by Dr. Sarah Treanor Bois, PhD
Director of Reseach & Education at the Linda Loring Nature Foundation
September is Climate Change Awareness Month, a proclamation adopted by the Nantucket Select Board in 2020. But what does that mean for the island and our community? As an island, most of us are “aware” of climate change already. Discussions of storm surge, sea level rise, and erosion will get you a response at any island gathering place. Where the most vulnerable areas are is no longer a conversation just for the experts. Everyone has been affected by flooded roads, loss of beach access due to erosion, or boat cancellations due to frequent winter storms.
So now that we are “aware” where does that lead us? The Coastal Resiliency Plan, which came out in 2021, calls for multiple projects to protect certain resources, move some infrastructure, bolster bulkheads, and elevate roads, among many other projects. It is a plan for preparation and protection. And it is necessary, from a community perspective, to plan in this way. But it can’t be accomplished by the Town of Nantucket alone.
We are fortunate on-island that more than 50% of the land is under some kind of conservation. Open space is an extremely valuable resource when it comes to mitigating for climate change impacts and, on Nantucket, we are ahead of the game. Conserving land and stewarding it well is more important than ever as communities plan for change and seek to mitigate threats. Land trusts such as the Nantucket Land Bank, Nantucket Conservation Foundation, Massachusetts Audubon, Linda Loring Nature Foundation, and others not only protect land, but steward it in a way that meets their management and conservation goals. Land trusts and conservation organizations play critical roles in acquiring lands, practicing sustainable conservation, offering recreation opportunities, and building awareness of natural resources benefits and challenges. Nantucket has truly succeeded in those goals. Land trusts also have a unique opportunity to intentionally address climate adaptation in planning that can achieve impacts across a larger landscape than can typically achieved by a single landowner.
First of all, open space lands are a physical space for mitigation strategies. Lands can be a physical barrier to storm surge, wave action, and flooding. These properties can take on water and be a physical barrier protecting homes and important infrastructure. In other communities, people are looking to purchase open space to fill this need. On Nantucket, our land protection efforts from decades ago are continuing to have benefits as our community faces the challenges and impacts of climate change.
The open, vegetated landscape is also important for our water resources and ensuring clean water. Natural landscape can filter as much as 95 percent of major pollutants out of stormwater runoff. Research has shown that vegetated landscape and green infrastructure (such as rain gardens) can reduce stormwater runoff by as much as 90 percent, reducing the likelihood of costly flooding.
We know from many different disciplines, that diversity is key to longevity and survival. In the natural world, we use the term biodiversity to discuss the value of multi-species habitats. But it’s not just the species diversity that matters when it comes to resiliency. We know that topographic diversity, species diversity, habitat variability, and microclimates all work together to create a more resilient landscape. It’s like making sure we don’t put all our eggs in one basket.
With a focus on protecting and restoring the ability of our local ecosystems to respond and adapt to warming temperatures and other climate change impacts, land trusts contribute back to the community greater than just providing open space. Because climate change is already occurring, land trusts must respond to its current and projected impacts. The next steps are for land trust organizations to maintain habitat health and connectivity.
Whether the desired impact is buffering from sea level rise, biodiversity protection, clean drinking water, or flood mitigation, we have to protect large areas of land and ensure their ecosystem function. Land trusts and conservation organizations can complement work done in by different sectors by acting as partners providing expertise, innovation, and continuity on projects that can take decades to implement. They can also act independently to protect natural resources in perpetuity.
In addition to ecosystem function, Nantucket groups are managing land for specific projects, but also generally by reducing further threats. Invasive species removal and prevention, protecting and increasing native biodiversity, and implementing resilient strategies, are just a few ways our local land trusts work to combat the effects of climate change making our landscapes as resilient as possible.
Since many of our conservation groups also have an education component to their mission, our Nantucket Land Trusts and conservation groups also work for observe and record the impacts of climate change. They communicate and educate the public about these changes through papers, articles, walks, and talks.
Interested to learn more? Early in September, the Linda Loring Nature Foundation and the Nantucket Conservation Foundation are collaborating on the first Nantucket Climate Change Summit. The inaugural NCC Summit is being held September 6 from 4 to 6:30pm, hosted at the Great Harbor Yacht Club and organized by the Nantucket Conservation Foundation and the Linda Loring Nature Foundation and sponsored by the ReMain Nantucket Fund. The summit is free and open to the public and registration is encouraged at ackclimatesummit.com.
The focus of the summit will be an introduction to the current state of how climate change is impacting Nantucket Island on the shore, and also inland and around the entire island. Presentations will be made by island organizations focusing on adaptation and assessment projects underway including “Restoring Lily Pond Park (Nantucket Islands Land Bank), “Planning and Managing Conservation of Open Space” (Linda Loring Nature Foundation and Nantucket Conservation Foundation” and “Hither Creek Dune Restoration” (Nantucket Conservation Foundation). Following the presentations, audience and hosts will gather for refreshments, community conversation and a chance to view posters presenting projects of additional groups on-island, including the Nantucket Historical Association, Town of Nantucket Natural Resources Department, Envision Resilience, and more.
On the Thursday following the Summit, Drs. Karberg and Bois will be hosting a Climate Change Walk along Washington Street to dive more deeply into topics discussed during the Summit. Register online at the Nantucket Conservation Foundation’s Events Calendar: nantucketconservation.org/events.
Later in September, look for more opportunities to learn about Climate Change on Nantucket: check events.nantucket.net for what will be happening through the month. You know that saying, “It takes a village…” well, to prepare for climate change, it’s going to take an island. Land Trusts will play a vital role along with the Town of Nantucket, private landowners, businesses, and more.