Half the people were naked! That’s right, back in the late ’60s and early ’70s, when I hung out at Sands Beach and further down by Ellwood Shores, on any given sunny day, half the people on the beach were naked – unashamed and unafraid. The Isla Vista youth/beach culture of that time must be difficult to comprehend for most who will read this, who were not even born till considerably later. The beach culture around Isla Vista has basically survived over the years, albeit in a more modest form, being a sort of “tide pool” or “mating ground” for young adults, where you can check out potential partners and chill out with friends.

The last time I strolled by Sands in 2000, I noticed all the acacia had been ripped out, and some of the majestic cypress trees had been removed with signage explaining the reasons – namely that they were not indigenous to the area. At the time, I wondered if the thousands of towering eucalyptus trees around the campus would be next. Imagine my surprise when this week, after many years, I found myself strolling again past Sands and discovered its current state of “guarded encampment” with fencing, signage, prohibited access, closed areas and pathways and a human “Plover Monitor” (AKA docent), parked dead center in what I remember as once being “bikini heaven.”

The docent was only too eager to tell me the story of the endangered plover, native to the west coast of North America from British Columbia down to Baja… only an estimated 1,300 in 2001, with a roughly estimated 2,100 birds in existence today. It seems that in 2001, somebody noticed a plover hanging out down at Sands, and the rest is history. In the grand scheme of things, these plovers appear to be wielding some serious juice, when you consider that the handful of birds in the area have gotten about 20-30 acres of prime beachfront property declared off-limits to humans for their mating and nesting needs. I guess that would be comparable to one of us having about a 5,000-acre ranch, more or less – oceanfront, to boot. If one of these plovers decides to nest on the balcony of my apartment, am I basically out on the street at that point?

I asked the docent about the removal of the acacia and other shrubs – was it really due to them being non-indigenous? He said yes, but then added that the shrubs provided habitats for certain predators of the birds, and the nearby trees provided nesting habitats for hawks and turkey vultures, which are a potential threat to chicks and eggs. He’d like to see all the trees in the area cut down. I suggested that if non-indigenous life forms should be removed from the area, then all of us need to hit the road and leave this place to the few hundred or so remaining full-blooded Chumash. As I walked back toward Ellwood, I passed a couple turkey vultures who were inside the prohibited area, tearing up some seagull carcasses. I pointed out the signage to them, but was ignored. I came away from the day’s experience with some mixed feelings, which included a real appreciation for this docent and his cohorts. To me, it’s amazing how much passion these people have mustered up for one endangered life form. Plover includes the word “love,” and love is a certain necessity to garner this kind of passion for a worthy work. I have my own work to do. I need to find that level of passion.