New effort launched to reverse declining water quality in James Pond on Martha’s Vineyard

The declining water quality in James Pond in West Tisbury threatens the long-term survival of the sensitive and precious salt pond habitat it harbors, but help is coming.

An effort to better understand the pond’s vital connection to Vineyard Sound and improve its overall water quality has just been launched. The Buzzards Bay Coalition, working with local property owners, will oversee a study of the shallow salt pond that connects to the Sound through a single inlet at Lambert’s Cove in West Tisbury.

The Coalition, in partnership with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, has been monitoring water quality at James Pond since 2017 and has documented its decline in recent years—high temperatures, low salinity, low water clarity, high nitrogen and algae levels. The conditions endanger the herring that spawn there and other fish and plant species that live there, as well as marring pond’s aesthetic value.

“The monitoring data from James Pond points to reduced flushing from the pond’s inlet to the Sound as the issue,” said Coalition President Mark Rasmussen. “This isn’t news to anyone as the pond’s opening has been the subject of many attempts to fix the problem for decades. But no one knows why the pond’s inlet continues to fill in. When did the problem start? What options do we have for fixing it.”

The answers to those questions will require close study of the hydrodynamics of how sand moves along the shore and interacts with the pond inlet. The goal is to identify sustainable solutions that might stabilize the inlet and maintain adequate flushing (and therefore good water quality) in the pond. Highly-regarded coastal geology expert Leslie Fields of the Woods Hole Group will lead the study. The work will include comprehensive mapping of the pond bottom, measurement of tidal changes in the pond and in the cove, and analysis of historic imagery of the site.

The work, which will take several months to complete, marks the start of a new phase in the Coalition’s work on the Vineyard. Four salt ponds and Vineyard Sound itself have been monitored for the past three years, and data from the monitoring effort is captured in the Coalition’s Bay Health Index. The James Pond project represents the first remediation project on the Island.

“We’re excited to be starting this project. The Coalition’s mission is about improving and protecting water quality, always guided by science and data,” Rasmussen said. “Overall, the Vineyard and the Sound contain some of the region’s cleanest waters. We want to help James Pond recover so that it functions well as a salt pond habitat.”

Salt ponds are not only picturesque places but also home to a diverse array of wildlife species. They serve as incubators for juvenile game fish and bait fish. Gulls, herons, and cormorants lounge on the water’s surface; along a sandy shore, monarchs flutter from flower to flower, enjoying the late summer goldenrod blooms. Earlier in the season, terns and other shorebirds feed here before migrating south for the winter.

Category: On the Bay

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: