On the Vineyard, every decade has its crisis.

In the 1870s, it was about a prosperous Oak Bluffs cutting ties with a struggling Edgartown and going off as a town on its own. In the 1950s, it was about whether the Islands could wrestle control of the Steamship Authority away from covetous mainland politicians. And in the 2010s, it’s shaping up to be about affordable housing and the opioid epidemic.

But in the 1970s and especially the 1980s, a death match was being fought over suburban development. Land speculators were working at a fever pitch to sell off the Vineyard, often in quarter-acre parcels, to buyers as far away as could be reached. Town planning boards and Island agencies were struggling to slow or stop the land grabs and hard sells using new and largely untested oversight and zoning rules.

Chappaquonsett at Tashmoo, Vineyard Acres II and others became bywords for the sort of Levittown tracts that it was feared would soon leave the Vineyard chopped up, gridlocked and drowning in its own effluent. The names Giuliano, Chira and Boldt appeared in headlines week after week — all were developers who were seen to have no stake in the Island but a quick-strike financial one.

Thirty years ago this week, a group of Vineyarders decided that the big money was winning and that they could no longer fight these forces and interlopers in meeting rooms or in the press alone. They would take their battle public.

They entered the Fourth of July parade in Edgartown with a float that portrayed the Island as a small dory sinking into stormy waters strewn with trash. Six women, dressed as prostitutes and representing each of the six towns, handed out handmade currency (In Growth We Trust, One Squeezed Grape) to make the point that Martha’s Vineyard was on the auction block. Trailing behind the float would be a gravestone that said “Martha’s Vineyard R.I.P.”

They also had Pia Leonard of West Tisbury videotape it, perhaps in part to leave behind a record that, no matter what happened after this crucial moment in Island history, a few people had done their part by staging a protest against the ruination of the Vineyard. And that they had done it in the most publically and patriotically imaginable way.

The idea came from Steve Ewing and the late Michael Wild, both of Edgartown and both veteran members of town and Island conservation groups. An excerpt of the tape, edited by John Wilson of Edgartown, appears on the Gazette’s website this morning as part of its Historic Movies of Martha’s Vineyard project. Mr. Ewing narrates.

Mr. Wild, who died in 2000, is fondly remembered as a passionate conservationist, friend to hundreds and a character whose spirit was drawn from opera buffa. He is seen on the tape sitting atop a toilet at the helm of the foundering skiff, crying out to the crowds, “It’s not too late!” and “Don’t sell the family farm!”

In the film Mr. Ewing, a dockbuilder and poet who is also known all across the Island today, walks with the float, asking parade watchers whether they think the Island is becoming overdeveloped and what might be done to save the place for their children. The answers are often lighthearted but apocalyptic: attack dogs, land mines, sinking the ferries and shooting down the planes.

The float was named Most Original. But what we now know now, 30 years later, is that while some lands have been irretrievably lost, almost 40 per cent of the Vineyard has been placed in conservation, an achievement that few Vineyarders or visitors in 1987 would have dared to predict. The effort to parcel out the Vineyard in quarter-acre bits has largely ended. And while the problems of the 2010s endure, the tale of the tape shows that solutions are not always out of reach.

“I’m optimistic. I see good things,” Mr. Ewing says, looking back on a video he created at a time when his colleagues and many in the crowd worried that it was already too late. “People are moving in the right direction, I think.”

The Historic Movies of Martha’s Vineyard project saves, archives and introduces old Island films to the public. The collection of 18 Vineyard films presented to date is available on the Gazette website. For information about the project, or to have old Island films transferred digital files, contact historicmovies@vineyardgazette.com. (To avoid damage, please do not run old films through a projector.)