In its quinquennial State of Buzzards Bay Report, the Buzzards Bay Coalition points to three drivers that led to an uptick in the overall Bay Health Score, the first increase since the organization began tracking Bay health in this way in 2003. The report’s findings also caution that changes attributed to climate change, including warmer weather and rising sea levels, may soon outpace these gains.
Based on a rubric with nine criteria, a “perfect score” of 100 is based on the state of the bay as documented by European explorers at the time of colonization in 1602. Given the significant human activity that has occurred in the centuries since, the Coalition estimates that a restored, healthy Buzzards Bay would likely score a 75. The newly issued report pins today’s score at 46.
According to Coalition President Mark Rasmussen, “This is the first time since we began these assessments in 2003 that we’ve seen the Bay Score improved. It’s a win for the bay’s restoration, but the score would have increased even more were it not for the damage that climate change is already having on our Bay.”
Rasmussen attributes the good news regarding the bay’s health to a reduction in both nitrogen and toxic pollution, pointing to actions at the federal and local levels. Ongoing attention and amendments to the Clean Air Act have helped to reduce environmental pollutants falling on the Bay from fossil fuel burning power plants and automobiles. And town-based initiatives – including an increase in sewering and requirements for nitrogen-reducing septic systems – are also helping to move the needle. He also describes the forest cover of the bay’s watershed, at 76-percent, as its “secret sauce” when comparing Buzzards Bay to other, more degraded East Coast waterbodies, like the Chesapeake.
There were declines in the Watershed Health scores however, which Vice President for Watershed Protection Brendan Annett tied to an increase in development and the loss of forested lands to solar farms, “More than 600-acres of forest have been lost since 2015 to the creation of solar farms. The use of alternate energy, including solar, is key to the bay’s long-term health, but we want to ensure that the development of these facilities doesn’t occur adjacent to stream buffers and other forested areas that are vital to bay and watershed health.”
Salt marsh loss has also contributed to lower Watershed Health scores, which Coalition’s Vice President for Bay Science Rachel Jakuba, Ph.D. attributes to climate change- driven rising sea level as well as human-made alterations. She also warns about the impacts of rising water temperatures on the local environment, “Warming water caused by climate change is creating a more welcoming environment for bacteria and will – over time – make it more difficult for living resources like eelgrass, bay scallops and river herring to thrive.” Eelgrass serves as a vital habit for a broad range of marine life, including bay scallops, while river herring are a “foundation fish,” an important part of the bay’s ecosystem on which striped bass, bluefish and other sportfish feed.
A complete copy of the report may be found at www.savebuzzardsbay.org/about-us/publications/state-of-buzzards-bay/. Hard copies of the report are also available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.