But in 2021, biologists confirmed that more than 1,000 birds of various species were using the site for nesting.
Many of the nesting species - including black skimmers, red knots, and piping plovers - are endangered, threatened, or species of concern.
The birds may have begun using the site as early as 2020, but officials will never know because the site wasn't monitored that year due to the pandemic.
Aerial shot of the island (N.J. Department of Environmental Protection/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)
"The use of this island was truly unprecedented in this part of New Jersey in terms of avian species diversity and abundance, particularly among species of conservation concern," government officials said in an island management plan document.
In April, the New Jersey Department of Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the area, which is off the coast of Little Beach Island, will be closed between March 1 and September 30 for the next five years.
"Biologists anticipate bird use of the site to increase in the future if the landmass remains intact and undisturbed," officials said.
"Plovers are expected to set up nesting territories on the new island in 2022, which provides opportunity for the bird’s population to increase in a manner that is extremely rare in New Jersey – through the creation of new habitat."
Horseshoe Island can be seen on Google Earth.
LOCALS UNHAPPY WITH CLOSURE
But with summer looming and more people returning to post-pandemic activities, some residents have expressed anger over the island's closure.
The area is only reachable by boat and has become a popular place for people to relax and sunbathe.
“I understand that people want to protect the environment,” boater Michael Gremling, told The Inquirer.
"But it’s huge, and I don’t see why there couldn’t be sharing of it. … It’s a sandbar, well, really a shoal. It’s not an island. If it disappeared tomorrow, those birds would lay their eggs somewhere else and fly on.”
Todd Pover, a senior biologist with the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, told the Inquirer the seasonal closure likely won't be permanent, but it could last for several years.
“It’s not just that the island is unique, but it’s become a very important habitat. It has a number of endangered species though it’s a relatively small [40 hectares].”
Officials will monitor the site to collect data on bird use and patrol the area to prevent trespassing.