As a graduate student pursuing a Master’s in Environmental Policy, I was excited to spend my summer working in the field with the Oak Bluffs and Edgartown Shellfish Departments. I’m grateful to have had this opportunity to participate in the important on-the-ground work being done to restore pond ecosystem health at the local level. Going into the internship, I anticipated learning about the science behind the efforts to “bivalvify” Sengekontacket Pond, but I also found myself learning about how various organizations interact with each other to make these important projects possible. I’m certain my experience as a Friends of Sengekontacket intern will inform my future endeavors in Environmental Policy.
Along with the other FOS intern, we spent most days working with the Oak Bluffs and Edgartown Shellfish Departments. In June, we prepared equipment for shellfish seed. This involved towing the tidal upwellers into the pond, filling quahog rafts with sand, and making sure all gear was ready to receive baby oysters, quahogs, steamer clams, and scallops. This preparation period was helpful because it allowed me to become familiar with the equipment before the animals were in the water.
The arrival of the shellfish seed was very exciting; between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown we worked with oysters, quahogs, steamer clams, and scallops. The shellfish seed are tiny, measuring only about a millimeter across when we first receive them. The tidal upweller, scallops lines, and quahog rafts allow the seed to receive as much nutrients as possible while they’re small, and I was surprised by how quickly they grew! After a few weeks, the oysters were about an inch long or more. We constantly monitored the progress of their growth, spreading them out as they became larger. Scallops and oysters grow the quickest, reaching harvestable size in about two years. Steamer clams and quahogs are slower, but live much longer than scallops.
These four types of shellfish are crucial to maintaining a healthy pond ecosystem. Nitrogen is a major pollutant in Sengekontacket and in other ponds on the island. Excess nitrogen causes algal blooms that suck up oxygen and other nutrients, eventually out-competing other organisms and causing a decline in overall pond health. Bivalves, like oysters, scallops, and clams, take up and store this excess. Propagating bivalves in Sengekontacket helps restore overall pond health.
To completely remove the nitrogen stored in these bivalves, the shellfish must be harvested from the pond. In Sengekontacket, both recreational and commercial shell fishers serve this purpose. The Edgartown and Oak Bluffs Shellfish Departments spend time monitoring these recreational and commercial fishermen every day, ensuring that they are following regulations and providing assistance when necessary. Daily monitoring is also an integral part of public outreach and education; it provides the Shellfish Departments an opportunity to explain their work and the function of bivalves in a healthy pond ecosystem.
The Shellfish Departments also collaborate with other organizations to track and observe the health of the pond ecosystem. Over the course of the internship we worked with representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Marine Fisheries, and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. It was very interesting to learn about the different projects going on between these organizations and how they support each other by sharing information and resources.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the Friends of Sengekontacket Internship. I participated in important efforts to restore ecosystem health in Sengekontacket Pond while learning about the science and organizations behind this endeavor. I also got the chance to work with many knowledgeable and experienced people who contribute to the sustainable management of Sengekontacket by doing their job every day. Many thanks to Friends of Sengekontacket and both the Oak Bluffs and Edgartown Shellfish Departments!