Although it might not feel like it yet, spring is officially here and we are fortunate to have a vibrant waterfront and many green spaces to enjoy here in Boston as the weather turns warmer. Charlie Moffat, Executive Secretary for the Boston Conservation Commission, is on the front lines of protecting Boston’s natural resources. This week, we sat down with her to learn more about her work, the Conservation Commission, and how Bostonians can help protect our natural resources and amenities in our City’s “backyard.”
Tell us a bit about your background and how it fits in with your work here with the Boston Conservation Commission?
With a background in Marine Ecology and Environment Management, my previous work includes reviewing proposed projects and their impacts to protected habitats and species. I’ve also worked on developing new marine protected areas, as well as coordinating the sustainable management of the largest estuary system in the UK. This nature conservation work experience aligned very well with my current work here with the Boston Conservation Commission.
The Boston Conservation Commission serves to protect and preserve natural open space areas as well as wetland resource areas within the City of Boston. The Commission is comprised of seven Commissioners who are appointed by the Mayor. Our Commissioners have a range of expertise including waterfront planning, water and sewer services, parks and open management, fisheries management, and climate adaptation and preparedness. From new developments to restoration projects, the Commission provides input and issues permits within and around Boston’s rivers, ponds, floodways, and harbor. The Commission’s work helps ensure growth in Boston is sustainable and does not compromise our natural resources and greenspace.
What are wetlands and why are they important? Do we have wetlands in the City of Boston?
The term “wetlands” refers to a wide range of ecosystems where water covers the soil, or is present at or near the surface of the soil for all or some parts of the year. Wetlands serve as a buffer for coastal areas, protecting people and infrastructure from waves and erosion. They help storing flood water, providing wildlife habitat, mitigation the impacts of stormwater and pollutants, and providing filtration for drinking water. Examples of wetlands in our City include the Belle Isle Marsh in East Boston (salt marsh), the shorelines of the Boston Harbor Islands (estuarine and marine intertidal wetlands), and of course, Boston Harbor and its coastal banks and beaches. Not only are wetlands vital to the City’s natural environment, they also play an important in generating tourism and recreational opportunities – an economic factor for our City’s growth.
How will the changing climate affect our local wetlands, and how would it impact the City of Boston?
As sea level rises, coastal areas such as salt marshes, beaches and dune systems may be lost. In the absence of coastal development, such areas would migrate inland, however since most of our coastline is developed, we risk losing these natural assets entirely. These areas provide critical habitats for a diverse range of species. For example, salt marshes and estuaries serve as a nursery ground for fish, shellfish, and many types of invertebrates. Salt marshes also absorbs a large amount of carbon dioxide, provide protection to inland areas, and filter pollutants.
Rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are also causing our oceans to become more acidic as they absorb this carbon dioxide that is being released from burning fossil fuels. This phenomena, known asocean acidification, is especially harmful to shellfish, such as oysters, mussels and clams. Shellfish and other use a form of calcium carbonate, which is typically abundant in the ocean, to build their shells. However acidification is depleting this resource and impacting shellfish, coral reefs and other calcifying species.
Lastly, climate change may also result in less frequent, but more intense storms and concentrated bursts of precipitation, along with longer periods of drought. More intense storms, coupled with sea level rise, increases the risk to our coastal areas. This means features such as coastal wetlands will be even more important to protecting our coast.
What are some immediate steps we, as residents, can do to help protect the Boston Harbor?
The Boston Harbor and its islands provides us with immense economic, recreational, and scenic value, and they help protect Boston from coastal storms. It is a shared resource that each of us play an important role in protecting. Here are some simple actions to consider:
- Prevent your trash entering the waterways- Marine debris is a real issue to wildlife. Wildlife entanglement and ingestion can kill marine mammals, seabirds and other species, as well as damaging marine and intertidal habitats. Limit usage of non-biodegradable items, such as plastic bags and bottles, which can end up in the waterways and will can take more than 100 years to break down in these environments. Prevent trash, including cigarette butts, entering waterways in the first place- recycle what you can and dispose of trash in the appropriate way. If you see litter on the street, pick it up and place in in a proper receptacle.
- Don’t dump into the Harbor- Boston Harbor was designated a “No Discharge Zone” in 2008, and boaters must use pumpout facilities to dispose of their waste. Also, you can prevent the contamination of stormwater and reduce waterway pollution by picking up after your beloved pets and dispose of waste in designated trash receptacles.
- Get involved with a beach cleanup- this can be simply clearing any trash you see on beaches yourself, or getting involved with organized clean ups such as COASTSWEEP- the Massachusetts Annual Statewide Coastal Cleanup
- Obey wetlands protection laws- Any work within a wetland resource area, floodplain, or within 100-feet of a wetland is under the Commission’s jurisdiction and subject to Commission review. Please refer to the Conservation Commission’s webpage for application details.
For more information on Boston’s Conservation Commission, please visit Boston.gov/Environment/Conservation. To learn more about how you can protect the Harbor and Boston’s waterways, visit our resource page onStormwater Pollution Prevention.