With people and vehicles digging into the sand all along the east coast, retired MassWildlife ecologist Tim Simmons says wild beaches are few and far between — he figures most people have never even seen a wild beach. But on the Vineyard, the rare and endangered northeastern beach tiger beetle, a key signifier of uncorrupted beaches, has regained its footing.

“Their former range was from the Chesapeake to Massachusetts,” Mr. Simmons told the Gazette by phone this week.

For decades Mr. Simmons conducted an annual survey of the northeastern beach tiger beetle on the Vineyard, after he began searching for the beetles in 1986 based on their presence in historical records. He didn’t find any until 1989. But in the years since, Mr. Simmons said the beetles have begun to take hold once again on the Vineyard.

“They’ve improved over the last 30 years significantly,” he said. “Kind of serendipitously.”

Liz Olson and Samantha Chaves survey Island beaches for tiger beetles. — Ray Ewing

Mr. Simmons is now retired from the MassWildlife natural heritage and endangered species program, but he remains active as a conservationist. His work surveying tiger beetles on the Vineyard has been taken over by Biodiversity Works.

In the sands along the Vineyard’s south shore, wildlife biologist Liz Olson surveyed for beetles every week this July. The small, speedy beach tiger beetles are tan and gray, blending into the surrounding beach pebbles.

“You’ll start to see them jumping,” Ms. Olson said, carefully surveying an Island beach last week.

She dove into the sand to catch one of the beetles for a closer look, but no luck — just a handful of sand. No matter; there’s no need to catch beetles for the count. She held up an analog counter.

“We just click, click, click like we’re at the boat,” she said.

The northeastern beach tiger beetle has a life cycle of two years, the vast majority of which is spent as larvae. Larvae migrate back and forth in inter-tidal zones, retreating to the dunes during the winter, and reemerging on the beach in the warmer months.

As adults, the beetles breed — and then die.

“And then they do it again,” Ms. Olson said.

She said part of the goal of the survey is to find the peak season for the beetles, alongside monitoring the general population.

“We think the peak is like mid-July,” Ms. Olson said.

Ms. Olson said the beetles are highly sensitive to activity, and beach use greatly affects the population. At one Vineyard beach, the influx of seasonal visitors caused a noticeable shift, she said.

“As soon as that beach started, we got like five beetles along that stretch,” Ms. Olson said.

She said the populations are strongest up-Island, on beaches less trodden upon by pedestrians and vehicles. But even on beaches all along the south shore of the Island, the northeastern beach tiger beetle has found a home.

“Like this beach doesn’t seem to be getting heavy use, and they’re doing well,” Ms. Olson said.

Mr. Simmons said the northeastern beach tiger beetle used to populate beaches all along New England’s shores. But the populations in Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York have all disappeared. Sea level rise poses yet another threat to the beetles.

“The habitat has shrunk considerably,” he said.

The results from this year’s survey are not yet complete, Mr. Simmons said. But one thing is clear, the northeastern beach tiger beetle population on Martha’s Vineyard is on the road to recovery.

“A lot of the areas that were historical [habitats] on the Vineyard have recolonized,” Mr. Simmons said.