Part of Good Harbor Beach is fenced off to protect some tiny seasonal visitors.
A crew of Public Works personnel began fencing out an area of the beach on Monday to protect migrating piping plovers. The first pair of the threatened shorebirds reportedly landed this weekend.
"They put up the posts today," said Kim Smith, a local documentarian and advocate for the piping plovers. "The roping will come next and then they'll put up the signage telling people what's going on. This is super that they're doing it early this season. The earlier it goes up, the earlier the chicks hatch which gives them a better chance of survival as the beaches aren't so busy yet."
According to Smith, the piping plovers that visit Good Harbor typically nest in the same spot each year.
"One year they nested out in the parking lot because they were pushed out by the dogs on the beach," she recalled. "But once the ordinance was put in place they were able to return to their usual spot."
Dog are banned from Good Harbor Beach between April and September. Wingaersheek will remain open to canines on odd numbered days until April 30.
Smith said she's waiting for the birds to lay their eggs. Once they do, members of the Essex County Greenbelt Association will encapsulate the nest with wire netting.
"Dave Rimmer of Essex County Greenbelt has been guiding us since 2016," said Smith. "He's the first one I call when the first egg is laid. The holes in the cage are big enough for the birds to enter and leave, but small enough to keep predators out."
Smith began photographing and filming the piping plovers of Gloucester for a documentary in 2016. Since then, she has organized a group of around 15 volunteers to care for the delicate birds as they settle down for the summer in Gloucester. Volunteers take shifts to oversee the nests from sun up to sundown. They receive on-site training on bird behavior, camouflage, as well as public interaction and conflict reporting procedures.
"It's important to have someone present because (the chicks) are so tiny," explained Smith. "When they hatch, they're about the size of a marshmallow and weigh as much as a nickel. They're precocial bird, so they start exploring the beach about an hour after they hatched. There's a potential danger there."
Piping plovers have been considered "threatened and endangered" by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service since 1986.
"For years so many people have been working to build up their numbers and they've been succeeding," Smith said. "I feel it's part of our community's responsibilities to rethink how we have used the shore and beach for the last half century and take into consideration of how we can help these birds grow live and thrive. We have this extraordinary opportunity to see these lives unfold before our eyes."
Those interested in joining Smith's volunteer team are asked to email firstname.lastname@example.org.