Efforts to protect the piping plover population are paying off in a big way. The piping plover is a small shorebird native to North America.

The state has seen an incredible increase in the number of breeding pairs, from just 135 to more than a thousand.

Lyra Brennan is the director of Massachusetts Audubon Society’s Coastal Waterbird Program in Cape Cod. She said the return of the piping plovers is exciting for all beachgoers.

“We’re giving people a chance to see there’s wildlife right here next to us on the beach where maybe we grew up going and they weren’t there 20 years ago,” she said. “Getting to see that and being able to point out the chicks to folks’ families, it’s really rewarding to be able to share that success with people who love the beach.”

But the increase likely means more beaches are ramping up restrictions to protect the birds. Piping plovers are tiny, and the chicks look like cotton balls. They also tend to blend in with the sand. To protect the species, beachgoers should expect federal and state government restrictions in areas with high plover populations.

Brennan said the restricted areas will be clear, and as Memorial Day approaches, coexisting on the beach with the wildlife is important.

“Most beaches will just have symbolic fencing,” Brennan said. “It’s just part of the beach where there’s nesting activity you’ll probably see some signs, some white or wooden posts that say this area is closed.”

Even though beaches from the North Shore to Cape Cod could be affected, wildlife officials say there’s plenty of coastline to enjoy.

“The hope is that there’s plenty of space both for people to enjoy the beach as usual,” Brennan said. “We’re pretty lucky in Massachusetts, we have so much coastline, so there’s still a number of beaches where there aren’t plovers as well so there might not be symbolic fencing erected on those beaches.” 

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