Coast Sweep, Wellfleet

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Marcus Ericson & Anna Cummins, founders of 5 Gyres; photo by Susan Quigley

The brisk wind coming off the Bay was enough to blow off hats and knock down the unwary walker. But 37 adults and 3 children braved that wind and the chilly temperature to clean up Wellfleet beaches.

Seashells, too; photo by Kim Novino
Seashells, too; photo by Kim Novino

They had been invited by the Wellfleet Conservation Trust to meet at the Wellfleet Mayo Beach parking area on Kendrick Avenue at 10 AM on Columbus Day. The volunteers mostly hailed from Wellfleet and other towns on Cape Cod, but some were from western Massachusetts, Washington DC, California, and other places.

They broke up into 11 teams, each assigned to a different area of beach around Wellfleet Bay. After a couple of hours of cleanup, they had collectively traversed 7 miles of beach and accumulated 25 bags of debris weighing 197 pounds.
Some items were too large for the bags, such as a rusting iron hanger for plants. The volunteers also identified, but did not retrieve, 3 dead gulls, 3 dead eiders, and shellfishing gear that was too heavy to carry.

Fishing lures; photo by Kim Novino
Fishing lures; photo by Kim Novino

The cleanup was held during Wellfleet Ocean Week, with events at the Library, at Oysterfest, and other venues. Co-sponsors of the events included the Wellfleet Recycling Committee, Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, the Wellfleet Conservation Commission, the Open Space Committee, and the Friends of the Herring River.

Ocean Week introduced the founders of the 5 Gyres Institute, who helped bring the world’s attention to the problem of ocean pollution, especially microbeads. These are tiny beads of plastic that are put into toothpastes, facial scrubs, and other products at a rate of 8 billion per day. Beginning in 2010, 5 Gyres began research in all five subtropical gyres, as well as the great lakes and Antarctica. Their study on plastic microbeads pollution in the Great Lakes led to the federal ban on microbeads, signed into law by President Obama in 2015.

Bags for debris; photo by Kim Novino
Bags for debris; photo by Kim Novino

A report on the Wellfleet Bay cleanup was sent to the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM), which coordinates Coast Sweep, the Massachusetts cleanup. That effort in turn is part of the annual Fall, International Coastal Cleanup of the Ocean Conservancy, which collects debris from beaches, marshes, river banks and the seafloor.

More than 18 million pounds of trash were collected by nearly 800,000 volunteers last year. The debris includes cigarette butts, plastic beverage bottles, food wrappers, bottle caps, straws, and such, but also more exotic items such as toilets, refrigerators, boat anchors, and mattresses. This is about 0.1% of what’s added each year to the oceans. Data on the marine debris can be used to seek solutions for keeping trash out of the ocean.

Coast Sweep doesn’t pretend to mitigate the pollution of the world’s oceans and other waterways, although it does help to make specific beaches on lakes, rivers, and oceans safer and more pleasant. That was certainly the case for the Columbus Day work around Wellfleet Bay. Our hope is that the cleanup heightens awareness of what we collectively do to the environment we love.

Tenth Annual Walk, Lieutenant’s Island

WCT 10th Annual Guided Walk; map by Wellfleet Conservation Trust
WCT 10th Annual Guided Walk; map by Wellfleet Conservation Trust

“I stayed just for the walk.” For frequent summer visitor Deb Firtha, this was her fifth Wellfleet Conservation Trust (WCT) annual walk, so she knew that it would be worth it to delay her return to Ohio, and stay for another.

She was not disappointed. Along with 101 others, she enjoyed one of the best walks yet. The weather was perfect: sunny skies, low 70’s, and gentle sea breezes.Walk leader Bill Iacuessa pointed out that there were few ticks in this habitat, the mosquitoes were diminished by the drought, the green heads were past, and there was little poison ivy to worry about.

The walk (open to the public and free as always) began at 9 a.m. at the Lieutenant’s Island causeway in South Wellfleet. It continued a tradition dating to 2007 for the public to experience the beauty of Wellfleet’s open space and conservation lands.

