Lake Tashmoo is a gem of Martha’s Vineyard.
Many locals flock there to take in a sunset, to watch the seabirds, or to quahog and fish; it’s a calm spot, and generations of families have been tying up their boats or dropping anchor for summer afternoons for as long as we can remember. Boaters from Cape Cod even make the trip over to the lake for its calm and beauty.
It’s a special place. And special places deserve special attention.
But last week’s Tisbury Select Board decision to agree to pass an anchor moratorium in Tashmoo isn’t fair.
The decision — as far as we can tell — was based on two issues: quality of life and eelgrass.
Damaging eelgrass is nothing to laugh at. It’s an important part of the ecology of an estuary, and it deserves protection. Eelgrass provides habitat for shellfish, and can prevent erosion, and it is an indicator of an estuary’s health: An estuary with no eelgrass is an estuary in trouble.
Boats anchoring in Tashmoo probably don’t help the eelgrass, but in the grander scheme, the impact of anchoring is minimal.
The biggest threat to eelgrass is nitrogen loading. Too much nitrogen leads to algae growth, which chokes out the sunlight needed for plants to grow.
The latest report from the Massachusetts Estuarine Project from 2017 found that the leading cause of pollution in Tashmoo by a very long shot is wastewater — about 80 percent of the controllable loads of nitrogen. That’s septic systems from homes in the watershed slowly polluting Tashmoo with nitrogen.
Another factor? Fertilizer. Those bright green lawns that we see around Tashmoo in the middle of the summer, those are not helping.
Also, stormwater runoff is a concern.
It’s worth noting that the Martha’s Vineyard Commission finds Tashmoo not in bad shape, at least compared with the Lagoon. And we know there are efforts underway to reduce this pollution, which is commendable. Tisbury Waterways Inc. is working to replace septic systems with innovative technology that would reduce the nitrogen loads greatly. New Title 5 requirements coming down from the state could expedite those efforts.
But not allowing boats to anchor in Tashmoo over eelgrass is simply unfair.
The other issue is quality of life. And this argument has merit. The town has received numerous letters from residents living around Tashmoo complaining about boaters who might have had too much to drink; they might be playing music too loudly, and overall making a ruckus. Other Tisbury residents have complained about trying to navigate their own dinghy through a mass of boats tied up together and blocking the channel. That’s fair, and we need to work together to find solutions.
Although a little backward, we are encouraged by the select board when they say they are open to management proposals that would help. There are options worth considering. Members of the town’s waterways commission proposed putting a number of pilings on Tashmoo that boaters could tie up to. That can create issues with navigation, but it would allow boaters into Tashmoo who don’t have a mooring.
Edgartown officials ran into the same issue of anchoring for Cape Poge, and their solution is worth exploring. They set up a clearly marked area — with signs — where boaters could drop anchor. They also kept a close eye on what was going on, even snapping photos of all the boats. The harbormaster’s office eventually got even more relief when the Trustees of Reservations allowed people to bring their boats ashore at Cape Poge, but as far as the harbormaster’s office says, the anchoring system worked.
Some Tisbury residents have proposed a permit system. While that does sound like bureaucracy, online permitting has made strides, and access to permits can be the easy click of a few buttons. This idea is also worth exploring.
We know that town officials are also considering public “conservation” moorings, which could be environmentally friendly and provide the space for dropping in. Also worth considering.
But these concepts and proposals should have been figured out before a moratorium on anchoring was put in place. Now there are basically two months to go before summer.
While likely not intended, some Island residents feel that the moratorium is another move toward a more exclusive Vineyard, where only the wealthy will be able to enjoy the Island. It’s hard not to feel that way, with housing prices skyrocketing. Enjoying Tashmoo on the water — as long as you have a boat and an anchor — was a relatively cheap and easy way to relax, connect with nature, and take in a great pastime of the Island.
We encourage the town to come up with a solution soon.