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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Jordan's Delight

Air Date: Week of

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Jordan's Delight is an island off the coast of Maine. A few years ago, a large private home was built on the island, destroying seabird-nesting habitat. But as Maine Public Radio's Naomi Schalit reports, the recent sale and donation of the land is now allowing for the removal of the house and restoration of the natural habitat.


CURWOOD: Pristine places can be gone forever when real estate development begins, but not always. Maine Public Radio's Naomi Schalit has our story about the restoration of a coastal island in the Atlantic, called Jordan's Delight.


SCHALIT: There are some islands that really are for the birds, and Jordan's Delight is one of them, says Mary Rea, a long-time summer resident of Maine's rugged coast.

REA: And it has a covering of grass and a few trees sticking up, and it is not a habitable appearing island at all. And the only beach we can land on is only possible to do in very very calm water. That's where we're going to land. We're going to stagger up to the rocks. And then, the AV trails that he had are very deep going up. It's not easy to walk around on at all.


SCHALIT: Eighty-four year old Mary Rea has gray hair jammed under a baseball cap, twinkling hazel eyes, and a cell phone tucked inside a lobsterman's bait bag. She grew up summering around these islands. She was proposed to by two different suitors, on Pond Island, just north of here. She's owned neighboring Trafton Island since the 1940s. But this island, Jordan's Delight, was different from the islands that were her playground.

REA: Because it was the only bare island. All the other islands, of course, have spruce trees and meadows and all sorts of things, but this island was just one big tall cliff that sat here, with--hear the birds? They're disagreeing with me, but I know I'm right.


SCHALIT: And bare islands are traditionally used by nesting seabirds. Seabirds are safe, on these remote islands, from mainland predators from humans to dogs to foxes. Jordan's Delight was once home to the largest colony of black guillemots on the East Coast. Their numbers have diminished, most likely because of human presence. The island's remaining guillemots, small birds with white wing patches and beautiful red legs, nest in sheer cliffs. Huge black-backed gulls lay their eggs in the island's green interior. There's a colony of secretive and nocturnal Leach's storm petrels that lay a single egg annually, deep in underground burrows. Everyone around here thought of this island as inhospitable to humans. So Mary Rea says it came as a shock when in 1994 a huge house began rising out of Jordan Delight's interior.

REA: There was no reason to inhabit this island, except to have a view, and it just seemed like such a sacrilege to build a house on this beautiful place, and the view around us, and the wildlife, and that--it just seemed absolutely out of character, for the whole island, to have anything manmade on it.

SCHALIT: The house on Jordan's Delight was built by an out-of-state businessman who barged construction materials to the island and moved them across it with all terrain vehicles during bird nesting season. But he abruptly ceased construction, put the island up for sale, and sold it in the year 2000. The new owner then deeded 90% of the island to the non-profit environmental organization, Maine Coast Heritage Trust. Jane Arbuckle is director of stewardship for the group. Standing next to a gull colony, Arbuckle says there was a string attached.

ARBUCKLE: An unwritten condition of his giving us this part of the island was that we will remove the big house, which is exactly what we would have wanted to do anyways.


SCHALIT: In late September, when birds had finished nesting, workers began taking the house down, shingle by shingle. Some of the house materials will be salvaged; much will be burned; and some will be barged back to the mainland and discarded. But destroying the house won't necessarily mean the end of human presence on the island. First of all, the island's donor retained a small house for his personal use, but only during non-nesting season. And second, if seabirds are to be restored to their proper and historical balance on the island, that will, in fact, take human intervention. Steve Kress is vice president for bird conservation at the National Audubon Society. He's credited with bringing puffins back to the islands of mid-coast Maine. Kress says that humans have so disrupted the ecological balance on Maine's coastal islands that it takes human intervention to restore and maintain bird colonies.

KRESS: If we want to have a full complement of seabirds that an island has the potential for supporting, then we sometimes need to actively manage the population of birds on it in order to restore the species that once nested there.


SCHALIT: Mary Rea looks forward to the day when the big house is finally gone and the rugged island returns to a more natural state.

REA: You can say it's lonely, it's remote, it's hard to get to, you can't do anything once you're here. But on the other hand, if you feel that this is a privilege to see this island as something that is unique and remote and you feel absolutely close to something that's much bigger than you are, much bigger. So, it's really a spiritual thing, I think. And nature can be just as spiritual as anything else.

SCHALIT: The house site is slated to be completely cleared by the end of October. Birds return to nest on Jordan's Delight next spring. For Living on Earth, I'm Naomi Schalit, on Jordan's Delight.



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