OCEAN CITY — A sandy spit in the Isle of Wight Bay that became a focal point of sorts last summer in a skirmish between public access and habitat protection is officially off limits to recreational boaters with Memorial Day arriving this weekend after the island was turned over to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) earlier this month.
When the federal Army Corps of Engineers dredged the navigation channels around the resort in 2015, roughly 400,000 cubic yards of sand and dredged material was dedicated to restoring some of the islands in the coastal bays that hadn’t been seen since the 1930s, including a roughly four-acre spit now called Tern Island. Restoring the islands essentially accomplished the dual goals of finding a home for the dredged material while creating crucial habitat for endangered nesting colonial nesting birds in the coastal bays.
However, a conflict of interest quickly arose last summer for the newly-created island. From the beginning, recreational boaters were drawn to the sandy spit in the Isle of Wight Bay and hundreds of boaters dropped anchor and waded ashore all summer, creating a weekend retreat for families and friends. Tern Island’s legacy as a weekend boating hub was solidified last June when a small group of boaters waded ashore with an American flag and bags of concrete and raised Old Glory in a spontaneous act of patriotism. For the rest of the summer, the island was used extensively by recreational boaters for cookouts, horseshoe games and other summer activities, but it was widely believed its days as a weekend retreat were likely numbered.
That came to fruition on May 9 when the state’s Board of Public Works formally conveyed Tern Island to the DNR as part of the Sinepuxent Wildlife Management Area. As a result, Tern Island is now officially closed to the public from April 1 to Sept. 15, when the colonial migratory birds are nesting. Essentially the closure dates coincide with the height of the recreational boating season in the resort. The island and other similarly protected islands in the coastal bays are now posted with signs along the shoreline alerting boaters the areas are off limits.