Tisbury Waterways Inc. discusses problems and solutions
At a public meeting tomorrow night at the Tisbury Senior Center, Tisbury Waterways Inc. (TWI) will tackle a sticky problem: what can be done when serious hardship is caused by several species of waterfowl, including a protected species of wildlife? Feces from burgeoning population of migratory and non-migratory (resident) Canada geese is fouling beaches, golf courses, yards, and farm fields, but more important, it is also contaminating shellfish beds with coliform bacteria, forcing the closure of some ponds and reducing or eliminating the harvest for both family and commercial fishermen.
Cormorants, voracious and successful marine predators, were until recently exotic and rare visitors, but they are now almost as common as gulls, and they are raising havoc with the efforts to restore the old herring runs in Lake Tashmoo, the Lagoon, Edgartown Pond, Menemsha Pond, and James Pond. Years ago herring were an important part of the Island economy. Like those of Canada geese, cormorants' droppings also contribute to the closing of shellfish beds and beaches.
Wild or feral turkeys, without significant predators on Martha's Vineyard to limit their numbers, have also experienced a population explosion in recent years. While many enjoy seeing turkeys and even feed them in their yards, many other Islanders consider them a nuisance, and their feces - after fouling yards, roofs, decks, and driveways - gets washed into streams, harbors, and ponds.
Martha's Vineyard is drowning in bird excrement. Short of breaking the law, there is little, so far, that Vineyard organizations have been able to do to stem this foul tide. There are limited hunting seasons for turkey and Canada goose, but cormorants are protected year-round.
Should we protect fish or fowl?
Since 1988, the small nonprofit TWI has been working to protect the quality of water in Tisbury's three main bodies of salt water: Lake Tashmoo, the Lagoon, and Vineyard Haven harbor. According to a TWI press release, in 1992-93, James Porter, TWI president at the time, working with Tisbury's Department of Public Works and the Board of Health, designed a series of catch basins to filter the storm run-off entering the southern end of Lake Tashmoo. It worked. Up until 1998, the quality of water dramatically improved. From that point forward, although the effluent coming from the catch basins is nearly pure, five feet into the lake the pollution has often been too high to measure.
On Friday, Sept. 11, at 4 pm, at the Tisbury Senior Center TWI, the organization's annual meeting will feature a talk by Steven Jones of the University of New Hampshire Jackson Estuarine Laboratory. In a report published in November 2007, using an analysis much like DNA testing, Mr. Jones found that the bacterial pollution (E. coli) found in Sengekontacket, Farm, Ell, and Trapps ponds were overwhelmingly from waterfowl, chiefly Canada goose, not from human sources such as failed septic systems. Birds accounted for 87 percent of the E. coli found, and the rest was from pets, livestock, and wild animals. Humans contributed none of the pollution found in those ponds in September 2007.
Simply assigning blame is not much help when the culprit turns out to be a species protected by law. It should be clear from TWI's interest in pure water that the title of Friday's presentation, "Should we protect fish or fowl?" is a rhetorical question. A better title might have been, "What can we do about contamination caused by protected species of birds?"
An answer might be found in information given by two representatives of the US Fish and Wildlife Service who will accompany Mr. Jones. TWI founder and past-president Harriet Barrow told The Martha's Vineyard Times in a telephone interview that homeowners and municipalities may apply a "depredation permit" to remedy a problem when they can demonstrate that important damage is being done by a protected species.
History of TWI
Tisbury Waterways Inc was founded in 1988 in a grass roots response by a small group of Tisbury residents to a stench arising from Vineyard Haven inner harbor. Because the harbor had silted in, seaweed was accumulating and rotting, producing a sickening sulfur odor. TWI, after almost 10 years of engineering study and frustrating permit applications, got the northern end of the harbor dredged in 1997, increasing the circulation and flushing the offending seaweed. That project will need to be repeated in the next year or so.
TWI has also tested the waters in Tisbury's three salt waterways since 1989. They were instrumental in acquiring barrels to store boat pump-out, and in 1994 a boat to carry pumping facilities to boats moored in the harbor. They have made donations to the town of Tisbury to allow the hiring of an assistant harbormaster to enforce environmental regulations, especially on Lake Tashmoo.
Additionally, in 2003, TWI initiated an adopt-a-beach program, executed by the Vineyard Girl Scouts, the Boys and Girls Club, Roots 'n Shoots, and the community service program run by Brian Kennedy of the sheriff's department.
TWI annual meeting, Friday, Sept. 11, at 4 pm at the Tisbury Senior Center. Featured speaker is Steven Jones of the University of New Hampshire presenting. The meeting is free and open to the public. 508-693-9309.