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Habitat Restoration Success: The Nasketucket Bay Land Conservation Project

On a brilliant summer day in late July, the Buzzards Bay Coalition and array of partners celebrated the largest land conservation effort in the Buzzards Bay watershed in 25 years. The festivities took place at the local property in Fairhaven, MA, and culminated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new mile-long access trail from the regional bikeway to a coastal beach and fringe salt marsh. 

Regional Administrator John Bullard. Credit: NOAA

The land acquisition and public access is one part of a four-year, $6 million funding success to permanently protect 416 acres of land bordering Nasketucket Bay. About 60 people attended the celebration, including U.S. Representative Bill Keating from Massachusetts and NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Regional Administrator John Bullard.

More than 12 years ago, the B-120 oil spill in Buzzards Bay affected more than 98 miles of shoreline, closing beaches, damaging salt marshes and other fishery habitats, and preventing many public water-based activities like clamming and boating. The B-120 Buzzards Bay Trustees—including NOAA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and State of Rhode Island— reached a $6 million settlement with the responsible party on resource and resource-use injuries in May 2011. We held public informational meetings in September 2011 to seek public input on how to restore damaged areas and provide public access improvements to Buzzards Bay.

With public input and the release of a draft restoration plan, the Trustees addressed more than 70 habitat restoration, coastal access, and recreational shellfishing project ideas throughout Buzzards Bay. The Trustees released the final restoration plan in 2014, which included the Nasketucket Bay project. Led by Brendan Annett from the Buzzards Bay Coalition, the land protection was boosted by $960,000 in Trustee funds, as well as additional funds from many other federal, state, and local sources.

Ribbon-cutting ceremony. Credit: NOAA

The Nasketucket Bay Land Conservation Project expands the Nasketucket Bay State Reservation, adding more than 400 acres of protected area for saltwater fishing, shellfishing, birding and wildlife viewing, walking, hiking, cross-country skiing, picnicking, and nature study, and provides great views of the bay, coastal streams, maritime forest, and coastal agricultural landscapes.

This project is one of many that NOAA has supported over the years through its Damage Assessment, Remediation and Restoration Program (DARRP) and Community-based Restoration Program (CRP). Collectively, NOAA has provided funds and technical assistance to 151 projects in Massachusetts that have restored more than 4,000 fishery habitat acres and opened nearly 82 river miles for migratory fish access to spawning and rearing habitats. Since 1996, NOAA has awarded $18 million in funds to Massachusetts and local communities and organizations, with another $23.9 million in match by the state, municipalities, and other non-federal partners. These funds have leveraged an additional $6.6 million in other federal and non-federal funds. More than 2,000 volunteers contributed at least 23,660 volunteer hours to make these projects possible.

Coastal farmland protected by this project. Credit: Buzzards Bay Coalition

Through DARRP and CRP, NOAA supports a diversity of project types that restore coastal habitats including salt marshes, shellfish beds, eelgrass communities, and intertidal flats and migratory fish access to spawning and rearing habitats. In turn, these restored habitats ecologically support fishes such as striped bass, bluefish, and summer flounder, that are vital to our fisheries and local economies.

Restoring damaged habitats is one way NOAA Fisheries is working to restore and grow fish populations in the Greater Atlantic Region. Later this year, NOAA expects to award $4 million in Coastal Ecosystem Resiliency Grants toward this effort to contribute to more resilient coastal communities while also benefiting our Nation’s fisheries and fishery habitats.