Volunteer effort tackles beach cleanup
An empty bag of potato chips, rusty beer cans and a dilapidated beach chair are among the summer leftovers visible on a winter day on Eastville Point Beach just east of the Lagoon Pond drawbridge overlooking Vineyard Haven Harbor. In addition to the manmade debris, there is a plant that is equally unwelcome.
David Nash of Edgartown, chairman of the Eastville Point Beach Committee, a group of citizens interested in cleaning up the popular beach, said, "It's in serious need of some TLC."
The first order of business, Mr. Nash said, is to remove the spotted knapweed that has grown in all over the beach. Saturday afternoon, a group of volunteers will go to work doing just that.
Photos by Mimi Wells
Spotted knapweed is an invasive species, thought to have arrived on the northeastern coast of the United States in the late 1800s as a soil contaminant. It flowers late in spring through mid-fall and, with its petals in shades of pink and violet, can appear quite delicate.
Actually the weed is an aggressive competitor; spreading rapidly and releasing toxins that halt the growth of native Island flora such as rosa rugosa.
The plants' spindly branchess also deter shorebird populations such as the least tern, a Massachusetts species of special concern, from nesting in spring. "Least terns like open, sandy habitats. They usually nest on top of the dredge spoils at Eastville Point," said Rebecca Harris, director of Coastal Waterbird Program at Mass Audubon. "Removing knapweed may mean that we have a colony there this year, where we probably wouldn't have."
Managing the toxic plant is an issue on several Martha's Vineyard beaches, but Eastville Point Beach is especially vulnerable because of a combination of frequent use and its past use as a site for dredge deposits. "It likes sandy areas and poor nutrient soils," said University of Connecticut biologist Sarah Treanor. "Spotted knapweed typically grows in ruderal or otherwise disturbed habitats."
With seeds viable for up to five years, it takes consistent maintenance to eliminate knapweed, something that has been largely lacking on Eastville Point Beach where its growth has been mostly unchecked.
Removing spotted knapweed is not the only challenge. The Eastville Point Beach parking lot is pock-marked with potholes, garbage abounds, and fences are in disrepair. The problems amount to more than just an eyesore for beachgoers. Lack of adequate fencing means more human disturbance of bird nesting sites in summer and excess garbage attracts egg and chick predators, including rats and skunks.