Along the way, we paused at key locations to hear from naturalists and other local experts who could share their knowledge of the history, geology, and ecology of the area. For example, Fire Chief Rick Pauley related several anecdotes about the challenge of providing emergency services to an island, whose road is often impassable at high tide.

Pam Tice, who writes the South Wellfleet history blog, explained why the island’s name is spelled two different ways. She also told us about early settlers, how Lt. Island was once an area for raising horses, and how it later developed as a residential area.

Bob Prescott from Mass Audubon spoke about that organization’s role in preserving habitat in the area, and especially about the terrapin gardens. Bill Huss spoke for the Lt. Island Association, sharing what it’s like to live there. Ginie Page talked about the problem of erosion and the revetments used to counter that. She also talked about how the shoreline had changed over the years. Dwight Estey filled in more of the history, especially about shellfishing and blackfish. Bill Iacuessa helped to connect many ideas throughout and to keep the balance between walking, exploring, and discussing.

Other topics included the causeway and bridge, whale try works, salt haying, and aquaculture. We also talked about specific conservation lands, and how town and private organizations coordinate both to preserve these beautiful habitats and to make them accessible to the public. We discussed potential acquisitions on Lt. Island, which would further connect conservation lands and expand opportunities for enjoying nature. Several of the participants were Lt. Island residents, who were learning new things about their own neighborhood.

The walk was about 2.7 miles, with some soft sand and a few stairs. Walkers were offered the opportunity to leave the walk earlier if necessary. Much of the route was exposed to the wind, especially on the shore of Blackfish Creek, but the mild weather kept the walking pleasant.

Deb Firtha wasn’t the only repeat walker to experience the unique combination of outdoor fitness with learning about nature, history, and the community. But for many of the walkers, this was their first WCT guided walk. They were already asking where next year’s walk would be.

Wellfleet has so much natural beauty that we’ve been able to conduct ten of these walks so far, each to a different area. Wellfleet is full of hidden gems and breathtaking vistas. We hope it always stays that way. That’s what we’re working for.

[Thanks to Susie Quigley and Dwight Estey for many of the photos, to Mark Gabriele, Mary Rogers, and Susan Bruce for suggestions on the text.]

August 20, 2016: 32nd Annual Meeting

Mr. Peter Trull, Cape Cod Naturalist, author and educator, delivered the keynote address, based on his recent book entitled The Gray Curtain – The Impact of Seals, Sharks and Commercial Fishing along the Northeast Coast, at the Wellfleet Conservation Trust (WCT) Annual Meeting and Review at the Wellfleet Council on Aging.

Mr. Trull showed, through discussion and vivid photographs, the relationship between commercial fishing, expanding gray seal populations and great white sharks along the beaches and in the waters of Cape Cod. This “Gray Curtain” has come about after geologic and environmental changes, as well as animal migrations and population increases. Each has had an effect on the location and, though daily and seasonal changes are accepted as normal, there are great transformations taking place that may go unnoticed, some, unexplained.

“Mr. Trull’s presentation is of current interest, in light of the public’s adoration of seals, the recreational and commercial fishers’ frustrations with the seals and the growing public awareness of increases in great white shark sightings in Wellfleet and other parts of the Cape,” says WCT President Dennis O’Connell.

The WCT Annual Meeting began at 10:00 AM at the Wellfleet Council on Aging, 715 Old King’s Hwy in Wellfleet. Annual Meetings are open to the public; no reservation needed. Light refreshments are provided. Prior to Mr. Trull’s presentation, the Trust held its short annual business meeting and presented a historical overview of the group’s actions and achievements.

WCT acquires Drummer Cove “Link Lot”

The Wellfleet Conservation Trust completed its acquisition of the Drummer Cove ‘Link Lot’ in South Wellfleet with funds secured from a successful fundraising campaign marked by overwhelming community support and initiative. The lot, located on the northwest shoreline of Drummer’s Cove, restores an historic trail system to the public and supplements other walking trails in the Blackfish Creek – Fox Island Marsh Conservation Area.

Click here to read more.

Click here to view the trail map and trail brochure.