Cape Cod is one of the most ecologically valuable and sensitive areas in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Important natural resources include: shellfish beds; commercially and recreationally important fisheries; habitat for fish, wildlife, and rare plant and animal species; numerous wetlands, ponds, lakes, streams and estuaries; miles of coastal habitat and beaches; a sole-source aquifer that supplies almost all of the Cape’s drinking water; and numerous groundwater-fed ponds, lakes and streams. The Cape has a long history of environmental protection as evidenced by many protected areas, parks, and open space. These include eight Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACECs), Cape Cod National Seashore, state parks, two national wildlife refuges, two National Estuary Programs, one National Estuarine Research Reserve, four Ocean Sanctuaries, and numerous acres of protected wild lands. The Cape’s economy and quality of life depend upon healthy natural ecosystems and resources. Fishing, shellfishing, aquaculture and coastal tourism are multimillion-dollar cornerstones of the Cape’s economy.
Despite the excellent habitat that still exists, there is also substantial impaired and degraded habitat. Regional, state and federal agencies have inventoried these degraded areas in order to plan for protection and restoration. Prior inventories of degraded habitat include a Coastal Zone Management assessment of salt marshes on Cape Cod (1995), the Cape Cod Atlas of Tidally Restricted Salt Marshes (Cape Cod Commission, 2001), Buzzards Bay Atlas of Tidally Restricted Salt Marshes (Buzzards Bay Project, 2002), the Division of Marine Fisheries (Mass Fisheries) Survey of Anadromous Fish Runs on Cape Cod (2004), Mass Fisheries sanitary surveys of shellfish growing areas, and others. Designation of protected areas also included identification of impairments. The Massachusetts Estuaries Project (MEP) and other studies of coastal waters and embayments show that there is widespread nutrient pollution in our coastal and inland waters, primarily from septic systems discharging nutrients into groundwater, but also from stormwater runoff. The Cape Cod 208 Water Quality Plan calls for towns to reduce nutrient pollution. Of latest concern are emerging contaminants, such as pharmaceutical compounds and other chemicals, that are leaching from septic systems into our groundwater and from there into our coastal waters. Finally, impacted coastal dunes, barrier beach systems and salt marshes reduce their ability to protect the land against storm surges and sea level rise.
In 2009 Congress approved the Cape Cod Water Resources Restoration Project (CCWRRP), a 10-year Congressionally-approved program enabling the USDA’s Natural Resource and Conservation Service (NRCS) to restore 1,500 acres of degraded salt marshes, improve fish passage to 4,200 acres of spawning habitat, and improve water quality for 7,300 acres of shellfish beds by remediating stormwater discharges. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided $6.5 million which enabled work on over 30 projects involving construction and/or planning. Planning for the CCWRRP took five years and involved local, regional, state and federal agencies and organizations. Many of the restoration projects identified in the CCWRRP Plan drew upon earlier inventories of degraded or impaired habitat as well as municipal and state priorities. The CCWRRP was a great success but funding ran out for projects in 2013 while many priority projects still remained.
In 2014-2015, following completion of an initial 30 CCWRRP projects, APCC met with staff from all 15 towns and compiled an updated inventory of 140+ restoration projects that towns want to undertake but lack resources to implement. The updated project inventory was compiled by Dr. Jo Ann Muramoto (APCC and MassBays Regional Coordinator) and Rick Devergilio (Cape Cod Conservation District) at the request of NRCS and CCWRRP planners. The updated inventory was developed to identify implementation ready projects in the event that more CCWRRP funding became available. APCC worked with the Cape Cod Conservation District (CCCD) and Barnstable County Coastal Resources Committee to update the inventory and project prioritization criteria, identify lessons learned and update other features of the CCWRRP. Projects identified by towns frequently drew on these earlier sources of information regarding degraded habitat. However, APCC also identified additional restoration needs. These include cleanup of water impaired by excess nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus), and the need to increase our resilience against the impacts of climate change. APCC determined that these additional causes of habitat impairment differ enough from the narrower focus of the CCWRRP that they should be identified separately.
To address these additional restoration needs, APCC developed a more comprehensive inventory and map of potential restoration projects which include restoration of impaired salt marshes, fish runs and shellfish beds, remediation of stormwater outfalls, stream restoration, improvement of water quality in freshwater and coastal water bodies, and climate change resilience projects to help ecosystems and communities to rebound from the effects of climate change (e.g., coastal erosion, flooding, and sea level rise). This inventory of Cape Cod restoration projects addresses not only CCWRRP program goals but also additional restoration goals relating to Cape Cod priorities.
Based on this review with the 15 towns, the number of projects identified in the inventory, and the identified need for assistance with implementation and outreach for restoration projects, APCC established the Restoration Coordination Center in 2015. The RCC serves the entire Cape and its 15 towns with the goal of assisting communities with implementation of successful ecological restoration projects by providing coordination, project management, technical assistance, and educational programs. The RCC promotes holistic restoration that addresses multiple goals, including restoration of important habitat, protection of important species (i.e. migratory birds, rare or endangered wildlife), coastal resilience and improved water quality. Working with towns and community groups, APCC will use its inventory of restoration projects to enable managers to prioritize and plan projects according to their benefits to water quality, habitat, wildlife and coastal resilience.