It was a concerning report. No one had seen Larry, Steph, Small Wonder, Shore Magic, Barney Light, or Jean in the last 24 hours. While is is not unusual to miss a baby or two while doing a nest check, losing an entire family is more than a little frightening. Even in the most severe, traumatic events like Tufters & Tacey’s epic loss of all of their babies this season, the parents will usually hang around at least for a day or two.
Piping Plover families can, and do, go just about anywhere they choose to. A family of PIPL can march themselves as much as a few miles to a completely different beach, even just hours after hatching (Note: this is one of a few reasons why protective fencing and beach closures around Piping Plover nests will often cover a really wide and seemingly over-generous area around the nest). While Larry & Steph have seemed basically content with their digs in Barnegat Light, they had, in fact, been caught a few times recently wandering quite far south; even right up to the border of the dangerous and forbidden Loveladies.
Could they have actually moved-it-on-up and finally crossed the line into Loveladies proper in search of food, or perhaps, pricier real estate?
Let’s hope not… because there they would surely come face-to-face with a monstrous and unvaquishable enemy of the Piping Plover; one from which they are completely safe in Barnegat Light: The Beach Rake.
It was 3PM on Friday. If the family had actually perished somewhere on the beach, a successful recovery of the bodies would be more assured with a quick response. Careful Readers might remember that two of Larry and Steph’s chicks are wearing radio transmitting antennas and so this is an especially good opportunity to learn what happened to the family in the case of a tragedy. Time to go all out, and all in.
Given the history of the family’s adventures towards Loveladies and the killer Sand Tractors found there, Michelle Stantial raced to LBI to investigate. Yet before she joined the volunteers searching deep into the Loveladies dunes and beaches for the missing family, Michelle made a quick pit stop with her antenna in Brant Beach — at the municipal dump site.
It seems like a long shot, and it surely is. Yet it wouldn’t be the first time that dead Piping Plover chicks were pulled out of a dumped pile of beach rake debris. Usually they are dug out by a dedicated volunteer digging through the piles of muck by hand; but Michelle has a secret weapon — her antenna. So it is worth a quick wave of her magic wand around the dump before it closes.
I wonder sometimes about the long term desirability of beach raking, which the pros call “Mechanical Scraping.” I prefer that term as it better describes what we do to our beaches. “Raking” is too gentle, too pleasant-sounding.
We probably started mechanically scraping our beaches for a mix of assumed health, safety, and aesthetic benefits. It’s certainly a quick, nuclear way to hide all the litter and the plastic: both the stuff we leave behind and the stuff that washes ashore from far away places where some other jerk left it behind.
This has always bugged me because it just hides the real problem of our litter from us. It makes us ignorant, lazy, and less likely to cherish our beaches and our own behavior. It helps us become slobs. We certainly are capable of keeping our beaches clean with our own, bare hands. If you visit our unraked beaches, like Barnegat Light and Holgate, you’ll find a community culture of picking up after each other and taking responsibility. That’s a good thing.
Then there is the issue of aesthetics. Pristine, light colored sand devoid of any troublesome bits of shell or vegetation can feel clean, and lovely. Yet it can also feel sterile, and artificial. Phoney, and lifeless. Which is exactly what a raked beach is.
It is no secret that both Barnegat Light and the Holgate Refuge, our two primary unraked beaches, are cherished by Islanders as natural treasures. It’s where you’ll find the serious shell collectors and sea glass hunters, smartly, looking for booty. While their wild-feeling nature and bounty of treasures is usually obvious, many people don’t recognize that lack of mechanical scraping is a huge part of what makes these special beaches so unique.
It makes me wonder if beach raking will wind up following the same trajectory as heavily processed and frozen foods. For years we saw these foods as triumphs of technology over the perils and inconveniences of nature. These foods were heralded as the safest of all, and so therefore more desirable than all those dangerous, raw foods. Yet now the tide has turned as people discover that, while processed food might be a modest victory over risks like E. Coli, it is also has a tendency of being totally devoid of the nutrition which is the whole purpose of the food in the first place. Some believe now that what we actually did was solve a small set of problems by creating a much larger and worse set of them. And so now more and and more consumers shun those same processed foods in favor of living dangerously and nom noming on raw, organic, produce.
The younger generations happily and knowingly risk a bout of E. Coli from the fresh and uncooked salsas at a Chipotle, rather than eat at the lifeless McDonalds. They will probably wind up looking at the beach in the same way. Once they recognize it, it will be natural for the upcoming generations to see mechanically scraped beaches as the over-hyped, technological, lifelessly artificial creations that their ignorant ancestors enjoyed, and instead, will demand richer, wilder, more dangerous, natural beaches.
I’d like to propose that we encourage some townships to go au natural and abandon mechanical scraping completely, if they so choose. Others could keep scraping. An all out marketing war for tourist and real estate dollars could ensue, hopefully raising the perceived value of both types of beaches to their target audiences.
I also propose we develop an “Organic” standard and designation for beaches. Imagine, the unraked Barnegat Light could pitch itself as “100% Organic Beach (TM).” And while we’re at it, we can throw in another hot food-marketing trend: LOCAL. People love local stuff, or at least are too socially petrified to admit that they don’t. Since our local animals like the Piping Plover can only live on unraked beaches, places like Barnegat Light could also market themselves as “100% Organic, Local, Artisan Beaches (TM).”
Obviously communities that continue to rake would not be allowed to use any of these terms to describe their beaches. Yet they could say other stuff like “BUG FREE!” or “NOW WITH SAFE-RAKE(TM) TECHNOLOGY” or “REGULAR BEACH (WITH OTHER NATURAL FLAVORS)” and other such forms of marketing lingo to distinguish themselves from the “dangerous”, wild, natural, unraked beaches.
And lastly, I’d like to propose that communities which continue to choose to rake should pay a small tax which would be used to support our Organic Beaches (TM) and the local wildlife who might start showing up there as those beaches transform back from artificial playground sandboxes to real, beautiful, wonderful, wild beaches.
I smell money in the concept of “Organic Beaches.” (TM)
Which brings me to my last proposal: It would be great to see the community of Loveladies seriously take up the issue of Beach Raking. Barnegat Light’s premium Piping Plover habitat is continuing to creep ever southward, and coming to Loveladies. If Loveladies would end mechanical scraping, there is a good chance a miracle might take place there in the form of some Piping Plover nests.
This is obviously a decision for the good people of Loveladies to make on their own, about what type of beaches they want to have, what kind of Island stewards they want to be, and whether or not they want to be a part of the recovery and have adorable PIPL chicks running around their beach chairs.
I think it would be profitable. And nutritious. And lovely. And delicious.
Editors Note: I don’t really know why we do rake, except for the obvious, common sense reasons. Maybe I am missing something. Maybe there is a law. Or maybe it is just a practice whose time has passed and whose value is worth reevaluating. My thoughts are based on three simple facts:
- Our local animals can’t live on raked beaches.
- I meet too many people who travel all the way to Barnegat Light or Holgate from the beaches just feet from their houses, for reasons which always include the fact that those beaches aren’t raked.
- I meet too many people bemoaning the fact that LBI beaches have become some of the ugliest and phoniest in New Jersey since the replenishment. My instinct is that you can get away aesthetically with a fake dune or a raked beach, but having both crosses some line.
Leave a comment about your feelings about beach raking. Could you live without it? Would you want to?