by Dr. Sarah Treanor Bois
Director of Research & Education at the Linda Loring Nature Foundation
As an island, Nantucket has a unique opportunity to be pretty self-sufficient. Among other things, it also means that we can’t blame anyone else for our environmental problems. Instead of burying our heads in the sand and looking for someone to blame, let’s take a little action. Here are a few things we can do for the Nantucket environment to help make it a better place. Keep in mind, this list does not include all the things we can do, but it’s a start. So let’s end 2018 and begin 2019 with some conservation goals. We will all be better for it!
What we plant in our yards determine what will populate our yards. Do you have a bird feeder? Why not plant native shrubs that promote greater insect diversity? Many nesting birds need an enormous amount of insects to successfully hatch and fledge young or to bulk up prior to migration. Are you a fan of monarch butterflies? How about promoting milkweed and native nectar species such as goldenrods and dogbane to attract native butterflies? The Nantucket Biodiversity Initiative developed a Planting with Natives brochure available at many island conservation organizations or for free download on their website (nantucketbiodiversity.org).
Speaking of backyard habitat, why not leave the leaves? Leaves are food and shelter for butterflies, beetles, bees, moths, and more. There is even a new campaign out to #leavetheleaves. I know that might not fly in certain neighborhoods, but if you have the space and ability, let the leaves remain where they fall.
DON’T RELEASE YOUR PETS INTO THE WILD
Have you heard about the pythons in the Florida everglades? The wild parrots of San Francisco? Well, how about the redeared slider turtles of Nantucket ponds? Yes, Nantucket’s maritime climate has also meant its milder winters allow some released pets to prosper. Even though it is illegal in Massachusetts to abandon any pet, people do so either out of lack of ability to care for the animal or feeling that they are “setting them free.” Neither are good reasons. Not only is releasing a domesticated animal into the wild a legal and moral issue, it can cause problems for a fragile native ecosystem. Red eared sliders are a non-native freshwater turtle species popular in the pet trade. They look similar to our native painted turtle, but they are much more aggressive and can outcompete our native painted and spotted turtles. Reptile pets can also carry diseases from captivity into a native population.
Many of our invasive aquatic plants originated from aquaria that were dumped either with or without the fish. Case-in-point; Miacomet Pond now has an infestation of highly invasive Parrot Feather (Myriophyllum aquaticum). This non-native invasive aquatic is a common aquarium species. Once a plant or two are dumped into a waterway, it can spread via small fragments and tubers at the roots. If left unchecked, it can form dense mats which provide habitat for mosquito larvae and can impede boats. The Nantucket Land Bank has been working to eradicate parrot feather before further spreading into the pond. This is going to be a costly problem to get rid of and manage before it gets into more waterways around the island.
Rabbits, birds, snakes, goldfish, turtles, and cats (lots of cats) have been released all over the island. It’s bad for the environment and not good for the animals either. Have a pet you can no longer care for? Call NiSHA, Nantucket Island Safe Harbor for Animals, and they can help you find a home for your pet. Or better yet, don’t support the exotic pet trade in the first place!
SUPPORT THE LOCAL FOOD SYSTEM
Not only is buying food from local growers better tasting and more nutritious, it’s better for the environment. By purchasing locally grown foods you help maintain farmland and green and/or open space in your community. The fewer steps there are between you and your food source, the fewer chances there are for contamination. Food grown and harvested close to home also requires less fossil fuels to transport, generating fewer greenhouse gas emissions than conventionally produced food.
You are also supporting your neighbors. The money that is spent with local farmers, harvesters, and growers all stays close to home and is reinvested with businesses and services in our community.
PLEASE DON’T SPRAY THE INSECTS
With the holidays approaching and winter close at hand, insects may not be on the forefront of our minds. Come spring, however, as insects begin to emerge from their winter slumber, they may be more noticeable on the home front landscape. For the love of plants, flowers, honey, and food, please don’t spray the insects! Most insecticides are not species-specific. That means that anything you spray will be broad-spectrum: it will kill everything, even the monarchs and ladybugs.
A few years ago a friend of mine lamented that her pollinator garden, normally a hot spot for butterflies and bees of all shapes, sizes, and colors, was nearly devoid of life. She wanted to know if there had been an islandwide decline in pollinators. After a little investigation, we came to find that a neighbor had sprayed their yard “for the season” and the spray had wafted over to my friend’s yard. The lavender, bee balm, and Echinacea plants, normally abuzz with pollinators, was eerily silent. Her bird fauna suffered as well. The feeders had some activity, but with the loss of insects, there were far fewer birds visiting her yard. Do yourself and your yard a favor: don’t spray!
REDUCE AND REUSE (INSTEAD OF RELYING ON RECYCLE)
Have you ever been to the Take It or Leave It on Monday afternoon? It is a depressing to know that all of those clothes, furniture, toys, etc. will be in the dump the following day. It’s not only an issue on Nantucket. Overconsumption and cheap products make many things disposable that shouldn’t be. There has been a lot of talk lately about plastic straws or single-use bottles, but let’s not stop there. What are some other things that we can keep out of the landfill? For those clothes that don’t fit or you’re otherwise done with, host a clothing swap, or donate to one of the thrift stores on-island. Limit the use of plastic wherever possible. Encourage the re-use of items or try not to be so quick to toss things out as styles change. Encourage clients to allow for the re-use of materials rather than disposing of good quality lumber. Buy in bulk, and always bring your own bags to the grocery store. It’s a lot of little things that can add up.
WATCH WHAT YOU PUT DOWN THE DRAIN
Anyone who was on-island last winter knows about sewer lines. After the catastrophic sewer main break, Nantucket was national news and we had an environmental disaster in our backyards. One silver lining to this ecological disaster was that many of us learned A LOT about our town sewer infrastructure; how it works (and sometimes doesn’t) and what we can do to help things run smoothly. David Grey, Nantucket Sewer Director, gave us all a lesson in what is NOT appropriate to be throwing down the sink. The issue came up again in May when paint and/or paint thinner was dumped down a drain and made its way into the Sconset Wastewater Treatment Plant where it killed nearly all of the “good” bacteria used to break down wastewater.
Any solid matter that you put down the toilet or drainpipe has the potential to cause blockages in both the public sewer and your own private drain. In order to prevent blockages and to keep our sewer systems functioning properly, refrain from dumping the following items down your toilet, sink, drainpipe, or garbage disposal: fats, oils, or grease from cooking, dental floss, “flushable” wipes, disposable diapers, feminine hygiene products, paper towels, “flushable” cat litter, condoms, plastic bags/wrappings, motor oil, transmission fluids, anti-freeze or other toxic chemicals, solvents, paints, turpentine, and any medications. While not a complete list, following these rules and using some common sense will go a long way towards improving our sewer system function.
SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL CONSERVATION GROUPS! ON & OFF ISLAND
One of the best ways to help the environment is to support the organizations who do that work every day. By supporting a local conservation group, you are supporting the people who do the research, education, and stewardship of our Nantucket open spaces. Without them, the open spaces that we all enjoy from the beaches, to the grasslands, marshlands, and forests, wouldn’t be there.