By Sandy Bayne for The Association to Preserve Cape Cod
IMAGINE Nauset Marsh as a harbor for large ships!
IMAGINE this shallow and fragile place needing to be dredged regularly to provide safe refuge!
IMAGINE the loss of shellfish flourishing there today!
Almost 400 years after the French explorer Samuel de Champlain sailed into this bay, passed over the dangerous shoal he dubbed the “mal barre,” and described the peaceful Nauset Indian village he found there, the Army Corps of Engineers unveiled a plan to dredge the bay and marsh to create a harbor for large ships. Appalled, an Eastham man named Herb Whitlock galvanized a group of Eastham and Orleans citizens to oppose the plan. Thus, APCC, first known as the Association for the Preservation of Cape Cod, was born in 1968, beginning a 44-year history of environmental protection and preservation.
Dr. Whitlock’s concern was certainly based on his understanding of the fragility of this narrow place and its importance as a nursery for marine creatures, as a feeding ground for birds, and as a place for humans to appreciate nature at its most beautiful. This low lying part of Eastham, where the town measures about 1.5 miles across from Cape Cod Bay to Nauset Marsh, is dotted by ponds from bay to ocean side and is very vulnerable to wind, storm ,and rising sea levels. This area is merely a microcosm of the whole Cape and the founders of APCC came to recognize that. They soon realized they needed to focus on other environmental crises the Cape was facing, and focus they did.
However, working on crises, while necessary, needs to be balanced by planning to prevent them, and planning to prevent them requires research.
From 1968 on, protection of Cape Cod’s water resources has always been at the forefront of APCC’s mission: How do we protect the quality of our waters: fresh, drinking, salt? How do we balance residential, commercial, agricultural, and recreational uses with the need to protect those natural resources?
APCC, now known as the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, recognizes that all of what we value here on Cape Cod depends on the quality of the environment, not only for itself, but also because our economy is based on fisheries and tourism. So early on, in 1971, APCC began to call for the restoration of diked Cape Cod rivers, focusing on the Herring River in Wellfleet. In 1982, APCC fought for and won the designation of all of Cape Cod as a sole source aquifer, thus adding levels of protection for our groundwater.
The fact that today many Cape Codders and environmental foundations recognize the vital work being done by APCC has enabled the organization to grow its staff. APCC makes very effective use of policy analysts and scientists specializing in water sciences. The staff works simultaneously with federal, state, county, and local organizations to effect change on a regional and ecosystem-based framework. APCC, often working with Cape allies, has achieved significant additional environmental protection. Three years ago, APCC helped establish a national model for salt marsh restoration and water quality improvement known as the Cape Cod Water Resources Restoration Project. Funding from this program allowed the removal of the dike at Sunken Meadow marsh in Eastham and the consequent restoration of a healthier marsh. Sunken Meadow cleans waters flowing in and out, helps attenuate nutrients, stores carbon, and serves as a nursery for fish and crustaceans. Two years ago, another APCC goal was achieved: The designation of all of Cape Cod Bay as a “no-discharge” area for treated and untreated vessel sewage. This year APCC helped further close the gaps so that all of the waters surrounding Cape Cod have been now designated no-discharge areas.
Executive director Ed DeWitt works with federal, state, and county regulators and organizations regularly, but also takes the time to meet with local government and educational groups that want to further environmental protection. Last year he conducted a Snow Library Lifetime Learning seminar on the development and uses of APCC’s Barnstable County agricultural land map: to protect these lands you have to know where they are and how they are zoned.
Assistant director Don Keeran of Brewster has worked for years with officials at the State House to effect better land and water protection through revisions to state law. He helped Brewster adopt new zoning procedures to protect natural resources including watersheds, drinking water, and open space. He has also worked in collaboration with local officials and residents to create a workable vision for East Harwich.
APCC’s senior scientist, Dr. Jo Ann Muramoto, coordinates the Cape Cod region for the federally-funded Massachusetts Bays Program and studies herring; in doing so she has brought those programs to the local level by managing a Mass Bays award to Orleans and by recording herring run counts in 13 towns, including Orleans and Brewster.
Salt marsh specialist and staff biologist Tara Nye studies the ecology of Cape salt marshes while simultaneously training local volunteers to take scientific measurements in 15 Cape marshes, including Namskaket in Orleans, Dyer Prince (Rock Harbor) in Eastham, and Freeman’s Pond, Quivett Creek, and Paine’s Creek in Brewster.
These scientists have, in conjunction with the Cape Cod Commission’s water quality department, organized and found funding for 10 years of “Ponds in Peril” seminars which provide education and collaboration opportunities for pond study volunteers from every town on Cape Cod, including Orleans, Eastham, and Brewster.
Currently, APCC is seeking funding for a study of the effect of sea level rise on Cape Cod. This phenomenon will have great impact on each and every one of us. Finally, APCC has funded the work of interns on varied projects from one end of the Cape to the other. These promising young scientists and planners are being trained to go out and change the world in the next generations! IMAGINE!
-Sandy has coordinated the Eastham Volunteer Pond Study since 2002 and was a member of the Eastham Water Management Committee from 2003-2012, and is a member of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod. She is also on the board of the Orleans Pond Coalition.