Climate ChangeGreenovateRenew Boston


By October 21, 2019 No Comments

World Oceans Day is June 8th. Greenovate is celebrating by taking a look at the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act, and featuring a few Bostonians who help to make the Act’s goals a reality. This post is about the Boston Conservation Commission, who protect wetlands year-round, and recently led a cleanup of the Rivermoor III Urban Wild area in West Roxbury. (Photos: Employees from the City of Boston’s Environment Department take part in a cleanup at the Rivermoor III Urban Wild area.)

The Boston Conservation Commission is responsible for enforcing the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act. It preserves wetlands in the City by placing conditions on development projects in or near wetlands and associated buffer zones. It also owns a number of natural, open-space properties known as Urban Wilds.

Last month, Conservation Commission staff brought a group of Environment Department employees out for a cleanup of one of these Urban Wilds: Rivermoor in West Roxbury. Like all Urban Wild areas, Rivermoor offers visitors a glimpse into what Boston looked like centuries ago. It is a rare and beautiful haven for wildlife in the city, and provides vital environmental services to the area. Over the years, a large amount of trash has been dumped along the banks of the river at the site. During its visit, Conservation Commission helped draw attention to the issue and led the removal of trash from the water’s edge.

Charlie Moffat and Katie Friedman, Executive Secretary and Conservation Assistant at the Boston Conservation Commission, led the cleanup. Below they explain the incredible importance of wetlands to Boston’s people and wildlife, and what all Bostonians can do to protect these precious natural resources. They co-authored this post.

What can every Bostonian do to protect wetland health?

Reducing the amount of fertilizer we spray on our lawns is a great start to reducing pollution from runoff. Fertilizers contain nutrients such as phosphate and nitrate, which during rain events are washed into nearby drains and eventually into rivers and the harbor. Plants rely on phosphate and nitrate to grow, however too much of these nutrients can cause harmful algal blooms.

Plastics are known to cause harm to over 200 marine species through entanglement or ingestion. Plastic never fully degrades- it just gets broken down into smaller and smaller pieces. Microplastics (like the microbeads often found in exfoliating products) are also very dangerous to wildlife.

Bostonians can reduce the amount of single use plastic items they purchase. They can also prevent trash, including cigarette butts, from entering waterways in the first place. Recycle what you can and dispose of trash in the appropriate way. Residents should utilize the City’s curbside recycling program.

People can also get involved with a beach or riverside cleanups. They can do it on their own or get involved with organized clean ups such as COASTSWEEP- the Massachusetts Annual Statewide Coastal Cleanup.

Can you describe the ecological value of Boston’s wetlands?

Wetlands provide several valuable functions in Boston:

Protection of water supply: The plants and soils found within wetlands serve as excellent filters, removing pollutants and toxins from the water that eventually makes its way to our homes. This filtration prevents pollution of our drinking water by natural means, and not to mention, it’s free!

Flood control and storm damage protection: Wetlands are able to store large volumes of flood waters that would otherwise cause flood damage. Waves are intercepted by a wetland’s network of vegetation, near-shore reefs, and stable shoreline. When storm surges occur in an urban environment, buildings tend to channelize the water, causing it to flow more quickly, which results in more structural damages. Wetlands spread the water out and slow it down.

Protection of wildlife habitat: Wetlands are made up of unique and rare plant species, which many wildlife species rely on for food, habitat, mating, and protection from predators. Since Boston is a coastal city with three major rivers flowing through it, there is also an abundance of potential aquatic habitat for fish species, amphibians, and waterfowl. Right now, for instance, herring are swimming up our urban rivers as they make their way from the ocean to spawn in freshwater.

Carbon sequestration: A major cause of climate change is the increased emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Wetlands are rich in plants that actually take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to use during photosynthesis – this is called carbon sequestration.

How can people explore wetland habitats in Boston?

Boston has a wide array of wetland ecosystems, including but not limited to salt marshes (ex: Belle Isle Marsh, East Boston), wooded swamps and marshes (ex: Canterbury marsh at Mass Audubon’s Boston Nature Center, Mattapan), vernal pools (ex: Duck Pond in Allandale Woods, Jamaica Plain), coastal beaches (ex: Carson Beach, Dorchester), and of course all of the wetlands along the Charles, Mystic, and Neponset Rivers and Boston Harbor.

Many of Boston’s wetlands can be found nestled within the City’s Urban Wilds. These small pockets contain the last remaining original ecosystems of the City, and provide a peak back in time to see what Boston’s landscape once was before development.