Clean, clear water should be the standard in Buzzards Bayand throughout the watershed. However the Bay – and the rivers, streams, and wetlands that flow into it – suffer from a balance of lingering toxic and sewer pollution and the largest threat facing the Bay today, nitrogen pollution.
The science is clear: Nitrogen pollution generated by the watershed’s expanding population—primarily through inadequate wastewater disposal and fertilizers—is the greatest long term threat to the ecological health ofBuzzards Bay and its more than 30 harbors and coves.
Furthermore, the Bay faces ongoing toxic pollution threats from oil transport and industrial activities. By serving as the Northeast’s petroleum highway, more than two billion gallons of oil are shipped throughBuzzards Bay annually, risking hazardous oil spills. The Bay also suffers from incremental industrial, residential, and agricultural toxics as well as historical industrial pollution aroundNew Bedford.
ISSUE: WATER POLLUTION IN BUZZARDS BAY
1. What are the main threats forBuzzards Bay?
2. What kind of pollution is created by fertilizers (the chemicals we put on plants for them to grow faster)?
3. What do you think can be done to fight this problem?
HOMEWORK: DECLINING WATERSHED HEALTH
A Healthy Watershed = Clean Water. However, poorly-planned, sprawling development within the watershed is the leading cause of environmental degradation to the Bay, due mainly to the increase in nitrogen pollution. In addition, many of the watersheds natural pollution filters – forests, stream buffers, and wetlands – have been lost or damaged. These impacts to the watershed have a direct connection to the health ofBuzzards Bay.
What Is a Watershed?
If you’re on land, you’re standing in one right now.
A watershed defines an area of land that drains to a specific body of water; its perimeter is not marked by town lines, but by an area’s natural topography. It stores, transports, and filters the water that sustains life on land, as well as in our rivers, ponds, and bays.
A watershed acts like a funnel, channeling rain downhill, drop by drop, into groundwater, streams, and wetlands and eventually into the Bay (see image above). Along the way, natural processes—in the form of our forests, wetlands, and small streams—filter out as much as 90 percent of the nitrogen and other pollutants generated by human activities.
When people interfere with this flow by constructing roads or houses in sensitive areas, for example, we interrupt the natural systems for removing pollution. Paved surfaces fast-track rainwater and pollutants into our streams and ultimately intoBuzzards Bay.
WhenBuzzards Bayis compared to other East Coast estuaries, one of its most important distinguishing features is the extent of its watershed forests. It’s also one of the key secrets behind the Bay’s relative good health compared to places like the Chesapeake Bay, Long Island Sound andNarragansett Bay. The 2011 State ofBuzzards Bayfound that 79% of original forest coverage still exists in the Buzzards Bay Watershed.
No acreage works harder to maintain our region’s water quality and aquatic biodiversity than the forested lands alongside the more than 700 miles of streams that flow intoBuzzards Bay. The first 200 feet of natural vegetation on either side of the stream is most critical and collectively comprises a little more than 11% of the overall Buzzards Bay Watershed.
But in this 11%, a large portion of the nitrogen and other pollution can be naturally captured, absorbed and removed. An amazing natural service provided at no cost. Unfortunately, nearly 9,000 acres of those critical first 200’ along watershed streams – or 29% of all stream buffer area – have been lost to residential, commercial and agricultural development.
Between 1997 and 2009, 235.57 acres of wetlands were filled, drained or built upon in the Buzzards Bay Watershed. Approximately 85 acres of this destruction occurred since the last publication of this State of the Bay Report.
Overall, 40% ofBuzzards Bay’s original wetlands have been filled, drained or built upon. Today, the watershed’s remaining saltmarshes, wooded swamps and freshwater marshes serve as the Bay ecosystem’s filtering mechanism able to absorb as much as 90% of the nitrogen and other pollution generated by human activities.
1. What is a watershed?
2. How do people interfere with a watershed?
3. What do you think will be the consequences of ruining the watershed
HOMEWORK: LIFE IN BUZZARDS BAY
One of the clearest indicators of serious pollution problems are the loss of some of the Bay’s most important, and sensitive, living resources. Eelgrass, bay scallops, and river herring are three species whose abundance – or absence – is dependent on the health of the Bay and Watershed.
If you want to track the spread of nitrogen pollution in your own corner of the Bay, watch the eelgrass. And in many nearshore areas ofBuzzards Baytoday, eelgrass is slowly disappearing.
Eelgrass, a rooted underwater plant that grows in meadows on the bay floor, depends on excellent water clarity and sunlight penetration. However, cloudy water, resulting from nitrogen pollution, is the major cause of eelgrass loss inBuzzards Bay. The good news is that there remains enough eelgrass seed stock in the Bay for eelgrass meadows to recover once nitrogen pollution is reduced and water clarity restored.
For this reason, the Bay Coalition focuses on the root of the problem, working to stop nitrogen pollution from all sources while also protecting and restoring the watershed’s natural filters, like forests and wetlands.
Once considered the signatureBuzzards Bayshellfish, the highly valuable bay scallop has been in severe decline for the past 30 years.
An average catch of less than 2,000 bushels per year was reported in all Bay coastal towns between 2006-2010 by local shellfish wardens and the MA Division of Marine Fisheries. This figure represents less than 3% of the catches being reported in the 1970s when consistent catch data first became available.
Strong bay scallop populations are indicative of clear waters. Bay scallops are very sensitive to environmental conditions, from water quality to water temperature. Waters polluted with nitrogen choke out eelgrass, destroying crucial habitat for scallops. As we eliminate pollution and restore eelgrass, bay scallops may begin to recover to their once abundant levels.
River Herring inBuzzards Bayare in a state of profound collapse, with serious consequences for the Bay ecosystem. Only a fraction of the historic populations of herring still make the journey up the Bay into local streams and ponds. Other species once present in Bay rivers such as Shad, Sturgeon, and Atlantic Salmon are already locally extinct. Herring are considered a ‘foundation’ fish for theBuzzards Bayecosystem as the fate of the Bay’s sportfish and waterbirds are closely linked to them.
The cause of river herring decline continues to evade fisheries managers. We know that the damming of rivers, degradation of water quality, and alterations to pond and river flows have all reduced populations. It is now clear, however, that forces outside the watershed are also impacting herring.
The largest remaining herring populations in Buzzards Bay can be found on theMattapoisettRiverwhere 10,300 fish/yr were found, a far cry from from historic populations. In 1921, 1.85 million herring were reported in the Mattapoisett.
All is not lost, restoring the region’s rivers can put river herring on the path to recovery. On theAcushnetRiver, herring populations have increased 10 fold since the lowering of a dam at theAcushnetRiver restoration site.
1. What living things are being destroyed which have an important role in the bay?
2. What are the solutions being done and/or proposed to help save these living things in our bay?