Foundations team up to restore Chilmark Pond

With help of Edgartown Great Pond Foundation, a new organization looks to restore native fish and shellfish habitats, as well as tackle cyanobacteria.

Two foundations have teamed up to restore the health of Chilmark Pond. — Kyra Steck

The Great Pond Foundation (GPF) and the Chilmark Pond Foundation (CPF) have joined forces to develop a science-based ecological restoration plan for Chilmark Pond as the pond faces several ecological stressors, according to a press release.

The water quality in the pond has deteriorated over the years. Last summer marked the third consecutive summer of confirmed toxic cyanobacteria blooms in the pond. In September, a Chilmark man suffered “disturbing symptoms” consistent with neurotoxins from blue-green algae blooms.

Part of the ecological restoration plan is for GPF to expand its scope and launch a cyanobacteria monitoring program.

“The Island’s Great Ponds are ecological treasures. Because of the twin challenges of climate change and development in the watershed, it is essential to protect these natural resources and reduce the likelihood of future algal blooms through scientifically informed watershed-wide restoration,” Emily Reddington, GPF biologist and executive director, said in the release. “Beginning in 2021, the GPF will expand its scientific scope with the launch of a cyanobacteria monitoring program.”

An algal bloom is a rapid increase of algae in freshwater and saltwater that comes to dominate an ecosystem. A bloom is dangerous because when the large biomass of algae dies, it sinks and blankets the bottom of the pond, where it is then broken down by bacteria. Those bacteria take oxygen out of the pond estuary that other organisms need to survive. 

The blooms are a result of elevated nitrogen and phosphorus levels, rising temperatures, and climate change.

CPF was created in 2018 and was loosely modeled off GPF, a leader in estuary science that is considered a success story for restoring the Edgartown Great Pond. Edgartown Great Pond was removed from the state’s impairment list in July after first being listed in 1992.

CPF goals were to restore the health of the pond and its native fish and shellfish habitats.

“Our ambition to restore the ecological health of Chilmark Pond has become even more urgent with the now regular occurrence of toxic cyanobacteria blooms. We are encouraged and grateful to be able to learn from the Great Pond Foundation and its team,” said Allan Holt, CPF president. “We know it will be a long-haul effort, and we are committed to seeing it through so Chilmark Pond can once again support fish and shellfish, and all our kids and future generations can play safely in its waters.”