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Farm Pond, Beach Road and the Sea
At the edges of our lives, the sea pounds on the shore, and the shore stands guard against the sea's assault. Or does it? The Vineyard littoral has changed repeatedly and significantly over time. It is changing still. The Times asked Jo-Ann Taylor, a coastal planner, to describe and illustrate the changing Island shores, in illustrated installments, of which this is the fifth.
Farm Pond in Oak Bluffs is connected to Nantucket Sound by a culvert under Beach Road. On an aerial photo, the culvert location is easily identified by a fan-shaped sand deposit spreading into the pond. On the other side of the road, there is nothing but the sea. A bit farther south, there is some beach on the other side of the road, with bits and snatches of water between the road and the sea. Relict jetties are just visible offshore, ghostly reminders of a former inlet. A bit farther south, and with no trace of or hope for a connection, lies Harts Harbor.
The Farm Pond salt marsh includes dead spots, called pannes, as a result of poor circulation. Photos courtesy of Jo-Ann Taylor
Years ago, Farm Pond looked very different. As shown on Des Barres' 1776 chart, there was no road or seawall. Farm Pond appeared as several distinct arms. One arm remains to this day, little island and all. One arm of the pond shown on the historic chart may have been lost to fill, in order to build South Circuit Ave., which now has pond on one side and wetlands on the other. The seaward arm was fully connected with the middle arm.
The now-familiar sight of sand overwash and cones during a 1991 storm.
At some point, an opening to the sea was created. As recently as the 1950s, there was an active herring fishery in Farm Pond. The relict jetties may have had something to do with maintaining the herring run. At some point, Harts Harbor was made a harbor, by creating another opening there. By the 1970s, there was a good blueclaw crab fishery, and a respectable harvest of soft-shelled clams and oysters as well
While the inhabitants were busy filling and building and fishing, something was happening to the sand supply from the north. In the early part of the 20th century, East Chop was armored in order to prevent erosion there. The armament was effective at keeping the bluff intact, but it also cut off the sand supply from the north. So the longshore transport, moving sand in a north-to-south direction, began tearing sand away from the beach. Unlike Sylvia State Beach, there is no compensating sand supply from the south.
As erosion narrowed the beach and the waterway between Harts Harbor and the main body of Farm Pond (remember the seaward arm of the pond, that shows on the 1894 chart?), Farm Pond's connection to the sea became less and less reliable. The reduced flow was unable to afford much exchange with the sea.
A 2003 MassGIS aerial photo of Farm Pond.
A new opening to the sea was proposed in the 1980s in place of the ever-narrowing channel to Harts Harbor. However, the permitting for the new culvert turned out to be something of a nightmare. A fierce paper battle was fought over 100 square feet of salt marsh that was ultimately displaced in favor of culvert construction. The struggle was ironic because the poor circulation in the pond was clearly unhealthy for the salt marsh. Since the culvert was constructed, about fifteen years ago, the salt marsh habitat has improved greatly.
Jo-Ann Taylor studied geology at Smith College and Boston University, earning BA and MA degrees. Her background includes planning, oceanographic research (marine geophysics), small engineering projects, and government administration. For the past 14 years, she has served as the coastal planner for the Martha's Vineyard Commission.