A Plum of An Island
A substantial report, entitled, “Biodiversity and Ecological Potential of Plum Island,” was recently published in book form, richly complete with maps, charts and data, by the New York Natural Heritage Program. (NYNHP — a partnership between the NYS DEC and The Nature Conservancy.) The study makes a very convincing and exciting case that the potential is truly great for the 840-acre island as an important wildlife preserve and place for the public, to borrow Shakespeare’s words, “to walk abroad, and recreate yourselves.” That is, if all of the island, or a major part of it were to become a preserve. As I wrote in the Express in January 2011, Plum’s future may be up for grabs. The U.S. Congress made a decision to sell the island, possibly to developers. As the NYNHP report says, today, “The future ownership and management of Plum Island is uncertain.”
Plum Island is nothing less than a biological/ecological cornucopia. The largest number — more than 600 — of seals that haul out from December to April in New York State are on its shores. Right whales (so named probably because the gentle creatures were the “right” or easy kind for men to hunt and kill), humpback whales, beluga whales, dolphins and 74 species of fish swim in the waters that surround it. These waters include Gardiners Bay, L.I. Sound, and Block Island Sound — all of which, of course, are contiguous with the Atlantic Ocean. On the island are some 420 species of animals, including foxes, muskrats, otters, beavers, and five kinds of turtles. There are 187 species of birds known to be on the island, including four kinds of heron, great and snowy egrets, double-crested cormorants and osprey. However the bird population is now threatened by raccoons, which somehow made their way to the island (but not by swimming) around 1995 and are devouring birds’ eggs. The NYNHP report strongly recommends that the raccoons be removed from the island.
In addition, “Plum Island, with 16 recorded rare plant species, has one of the highest concentrations of rare plants in New York State.”
There are 25 “natural communities” on the island, among the largest of which are: marine shrubland (124 acres), maritime forest (119 acres), and maritime beach and dunes (73 acres). And the NYNHP study cites that “The shoreline is characterized by wide sandy beaches … [and] steep cliffs and bluffs.”
In addition, the report points out that a number of species that once lived on the island can be reintroduced to it. They include barn owls and green frogs. Other species found on nearby lands could be introduced or reintroduced to the island, including “10 species of frogs and eight species of salamanders.”
In 1854, when far less of America had been developed, Henry David Thoreau wrote, “We can never have enough of nature.” How much more urgently true this is 158 years later!
More information about Plum Island can be had by calling the Nature Conservancy in East Hampton: 631/329-7689.
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s address and phone number are: 155 Pine Lawn Road, Suite 250N, Melville NY 11747, 631-249-2825; U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer’s address and telephone number are: 145 Pine Lawn Road, Suite 300, Melville NY 11747. 631-753-0978.
RICHARD GAMBINO fell in life-long love with the natural magnificence of the East End when he first saw it on a trip to Montauk in 1954, when he was 15 years old. He would like enough of it to be left to love when his grandkids become teenagers.