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Almanac Archive for Oct. 7, 2021

The Conservation Almanac
     Taking Back the Tap - Outdoors! 
          Unwanted Oysters Find a New Home
                  Climate Change on the Island off the Island 
Free Your Water With the MV Tap Map 

The United Nations has long held that “safe, sufficient and affordable water” is a fundamental human right. Here on Martha’s Vineyard, as in most of the developed world, we don’t have much trouble meeting that standard. Our drinking water is of high quality and quantity, and it’s reasonably "affordable” – at least compared to everything else one needs to live.

Despite our good fortune, though, our Island has allowed water go through the same bizarre transition seen across the country (and elsewhere). Once a free-flowing natural resource, it is now a commodity, extracted from the Earth and transported great distances, bottled, branded, and marketed before it reaches human lips. Over the past 50 years, free public water fountains have gradually disappeared (at first routinely left “out of order,” but today simply gone), their convenience function now served by the single-use plastic water bottle. Today, water is still widely available – for a price.

The VCS Take Back the Tap initiative is an ongoing effort to reverse that trend, reducing the waste and pollution of disposable plastic water bottles by installing refill stations across the Island. Check out the MV Tap Map for a look at how much progress has been made. It is now up to 31 locations, including refill stations installed by VCS, several that were independently done by others (including the YMCA, MV Hospital, and Felix Neck), and participating businesses who have created their own refill options. You can also see the stations currently in progress, and our “wish list” of places we hope to tackle in the future. Many thanks are due to our anonymous donor for funding the purchase of the units, and to all the businesses and organizations across the Island who have joined in the fight to Take Back the Tap!

Refill station initiative expands with more outdoor units
This spring’s makeover of the comfort station at Edgartown’s Church Street VTA stop presented an opportunity for the Take Back the Tap program to install a new hybrid fountain/bottle filler unit in a perfect location, teeming with thirsty travelers on foot, bike, and bus. Help from the Town and VTA with the installation was much appreciated, as we push forward with a new focus on outdoor refill stations. Nine more outdoor units are currently on deck, waiting to be installed in the down-Island towns. Being exposed to the elements, these stations are more challenging (and expensive) to install than indoor-only units, but will be crucial to achieving both our waste reduction and public access goals. And the timing is right, with the single-use bottle ban (courtesy of the students of Plastic Free MV) set to go into effect in Oak Bluffs and Tisbury by next summer!
Top: As part of its spring makeover, the Church Street comfort station gets a new refill unit  

Overgrown and Underappreciated, Hardworking Bivalves Find New Home
In the bigger picture, of course, the importance of water runs far deeper than the rehydration of thirsty Homo sapiens. All life on Earth owes its existence to the fact that there is H2O here in abundance, in its liquid form. Water is a fundamental part of ecology everywhere, and for the flora and fauna inhabiting 70% of the planet, it is the environment. Fortunately for them, several common species of bivalves, including oysters, have an amazing ability to clean the water as they filter feed, improving their own environment and ecosystem functioning.  

This is why we were so happy to see the story in the Gazette this week reporting on the introduction of 200,000 large oysters to the Slough Cove section of Edgartown Great Pond. Due to the impact of the pandemic on shellfish sales to restaurants, Katama oyster farmers have found themselves stuck with an abundance of overgrown, unmarketable mollusks. Working in partnership, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the MV Shellfish Group (MVSG) have found a way to turn this problem into a valuable asset through a buyback program. By purchasing the oysters and reseeding them into Slough Cove, they will have greater value, both ecologically and economically. Larger oysters filter much more water, and produce far more offspring, than smaller ones.

Certainly, a hearty “thank you” is due to TNC and MVSG for devoting the time and resources to purchase and monitor 200,000 shellfish. However, perhaps some small measure of thanks is also owed to stubborn human sensibilities, whose refusal to embrace the culinary potential of enormous oysters created this whole opportunity in the first place. Snubbed by chefs and gourmands, these new residents of Slough Cove will surely find their hard work appreciated by their new neighbors, the Great Pond’s other denizens of the not-so-deep.
Climate Change Impacts on the Island off the Island

As an island, Martha’s Vineyard faces outsized threats from climate change: sea level rise and coastal storms of course (the recent “State of the Coast” report from the Trustees is a good source here), but also less obvious issues like saltwater intrusion into the aquifer, and the public health and safety risks inherent in life on an island during a catastrophe. In light of all that, just how concerned should our friends on “the Island off the Island” be?

Whether a Chappy resident or not, the new report from the CIA*, “The Impacts of Climate Change on Chappaquiddick,” is well worth a look. It synthesizes information gathered across four recent panel presentations (topics including sea level rise and coastal flooding, emergency preparedness, coastal erosion and accessibility, and global warming mitigation), along with a handy section (“Live Chappy Smart!”) on personal actions to help lower one’s carbon footprint.

* No, not them. Or the other one. The other other one.

Thank you to Dr. Jonathan Cobb, Chappy resident and recent addition to the VCS Board of Directors, for bringing this one to our attention


This week, our good friend Arnie Reisman passed away at the age of 79. Deeply committed to improving life on our Island in all ways, he will be remembered for the impacts he made on many local organizations, including our Vineyard Conservation Society. As the Chair of the VCS Nominating Committee, his commitment to the environment and depth of knowledge of the community were vital in bringing aboard many of our Directors serving today. Of course, he was also a very funny guy, whose wit and good spirits could not only brighten a summer event, but also a board meeting in the basement in January. We are all the richer for having known him, and he will be missed.

Ed. note: On a personal level, what I most appreciated about Arnie was that his sense of humor was not just performative (and he did love to perform it was inclusive and generous, something to be shared. Maybe he just really loved to laugh, but it feels good when an accomplished humorist laughs loudly at your own attempt to make a joke, and I think he knew that.

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