Excess nitrogen in the water feeds algae blooms harmful to wildlife, people, and pets. In 2022, the Great Pond Foundation and the Marine Biological Laboratory sampled the Edgartown and Tisbury Great Ponds, and Chilmark and Crackatuxet Ponds and found that approximately 51 to 58% of the nitrogen comes from wastewater, 21 to 27% from fertilizers, and 17 to 21% from atmospheric sources, with birds typically contributing a miniscule 1% or less. (For details, visit the Great Pond Foundation website.)
What we do on the land affects the nearby water. With the Vineyard’s sandy soils, chemicals and fertilizers leach into our groundwater that flows into our ponds and wells.
Grow a Vineyard Lawn
Embrace a lawn that is a mosaic of more drought tolerant grasses, mosses, and native plants, and is safe for your family. Cut it to a height of three inches and leave the clippings on the lawn for a natural fertilizer. Don’t use lawn chemicals or synthetic fertilizers; much of this leaches through our sandy soils and ends up in the groundwater. Fertilize lightly with compost in the fall. For Vineyard lawn tips, visit the Vineyard Conservation Society website.
Reduce Your Lawn Size
Try having a small mowed area around the house and maybe an area to play in, but let the rest grow into a sweeping meadow. The base of the grassland meadow could be little bluestem grass, butterfly weed, Asters and other native flowers. Mow winding paths to the water, your garden shed, or pool. To maintain the meadow, mow high once in the winter/early spring (to protect ground nesting birds), leaving the clippings on the ground to reseed.
Create or Leave a Vegetative Buffer
Between the water’s edge and your lawn, leave a large natural vegetative area of 10 to 100+ feet. The root systems will bind the soil preventing erosion, soak up nitrogen, and help filter out other contaminants.
Add Native Plants
Native Vineyard plants need little, if any, watering. They also offer an attractive changing color palette and structure over the four seasons. Ninety percent of the world’s sandplains grasslands are on the Cape and the Islands — let your yard add to this incredible landscape. You will be rewarded with a world of butterflies, fireflies, songbirds, buzzing bees, and more.
Use The Resources On-Island
Have a native plant expert from BiodiversityWork’s Natural Neighbors program visit your yard to give you tips on what to plant, how to support wildlife, and native plant kits to buy. Polly Hill Arboretum sells Island native plants, as do some nurseries. Learn about native sandplain grasslands through a Nature Conservancy webinar. Use landscapers who are familiar with environmentally friendly practices or share these resources with your current landscaper. Support nonprofits that work to keep our ponds healthy.
Support Land Preservation Efforts
Land is the best buffer to absorb excess nutrients and chemicals that could flow into the ponds. Intact native landscapes can filter and prevent 75% or more of the nitrogen from entering our ponds. Affordable housing is a critical need on the Island and it can go hand-in-hand with land preservation efforts, smart growth, and ecological integrity. Support non-profits that are protecting the unique natural habitats on our Island.