Nantucket BioDiversity Initiative
Island Science Nantucket Events

Sail Into Science

• by Dr. Sarah Oktay, Director, University of Massachusetts Nantucket Field Station

This week’s column is designed to get you outdoors to work with visiting scientists and learn more about Nantucket’s diverse and fascinating plants and animals. For the first time, the Nantucket Biodiversity Initiative is sponsoring a Citizen Science Weekend this weekend July 25 – 27th. Scientists from off-island have been invited to join our local experts to locate, identify and study Nantucket’s under-studied species of interest. Every other year, we feature a Nantucket Biodiversity Week in either the spring or fall in which scientists fan out over the island with citizen scientists and naturalists to count, record, photograph, measure, or observe a variety of life. We held our first Nantucket Biodiversity Week in May of 2004. This year we decided to try something new and hold a shorter week in the middle of summer when different plants and animals are present. Although we and our citizen scientists are all busier now, we thought it would be worth it to have our many summer visitors involved and to see what we could document in a warmer month.

We will launch the weekend off in style with a kick-off event Friday, July 25th from 6:30 – 8:30 pm at the Dreamland Theater. Researchers from UMass Boston, the College of Staten Island/ City University of New York, the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, Maria Mitchell Association, and the Polly Hill Arboretum from Martha’s Vineyard among others will describe exactly what they are hoping to accomplish on island over the weekend and how the public can help. This is a rare opportunity to see science in action and contribute to documenting the types of plants and animals on Nantucket. The researchers coming to the island are collecting information they need to make decisions on land management practices, beach use policies, and the result of establishing wildlife corridors and enacting habitat protection. The full schedule is at the end of this article and can be found along with registration information at

Understanding the difference in biodiversity between the Cape and the Islands and the unique ability we have to measure island biogeography, climate change, and the sequestering of gene pools make our island, in effect, a living experiment. Nantucket’s physical isolation from the mainland allows for a wide range of genetic, biological, wetland and coastal science, and natural resource protection projects in a relatively closed system. For the past several years, island conservation groups and scientists have banded together to conduct their own research and fund outside research groups investigating our plants, lichens, mushrooms, birds, snakes, ants, spiders, beetles, and everything in between. Some of this research builds upon decades of biological observations and research. We are also interested in recording any detectable biodiversity shifts following hundreds of years of land alterations. The isolation and geologic history of Nantucket, Tuckernuck, and Muskeget Islands have created a cornucopia of distinctive flora and fauna that occupy niches near the geographical and climatological northern and southern limits of their ranges. Many of these species are rare regionally and even globally. In fact, there are more Massachusetts state-listed endangered species on Nantucket than in any other county in the state.

The purpose of the Citizen Science weekend and the organization as a whole is to achieve much more than each of the members organization could do on their own. By combining our resources and expertise and as they might say years ago, our rolodexes, we can entice a variety of scientists and naturalists to come out here and find out what exists on the island before it disappears. Nantucket is unique in its island world, separate from the mainland and therefore able to shelter our trees from Dutch Elm disease and the Asian Long Horned Beetle. Comparing our species and their development and interactions with other islands nearby or on the mainland can help us understand what to expect in the coming years. For field station directors around the country and land management trusts and conservation groups, biodiversity surveys are crucial in evaluating how to take care of or maintain habitats. Our sandplain grasslands, one of the most endangered habitats in the world, are an example of a very important and rare habitat that is vital to protect.

NBI members have selected 21 specific plots in 21 different habitats in order to coordinate the research conducted and assist scientists in the field that might not be familiar with Nantucket. These plots also allow us to record plant and animal life in the same area over time to document any changes. Each of these ten hectare (10,000 square meters or about 2.5 U.S. survey acres) plots is representative of a different habitat on Nantucket from salt marshes to sandplain grasslands to scrub oak forest and heathlands. We ask visiting scientists to perform as much of the research as possible within these plots so that we can maintain a long term database of biodiversity-related changes. These types of measurements are essential for recording, for instance, how global climate change could be affecting the island’s plant and animal species. New for this science weekend, we are expanding our efforts to the new Nantucket Conservation Foundation land at Norwood farms and also doing some projects out at Eel Point and the Linda Loring Nature Foundation to get a handle on some of the species to be found in that section of the island.

We want to recognize with gratitude ReMain Nantucket for their support of this event. With their help we are able to hold a bigger launching event and hopefully you will all be there this Friday at the Dreamland to find out what we will be doing. Members of the NBI include: the Linda Loring Nature Foundation, Maria Mitchell Association, Massachusetts Audubon Society, Nantucket Conservation Foundation, Nantucket Garden Club, Nantucket Islands Land Bank Commission, Nantucket Land Council, Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program of Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife, Science Department of Nantucket High School, The Trustees of Reservations, the Tuckernuck Land Trust, the University of Massachusetts Boston Nantucket Field Station and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. These groups do a tremendous service for our community by banding together and providing opportunities for citizen scientists, naturalists, educators, the public and scientists to work together.

The Nantucket Biodiversity Initiative supports biodiversity related research on Nantucket, Tuckernuck, and Muskeget Islands through and annual Small Grants program. This program awards grants of $1,500 or less to researchers from all areas of the sciences. Funding is available for the purchase of research equipment, travel to the Islands for research, field supplies, and sample processing. Additional information can be found on the web site and grants applications are typically due in February each year.

But wait, there’s more! Admission is free to all events. There are limited spots for each scientific foray so go to the Nantucket Biodiversity Initiative website at for registration information and event locations.

The schedule for science forays is:

Saturday, July 26th:

6:00 – 11:00 am: Bird Banding with Dr. Richard Veit, Biology Department, College of Staten Island/The City University of New York

9:30 – 11:30 am: Survey for Dragonflies with Julia Blythe, Collections Manager, Maria Mitchell Association

12:00 – 2:00 pm: Survey for Invertebrates with Charley Eiseman, Co-author, “Tracks and Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates”

2:00 – 4:00 pm: Survey for Beach Invertebrates with Tim Simmons, Restoration Ecologist, MA Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program

5:00 pm: Presentation at the UMass Boston Nantucket Field Station (180 Polpis Road). “Oak Diversity of the Cape and Islands” by Timothy Boland, Executive Director, Polly Hill Arboretum, West Tisbury, Martha’s Vineyard

Sunday, July 27th:

7:00 – 9:00 am: Bird Walk with Local Bird Expert Edie Ray

9:30 – 11:30 am: Plant Survey with Dr. Bryan Connolly, State Botanist, MA Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program

12:00 – 2:00 pm: Survey for Marine Invertebrates with Dr. Beth Boyle School for the Environment, UMass Boston.

2:00- 4:00 pm: Salt Marsh Survey with Dr. Jarrett Byrnes and Marc Hensel (Biology Department, UMass Boston) at the UMass Boston Folgers Marsh 180 Polpis Road.

5:00 pm: Wrap-up Event at the Nantucket Conservation Foundation 118 Cliff Road with a roundup of photos and brief presentations on project results by visiting researchers followed by refreshments.

Articles by Date from 2012