Three miles off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard lies Nomans Land island. While this island is historically known as being used for target practice for the Navy, it has now become the home to some of our furry friends.
In 2019, the Fish and Wildlife Service began an effort to revitalize the dwindling population of the New England cottontail by putting 13 rabbits on the deserted Nomans Land Island. Today, a population of over 400 rabbits roam the island. In this article, we look at what happened on Noman’s Land Island to make the experiment such a success.
History of Nomans Land Island
The History of Nomans Land Island is one that is linked with World War II. In 1942, the Crane family lent the island to the U.S. Navy as a location for an airbase. As the war subsided, the Navy no longer needed an air force base; however, the Crane family didn’t need an island that was previously used as an air force base.
Therefore, in 1952, the Crane family sold the land to the Navy, which began to use the island as a bombing target practice. In 1992, the Navy stopped using the island for target practice due to the environmental impact.
Despite the Navy’s intentions, it appeared as if the damage had already been done. Years of bombing left the island void of wildlife and uninhabitable to humans due to exposure to chemicals and the potential for undetonated bombs.
A New Hope for the Island
After several years passed, it appeared that the island had recovered from its use as a bombing target. Some of the damaged foliage began to regrow, which invited several species of birds to start utilizing the island.
Many birds use the island as a stopping point while migrating south for the winter. In addition, some of Cape Cod’s local species, like the piping plover, northern harriers, and roseate terns, now call the island home.
With evidence that wildlife can survive and thrive on the island, what’s next for this uninhabited piece of land that’s so close to a prime real estate location?
The New England Cottontail Experiment
Luckily, the land is currently protected from development. Since it’s relatively untouched by humans, it makes the ideal location for protecting the population of endangered wildlife. At least that’s what the Fish and Wildlife Service thought when, in 2019, they picked Nomans Land Island as the location to regrow the population of the New England cottontail.
Starting the Experiment
The New England cottontail used to be a very prosperous rabbit species in Massachusetts. However, due to overdevelopment and the depletion of shrub habitats, the species has become rather localized.
Nomans Island is a great location to revitalize the population because there is a lot of bush for them to hide from predators, and it’s mostly undisturbed by humans. Therefore, the Fish and Wildlife Service released 13 rabbits in 2019 with the hopes that the population would grow to nearly 500 and become a ‘bunny paradise.’
The Experiment Status Now
It’s been four years since the release of the initial 13 rabbits on Nomans Island, so you may be wondering how the experiment has progressed. In short, it has been a huge success, with over 400 New England cottontail rabbits currently living on the island.
While the growth has been phenomenal, the Fish and Wildlife Service is hoping that the population will reach 500 to be self-sustaining. In the meantime, they continue to introduce additional rabbits on Nomans Island, 8 in 2020 and 5 in 2021, to the population to help it continue to grow.
93% of the original 13 have survived since their original release date. While the Nomans Land Island itself doesn’t have any land predators, hawks and other birds have been able to pick off a few.
The Fish and Wildlife Service will continue to monitor the progress of the rabbits on Nomans Land Island and intend to do a 5-year update in 2024. Once the population consistently remains at around 500 rabbits, the Fish and Wildlife Service plans to try to integrate a portion of the rabbits back onto the mainland with hopes of replicating their success on the island.
Other Conservation Efforts on Cape Cod
Part of what makes Cape Cod such a beautiful place to visit and live is the wildlife and nature. Conservation efforts like the New England cottontail experiment are essential to protecting the natural beauty of Cape Cod.
If you’re interested in learning about other conservation efforts on the Cape, check out one of the following stories:
- American Oystercatcher Protection Program – learn about efforts to protect the American Oystercatcher in Nantucket.
- Wampanoag Aquaculture with First Light Shellfish Farm – discover how members of the Wampanoag tribe are helping to create a sustainable oyster farm that helps the environment and feeds the masses.
- Cape Cod National Seashore – Cape Cod is home to nearly 45,000 acres of protected seashore along its eastern coast. This land allows for wildlife populations to thrive.
While these are just a few of the conservation efforts in Cape Cod, there are plenty of exhaustive efforts to help protect the wildlife on the Cape and keep its shores pristine. Whether you’re visiting or living on the Cape, make sure to do your part by staying off the dunes, on the trails, and picking up after yourself.