More than 30 years ago, local residents sounded a warning that the health of their beloved Buzzards Bay was failing. These early efforts to save Buzzards Bay from the harmful effects of pollution led to the formation of the Buzzards Bay Coalition. Decades later, a Coalition of community members continues to work tirelessly to protect clean water in Buzzards Bay for everyone.

1986: “Buzzards Bay Day” held

a little girl and Buzzards Bay Coalition fish mascot at an event in the 1980s

The Coalition’s mascot, C.W., shared his “clean water” message with children across Buzzards Bay at early Coalition events.

In the mid-1980s, local residents began noticing Buzzards Bay’s decline. Shellfish beds in every town were closing due to bacterial contamination. Large toxic pollution sites plagued New Bedford and upper Cape Cod. And the Bay’s formerly clean waters were becoming murky with algae from nitrogen pollution.

Despite these challenges, the U.S. Congress recognized Buzzards Bay’s unique value in 1984, when it designated the Bay as one of four “Estuaries of National Significance.” As part of this designation, the federal government provided funding to establish the Buzzards Bay Project in 1985. The objective of the Buzzards Bay Project was to develop a long-term plan to protect the health of the Bay and its fish, shellfish, and wildlife.

The Buzzards Bay Project later became the Buzzards Bay National Estuary Program – one of 28 National Estuary Programs across the country, part of a network led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In its early years, the Buzzards Bay Project was directed by a Citizens Advisory Committee. This committee was composed of local town officials, environmental advocates, and members of the scientific community. Part of the committee’s role was to determine whether Buzzards Bay needed a local, independent advocacy group separate from the government-led project.

To make this decision, the committee held “Buzzards Bay Day” on October 11, 1986. Buzzards Bay Day consisted of several events in different places around the Bay, including cleanup projects in New Bedford and tours of Buttermilk Bay, the Pocasset River, and the Elizabeth Islands.

At Buzzards Bay Day, 99% of attendees said they felt Buzzards Bay needed an advocacy group that would ensure that the right decisions were being made for the Bay.

1987: Buzzards Bay Coalition formed

Less than a year after Buzzards Bay Day, in July 1987, that advocacy group was formed. The Buzzards Bay Coalition was officially incorporated as The Coalition for Buzzards Bay, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

The Coalition’s original board of directors was composed of people from throughout the Bay watershed: marina owners and cranberry growers, town government officials and representatives from research institutions, and environmental advocates.

1991: First Buzzards Bay Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan completed

Buzzards Bay Coalition press conference in 1991

Buzzards Bay Coalition Executive Director Mimi McConnell speaks at the signing of the Buzzards Bay Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan — the first plan of its kind completed in the United States.

In 1991, the Buzzards Bay Project completed a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan for the Bay. This plan detailed threats to the Bay’s health and spelled out solutions to address them for the future. It was the first such plan developed in the United States. All 17 Massachusetts municipalities in the Bay watershed and the governor endorsed the plan.

The Buzzards Bay National Estuary Program updated the plan in 2013 to reflect progress achieved and include new problems facing the Bay.

1992: Baywatchers program begins

The CCMP was a great accomplishment in the history of Buzzards Bay protection. But one thing was missing: comprehensive water quality data to track trends in the health of the Bay’s harbors, coves, and rivers.

In 1992, leaders from the Buzzards Bay Project, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and the Coalition formed the Buzzards Bay Citizens’ Water Quality Monitoring Program. The Coalition recruited a corps of volunteers who went out one morning per week to collect key data about the Bay’s health. These volunteers soon became known as “Baywatchers.” The Coalition’s Baywatchers program remains a fundamental part of Bay cleanup efforts today.

1994: First Buzzards Bay Swim completed

On August 21, 1994, the Coalition held the first-ever Buzzards Bay Swim. Billed as a “swimathon,” the Swim helped raise awareness of pollution problems and raised funds to support the Coalition’s work. Since then, the Coalition has held the Buzzards Bay Swim every year, attracting more than 300 swimmers to the shores of outer New Bedford Harbor each summer to swim and celebrate clean water.

1998: Bay Lands Center launched

In 1998, the Coalition launched the Bay Lands Center, a program to advance land conservation around the Buzzards Bay watershed. The center focused on two goals: to increase the amount of protected land around the Bay, and to help local land trusts save more land in all of the Bay’s communities.

Since the Bay Lands Center was launched, land conservation has become a fundamental component of the Coalition’s efforts to save Buzzards Bay. To date, the Coalition has helped protect more than 7,000 acres of land across the region.

2000: R/V Buzzards Baykeeper® christened

To expand our on-the-water advocacy, the Coalition launched the R/V Buzzards Baykeeper®, a 27’ research and patrol boat. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. christened the first Baykeeper® vessel at a ceremony at State Pier in New Bedford in 2000. The Baykeeper®’s primary mission each day is to collect important data on the Bay’s health.

2003: First State of the Bay report issued

In 2003, the Coalition issued its first-ever State of the Bay report. This report, released every four years since, documented the status of pollution, watershed health, and living resources in Buzzards Bay. The 2003 State of the Bay report documented the perils facing the Bay’s health. Nitrogen pollution was fouling more than half of the Bay’s harbors and coves, and poorly planned sprawl development was consuming forests and wetlands at an unprecedented rate.

Also in 2003, the major Bouchard B-120 oil spill struck the Bay’s shores. The spill, which fouled 93 miles of Buzzards Bay coastline, propelled the Coalition into the spotlight as volunteer coordinator and advocate for cleanup. In the wake of the spill, the Coalition led a successful campaign to secure one of the strictest oil spill prevention laws in the country.

2007: Coalition wins first-ever land trust excellence award

In 2007 – less than 10 years after the founding of the Bay Lands Center – the Coalition received national recognition for its land conservation success. The Land Trust Alliance awarded the Coalition with the first National Land Trust Excellence Award.

“The Coalition for Buzzards Bay has accomplished so much, so quickly, and so collaboratively, that its program serves as a model for other nonprofits around the country,” said Land Trust Alliance President Rand Wentworth. “The key to their fundraising and on-the-ground success was their willingness to partner with local municipalities, utilities, private interests, and all-volunteer land trusts.”

As part of celebrating Buzzards Bay’s landscapes, the Coalition held the first Buzzards Bay Watershed Ride in 2007. This 100-mile annual cycling tour from Little Compton to Woods Hole highlights the importance of saving land and raises funds for the Coalition’s work.

2010: Buzzards Bay Center opened

In the early 2000s, the Buzzards Bay Coalition was looking for a new home. Our staff was growing, and we wanted to create a community space where people could learn about Buzzards Bay. Instead of constructing a new building, we chose to find an existing place where we could move.

In 2008, we purchased the Coggeshall Counting House, an 1832 historic building on the New Bedford waterfront. Over the next two years, we renovated the building, honoring its past while incorporating environmentally friendly features to save water and energy. On August 26, 2010, the Coalition christened the former Coggeshall Counting House as the Buzzards Bay Center.

Working to Save Buzzards Bay

The Buzzards Bay Coalition is a membership-supported organization dedicated to improving the health of the Buzzards Bay ecosystem for all through education, conservation, research, and advocacy.

We work to protect clean water on the Bay and on the land: