Large Survey Finds Buzzards Bay Waters Warming, Degrading in Quality

COURTESY OF BUZZARDS BAY COALITION The Buzzards Bay Coalition's R/V Buzzards Baykeeper provides boat pumpout service a few times a week each summer in Cuttyhunk Harbor.

COURTESY OF BUZZARDS BAY COALITION

BUZZARDS BAY – A recently completed study shows a shift in the Buzzards Bay waterways.

The 22-year survey which tested water quality in 200 locations across the Buzzards Bay area suggests warming waters, which are fueling algae growth and therefore depressing water quality.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution research scientist Jennie Rheuban said the study looked at long term trends in water quality indicators, such as temperature, dissolved oxygen and nutrient concentration.

“We found that water temperatures warmed by a little under 3½ degrees Fahrenheit; I will note that these measurements were taken during the summer – so a snapshot of the year, but over 22 years,” she said.

For some oceanic creatures, only one degree Fahrenheit in difference can greatly disrupt the ability to thrive.

But it’s not just temperature which is a concern. Rheuban said the rise in temperatures are also causing increased algae growth which can throw off the balance of nutrients in the water.

This is poor news for fishermen: eelgrass, which has been declining at a rate consistent with the declining water quality Rheuban and the Buzzards Bay Coalition report, is a critical part of many fish and shellfishes’ lifecycle.

It also bears negative news for those struggling to keep up with the nutrient contamination issue.

The warming in Buzzards Bay is consistent with patterns noticed in other nearby areas, making it a regional problem, according to Rheuban.

She said the next scientific step is to continue research in the “shoulder season” of September and October.

Overall, Rheuban said, towns will have to reply to higher temperatures by updating management and clean-up plans.

“There isn’t much we can do locally,” Rheuban said. “It’s a regional issue.”

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