Plovers in Exile
“Can you imagine being forced from your land into exile? These little ones have lost home and family. These are our brothers and sisters. We must reach out a hand to help them. Here, take this trash bag and go forth. Together we can help the snowy plovers return from exile,” I preached to the group of church volunteers in the Marina beach parking lot.
Well, I would call it preaching. They probably thought of it as orientation. I was hoping my altar call would embolden these volunteers, from a church conference at Asilomar, to climb up on the cold windy sand dunes. There trespassers had left broken beer bottles, and non-native plants had invaded. And the plovers had left.
The once large tribe of the snowy plovers, now a tiny remnant, was abandoning home and hope. We call it habitat loss, when a species can’t find a home neighborhood with food, safety and a place to have babies. Snowy plovers, compact little white birds with a brown collar, lay their eggs right on the sand, no nest, no high branch to avoid predators like foxes. And being a little skittish, or cautious, one might even say savvy, when a threat approaches, like a hiker, a dog, or a condo, the birds abandon their eggs. All three of these threats frequent our Central Coast dunes, and the snowy plover tribe has shrunk to less than1500 little souls.
To amplify my altar call, I had invited a member of Friends of the Snowy Plover to tell our 30 volunteers about their work. These good folks also walk the dunes, but instead of trash, they pick up those abandoned eggs, and gently carry them to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where surrogate mom snowy plovers hatch the orphans. Then they release the babies back to their promised land. (They also advocate for protecting the dunes, making them plover sanctuaries, dog free. No success there yet…)
So we set to work, doing our best to prepare a table for the snowy plovers in the midst of their enemies. After two hours we dragged back to the parking lot many bags laden with trash and many hearts full of hope. Progress not perfection. Come on home, little ones.
(Our Blue Theology Mission Station hosts youth mission trips and adult pilgrimages, short and long. We usually do some kind of beach cleanup or restoration and we always see the snowy plovers at the Aquarium. Bluetheology.com)