The birds that kept people off part of a P.E.I. beach

In 1982, Prince Edward Island was doing what it could to assist some of the island's tiniest beachgoers -- piping plovers.

National park visitors had to keep away from nesting piping plovers as far back as 1982

The piping plovers and the P.E.I. beach

41 years ago
Duration 2:14
To protect an endangered bird, P.E.I. had to keep people off a popular beach while those birds nested in 1982.

Prince Edward Island was doing what it could to assist some of the island's gentlest and tiniest beachgoers.

Those would be the piping plovers that were nesting on the beach of the national park named for the island in Cavendish, P.E.I.

And in 1982, they were going to be left alone there, as their population was dwindling.

"There are only about 1,000 or so piping plovers left on Earth and a few dozen of them have nested right in the middle of some of the park's best beaches," reporter Michael Vaughan told viewers on The National on June 3, 1982, just a couple of weeks ahead of the island's peak tourist season.

Keeping the birds safe

bird on a beach
A piping plover is seen on the beach in Cavendish, P.E.I., in the spring of 1982. (The National/CBC Archives)

A fence had been put up along a four-kilometre stretch of the beach to keep those birds safe.

"That sounds like a lot of beach, but it's only about a 10th of what's in this huge park," Vaughan explained, noting that beach visits by humans would be prohibited in that cordoned-off stretch until mid-July, when the nesting season was over.

"Where hundreds once sunbathed, now only a few naturalists will be allowed and all this is for the sake of a handful of birds. But when you're down to your last few, every bird counts."

A few 'bad years' could be disastrous

wire fence with wood posts and beach in background
A fence was put up along a four-kilometre stretch of beach in Cavendish, P.E.I. in 1982, in order to protect the piping plovers that were nesting there. (The National/CBC Archives)

Macrae Morse of the Canadian Wildlife Service explained how dire the situation was for the piping plovers.

"Really, a couple of bad years would be all it takes to wipe out the birds," Morse told The National. "They've got such a low rate of reproduction as it is."

Those who made their living off the tourists who came to Cavendish seemed to accept the situation with reluctance.

A continued close watch

Person on dune looking into binoculars
In 1982, Macrae Morris of the Canadian Wildlife Service said "a couple of bad years" could prove disastrous for the piping plovers. (The National/CBC Archives)

"Oh, there's a time limit on the fence, very definitely," said Stirling Lane, who was shown on camera emerging from the Royal Atlantic Wax Museum.

"It must be the 10th of July each year, because we're getting into the heavy tourist season [at that time]."

Efforts to keep the piping plovers alive continue today, though the birds remain at risk from various factors including people, pets, other animal predators and severe weather, according to the Parks Canada website.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now