Is there life on Monomoy? / by Ivan Kuraev

Standing on the tip of South Beach in Chatham, you can see it - an eight-mile stretch of sand, so near you could swim there, if not for the powerful current and the great white sharks that hunt in these waters. Monomoy is an island that seems so close, and yet every time people try to lay claim to it, it asserts its inaccessibility and wildness . Villages were built and then abandoned twice on Monomoy, and storms have annexed this spit of sand from mainland Chatham. 

Monomoy's fecund marshes, undisturbed stretches of beach and waters rich with sand lance - a two-inch fish that is the main food source to everyone from seals to striped bass and seabirds - allow animals that struggle in the presence of people to flourish here. Piping Plovers, American Oystercatchers, and Common Terns fail to reproduce in many areas on the mainland. Their habitat of choice - stretches of oceanside sand and sparsely vegetated dunes - has been developed and built upon throughout Cape Cod. On Monomoy, these birds thrive. Though the population of Chatham, a popular Cape Cod resort town, soars from  7,000 people in the winter to over 25,000 during the summer months, Monomoy is inhabited only by shorebirds, Gray seals and a few gadabout coyotes. Well, there are also biologists.

Twelve scientists working for the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Massachusetts Audubon Society study the island's resident birds, and during the summer months, are its only human residents. I'm one of those biologists. We are the only human witnesses to the natural dramas that unfold on Monomoy, and I think that the nature here is different than what can be observed and visited in mainland parks and preserves. For one, we live in a colony of over 21,000 seabirds...

I'm going to use this page to provide a glimpse of life on Monomoy. I'm still not sure what the best way to do this is. I will try not to write too much and instead post photographs, videos and short interviews with the people who work on the island. Here we go.