Cleaning Up the Cape's Algae Problem
Rotten eggs and black mayonnaise—sights and smells that, to the dread of many, are becoming increasingly common across Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Over the past 30 years, increased development and insufficient wastewater treatment systems have degraded the quality of Cape Cod’s waters. Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), in association with Buzzards Bay Coalition, are working to clean up the Cape—work that was recently covered by David Abel in The Boston Globe.
The eggs and mayonnaise (a description Abel used to open his piece) are but two signs of a growing body of evidence, both visible and disturbing, of degraded water quality. While visitors and residents depend upon Cape Cod’s pristine waterways—suitable for swimming and conducive to ocean life—instead they find ponds and bays that, in warm months, can be covered in a film of algae, while the water itself turns an opaque copper color.
This degradation is the consequence of too much nitrogen, the result of improperly treated wastewater, primarily from the Cape’s preponderance of septic tanks. In the Cape’s loose, sandy soils, wastewater moves quickly through the ground and is carried into the bays and estuaries before it can be adequately filtered. The region’s economy, ecology, recreation and beauty have all suffered as a consequence, and will suffer more if stakeholders continue to delay action on a clean-up plan.
In September, the staff at CLF, together with Buzzards Bay Coalition, filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Our claim— that the EPA failed to fulfill its responsibilities to oversee a regional water quality plan as required by the Clean Water Act. This lawsuit was CLF’s second showing EPA’s failure to address the Cape’s nitrogen pollution problem. The first, concerning point sources, was filed in August 2010, and can be found here.
Why is this so important? The regional plan under question has not been updated since 1978, despite predictions at the time about the environmental risks of unchecked nitrogen pollution. Today, the consequences of decades of inaction are clear—badly degraded waterways with mounting costs for solutions and little time left to ponder them while the region’s ecology and economy hang in the balance..
The answer, CLF argues, is a legally enforceable, coordinated blueprint to clean up the Cape. “It’s our firm belief that a coordinated regional approach is necessary—not individual towns trying to solve the problems on their own,” says Christopher Kilian, a senior attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation, as quoted in The Boston Globe article.
The approach EPA will ultimately take is the subject of ongoing negotiations between CLF and the Buzzards Bay Coalition, EPA and Barnstable County officials. A report to the court is due Dec. 6. Stay tuned.
For more on CLF’s efforts on cleaning up the Cape, read the release on our recent lawsuit, filed with the Buzzards Bay Coalition.
For more information, click here.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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By Jessica Corbett
Green groups applauded Sen. Jeff Merkley on Wednesday for introducing a pioneering pair of bills that aim to "protect the long-term health and well-being of the American people and their economy from the catastrophic effects of climate chaos" by preventing banks and international financial institutions from financing fossil fuels.