Whether wildlife refuge, research destination or restored traditional homeland, the fate of Nomans Land is up for debate
Nomans Land, Massachusetts, is unusual for the heavily populated New England coast. The island could have ended up like a miniature version of Martha’s Vineyard—the upscale vacation destination that sits just five kilometers to the north. Instead it’s brimming with spotted turtles and myriad migratory birds—a de facto wildlife sanctuary with little human presence. And there’s a good reason for that: from 1943 to 1996, the island served as a bombing range for the US Navy. In spite of previous cleanup efforts, Nomans Land remains littered with unexploded explosive ordnance (UXO) that has rendered it closed to the public.
But despite half a century of destruction, life has flourished on the island. And now, area residents are embroiled in a question that is at once philosophical and practical: what to do with Nomans Land.
Gus Ben David, a naturalist, biologist, and third-generation Martha’s Vineyard resident first visited Nomans Land in 1973, when he was sent by the local newspaper to report on the state of the island. He has spent more time there than any other civilian, and today is championing the view that the island should be left alone. Nomans Land has become a paradise for wildlife unbothered by humankind, Ben David says. If the remaining ordnance doesn’t harm the wildlife, then it poses no problem, he says, and any further attempts to remove the unexploded weapons could jeopardize the habitat.