Massachusetts Island’s Bombing Range Past Alarms Nearby Residents

Nomans Land isn't far from Martha's Vineyard

Nomans Land
Nomans Land, seen from the air.
Mike Bracht - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Three miles off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, you’ll find the island of Nomans Land. Despite its proximity to a prime New England destination, Nomans Land remains as uninhabited by humans as its name might suggest. Some of that has to do with its current function as a wildlife preserve, admittedly — and some of it has to do with the unexploded bombs situated across the island.

A new article at The Atlantic by James Freitas explores the history of Nomans Land and the consequences of so much unexploded ordnance (or UXO) on the island. Beginning in 1943 and lasting for over 50 years, the island was used by the Navy to test bombs. That period of its history ended in 1996, and the island has remained vacant ever since.

Nomans Land’s current status, of abounding with wildlife, places it in a contradictory position. For humans to attempt to remove the UXO, the results might involve a significant disruption to the animals currently living there. But other advocates for the island contend that doing nothing is not an option.

The Atlantic notes that some Martha’s Vineyard residents are worried that UXO from Nomans Land might make its way to their own coastline; a bomb that could still explode washing ashore on a populated beach is an outcome that, understandably, no one wants to see happen.

The article also quotes ecologist and veteran Brian McCarty, who raised concerns about the aquifer that Martha’s Vineyard and Nomans Land share — specifically, that pollution from UXOs could eventually work its way into the water used by the island’s neighbors.

And some people would simply like for people to be able to visit the island. There’s a scientific case to be made for this; there’s also the fact that the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head resided on the island before it was used for bombing, and members of the tribe would also like access to the island for a host of reasons. Can these competing sides find some common ground? That could be a challenge.

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