Imagine for a moment that LBI didn’t allow any private ownership of land or homes. Instead, picture our Island as a large park with a collection of humble shacks and small domiciles randomly scattered across it. Now imagine that these public homes were available, free of charge, to any and all of us for the summer on a first come, first serve basis.
Lacking even basic amenities like heat, air conditioning, or running water, our season would likely get started in mid March when the weather began to warm, and would end in October when the cold winds returned. The most aggressive and most experienced Islanders would arrive first in the early spring to claim the very best spots for the summer. Families arriving later in June would either be forced to take the last of the slim pickings: tiny, flood prone, dangerous little shacks rejected by early visitors; or to fight off weaker families for a better spot. It certainly would be chaotic at first... but as the summer got underway, we would soon be settled into our places and so would go about our business of raising our families and enjoying the many bounties the summer Shore has to offer.
To some, this crazy, fantastical scenario must sound absolutely horrifying. To others, it probably sounds like fun. But for LBI’s local Osprey families, this is precisely their reality. We all know how amazingly precious and exceedingly valuable Island real estate is to us. Well, it’s the same for our Osprey, and perhaps even more so since the fate of their entire species depends on the quality of the summer rentals they manage to secure on LBI each year!
Osprey are a “site fidelic” species. This means that once an Osprey family finds a place it loves, it will return to that exact, same place, over and over again. People along the Jersey Shore can certainly appreciate this. We too tend to go to the exact spots we know and love best each summer. If our family took us to Margate in the summers when we were children, we will probably take our family to Margate as well. If our great grandparents were early settlers of LBI, the probability is high that we’ll wind up owning a home here too; or at least renting one to continue the tradition and share those memories with the next generation. In fact, we are often so intensely site fidelic down the Shore, some of us have been coming to LBI for 50 years and have never even seen some of the other great towns of the Jersey Shore just a few dozen miles up the
Parkway to the north or south. Osprey are exactly the same as we are in this regard. Wherever they have the best summer memories of raising their families is where they will want to return the following year. They have been clamoring for the best spots on the Island to raise their families each summer, and returning year after year to those same places, for countless generations.
Shortly after we humans arrived on the Island, we attempted to cleanup the mosquito “problem” by flooding the local marshes with DDT. Thankfully for us, and quite unfortunately for our local Osprey, the fact that we were poisoning not just the mosquitoes, but the entire Bay and everything that lived there, including ourselves, became obvious when the local population of Osprey, Bald Eagles, and other top predators plummeted quickly and dramatically.
To this day we value the Osprey as an “indicator species.” Since they exist on a diet of 100% local seafood, serious problems in the local marine environment show up in the health of the local Osprey early, and serve as valuable warnings to us. Currently, the increasing number of Osprey being strangled and suffocated by plastic debris in the Bay is indicating that we need to do more to keep trash out of our local marine environment. Even folks who aren’t particularly interested in, or even outright dislike our local Osprey, can understand what an important part Island life they are, even if only for this reason.
In the decades since DDT all but eliminated Barnegat Bay’s Osprey, small groups of dedicated people have worked tirelessly to restore the population. Building Osprey friendly nesting platforms, surveying the population each year, banding the young to track their movements, and studying blood, tissue, and egg samples have all been part of the astoundingly successful effort to restore the population to a healthy level. Thanks to these efforts, we once again get to live side by side with these magnificent, local animals, and we all can watch Osprey fishing in our local surf from the comfort of our beach chairs, or watch them raise their young on channel markers and platforms around the bay, or even just give them a little space and simply ignore them. After decades of relentless development, the coast is clearly reaching its saturation point. Local wildlife like our Osprey give us a valuable nudge to leave a little open space, and some natural beauty, before we turn the entire Shore into just another New Jersey suburb.
So the next time you see one LBI’s amazing Osprey flying round the Island, remember that it is not just some random bird passing through. That Osprey is our neighbor, and just like us, it is bound to the Island by family, but history, by necessity, and by memory. Its home here is as valuable and hard won to its family as our own homes are to us. And they have already proved to us in the past that, like any good neighbor, they’ll suffer along with us through the Island’s tragedies, and work tirelessly along with us to restore it to glory.
The spirit of LBI lives in these amazing animals as it does in each of us. Their no-nonsense, hardworking determination, their devotion to family, and their love of the local environment and all of its bounty enriches, inspires, and informs us of what it truly means to love the Shore.
Be a good neighbor. Support your local Osprey!