With their iconic landscapes and wealth of natural resources, it’s no wonder that the Massachusetts Islands have been a haven for celebrities for many years. By celebrities, we mean some of the luminaries of the natural world—specialized, range-restricted, and endangered species that depend on the habitats of Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard and adjacent islands, as well as the waters that surround them.
Here birds such as the northern harrier and short-eared owl make their homes, brook lamprey spawn in coastal river systems, while migrating humpback whales and sea turtles feed in these waters—some of the most biologically rich on Earth.
At the center of an uncommon ecosystem, the Massachusetts Islands are also pivotal to the next generation of conservation efforts.
They serve as a bellwether of global climate change, facing rising sea levels in the coming years. They also epitomize the interconnectedness of marine, aquatic and terrestrial environments and illustrate the importance of taking a holistic approach to conserving critical habitats. Surrounded by ocean—now considered among the most endangered natural systems on the planet—the islands offer an invaluable study site for the protection of the marine environment.
In this exceptional setting, The Nature Conservancy’s strategy combines proven conservation approaches with innovative programs — local with global action. We are looking at the big picture and working on the land, in the water and on policy initiatives to preserve the vital resources of these islands. Will you help us advance this vital work on the Massachusetts islands?
The Massachusetts Islands provide a testing ground for cutting-edge environmental science. For instance, we are studying soil chemistry to help restore sandplain sites that have been altered by agricultural use. The robust science that underscores all of our efforts will help us make the right conservation decisions and produce results that can be replicated in other places.
Sea levels around the islands are predicted to rise three feet in the next century, and The Nature Conservancy is working on an international scale to mitigate such potentially devastating effects of climate change. Additionally, adaptation strategies in the islands include using LiDAR mapping to find the most vulnerable coastal areas and target them for expedited conservation, enhancing native plant stocks and encouraging the removal of storm-ravaged buildings in order to reclaim the open space needed to safeguard habitats and soften the impact of rising seas and storm surges.
Controlled fires are an essential tool in habitat management. Burns on the islands have helped restore the proper density of sandplain vegetation, bringing birds back to these nesting grounds. We are also leading the effort to develop a Community Wildfire Response Plan for Martha’s Vineyard, which improves public safety, increases access to federal funding for fire management, and builds support for the use of fire for ecological purposes.
Here's a great video about our fire work, courtesy PBS This American Land and producers Jon Baime and Tom Chartrand.
The Hoft Farm nursery in West Tisbury now supports 35 species of native grasses and wildflowers. Providing a reliable source of seeds, the nursery works to capture as much genetic diversity as possible, supporting our restoration work across the islands. We have successfully introduced many native plants into restoration sites, and in cooperation with the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, have established new populations of several threatened species at key conservation sites.
Our scientists and partners are studying ways to restore historic oyster reef habitat, much the way we’ve been working at Wellfleet Bay, improving water quality and the diversity of marine life. Similarly, we have devised a pioneering program to protect Massachusetts’ once-abundant eelgrass – so crucial to the juvenile fish and invertebrates that support the food chain. To prevent boat-mooring chains from continually scything these plants, we are testing a new elasticized mooring line at the same time that we replant eelgrass in the scars.
Concerned, educated citizens are essential to the success of any conservation effort. To this end, the Conservancy has been working with a variety of students, from those attending inner-city high schools to those at private colleges, to promote a better understanding of the importance of the islands’ ecology. Through internships and other programs, students have been able to participate in fieldwork such as invasive species control, scientific monitoring, and growing native plants.