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Harmful algae lurking in Bartlett Pond, Plymouth MA

Bartlett Pond, a 33 acre pond in Plymouth that flows into Cape Cod Bay, is another Massachusetts water body suffering from a toxic cyanobacteria algal bloom this summer. What makes this pond different than the multitudes of other with a visible pea-soups sludge of blue-green algae is that in Bartlett, the cyanobacteria isn’t visible. The chroococcus species of algae flourishes in ecosystems with excess nitrogen, “more than likely from the septic systems from surrounding homes leaching into Bartlett Pond,” according to Plymouth Public Health Director Dr. Nate Horwitz-Willis.

Rotting fish float just beneath the surface, suffocated by a lack of oxygen, which was used up by the algae. On the bottom of the pond, freshwater mussels suffered the same fate, and floated to the surface. While nearby White Horse Beach, which receives outflow from the pond isn’t closed, residents are still being cautioned. As of July 17th Bartlett Pond has been closed, likely for the rest of the summer.

8 responses on “Harmful algae lurking in Bartlett Pond, Plymouth MA

  1. Rich

    Are there measures/actions that can be taken to reverse the occurance of this and other harmful bacteria? While surrounding septic systems are believed to be contributing the occurance of the bacteria, are the sources being actively investigated? How can one learn about ways of contributing in a meaningful way to help remediate this problem?

    1. Rob Moir, Ph.D. Post author

      Excellent questions. For Bartlett Pond being residential with no agriculture or cranberry bogs close by, like most of the nutrients are coming from home owners. The two sources of nitrogen are septic systems and fertilizer runoff from lawns. The state has implemented strict septic regs that must be applied when homes are sold. I have written to Plymouth Conservation Commission and asked to speak with them about modifying lawn care to increase the setbacks of spread from waterways and wetlands, to use slow release nitrogen, and to spread 1 pound per thousand sq ft per year not 5 pounds. Falmouth has made the switch, implemented a no fertilizing holiday for the summer, saved lawn owners money, and their lawns are just as green as neighboring lawns. If you live in MA perhaps I might speak with your conservation commissioners about a lawn care ordinance that cleans up the waters including groundwater while keeping lawns green.

      1. Adam Afzali

        Hi Rob,

        There are several cranberry bogs upstream that flow into Bartlett Pond.

        Tidmarsh is no longer a cranberry bog, but was, and is upstream in the watershed. There are several other golf courses and other possible entry points of bacteria and nitrogen other than the nearby lawns and septic systems that contribute to the Bartlett watershed.

  2. Pond Resident

    Rob Moir,
    I would like to correct your statement or perhaps misinterpretation by you or Dr. Horwitz-Willis in regards to Bartlett Pond in Plymouth. The reason I am saying this is because I live on that pond and knowing the area, have years of knowledge of who and/or what is the contributing factors to the pond pollution. Most of the residents that surround the pond are “summer residents” from approximately Memorial Day to Labor Day. Once they close their cottages, the number of active full time septic systems on the pond is reduced to 1/3 of the total number. Septic is NOT the only factor in this equation. Starting at Rte 3 and going East (and all flows downhill) toward the ocean is a multitude of potential polluters. You have golf courses, housing developments, a large land mass of now, non-operating cranberry bogs, a defunct town dump, again more housing developments, Rte 3A commercial properties and adjacent roadways , road storm drains, and then the waters trickle down to Bartlett Pond and discharge onto White Horse Beach of Cape Cod Bay. In reference to the rotting fish and mussels was the result of a PAST prodigious influx of fresh water from some upland source. There are witnesses of the gravel colored water entering the pond. By nightfall, the entire water was engulfed with this strange color. Within 11 days, the water of the pond turned completely black, fish floated to the surface and the fresh water mussels were open and empty along with the foul stench of rotting fish and water vegetation . Water testing was done but unfortunately it was not performed for chemical toxicity. I am not a chemist nor a scientist but after years of carefully watching the water, waterfowl and landscape, you could tell it was a chemical kill. Since that time Bartlett Pond has rapidly degraded and now algae blooms have become a permanent resident. The waterfowl no longer use Bartlett Pond as a stop-over and resting place as they fly their course of migration.

    Perhaps I should write a mystery novel……………. Who Killed Bartlett Pond.

    1. Rob Moir, Ph.D. Post author

      Thank you for enlightening us all about a place you know very well. Sometimes fish kills are caused by toxic chemicals. Other times nutrients feed algae that bloom and consume all the oxygen or the algae bloom releases toxins that are injurious to humans. You know Bartlett Pond better than I.

    2. Christine A Bostek

      I would like to know who stated the above information because those are my words that exactly explain the entirety of the landscape and situation.

      I’ve been living in the same house on Bartlett Pond for 40+ years. Bartlett Pond is in my back yard. I’m a year-round-resident.

      Come and visit, I will take you for a complete tour with the points of interest and explanation. Contact me please! 06/21/2019

  3. Rob Moir, Ph.D. Post author

    Hello Christine,
    The case of Bartlett Pond was written up by a summer intern last summer. She found a newspaper article by a reporter who apparently talked with you but did not properly attribute the source. The summer intern was reaching out to the people of the places and would have reached out to you had she/we known.
    Has anything changed in Bartlett Pond over the summer in terms of algal blooms? Any ideas why changes?
    ORI is going town by town across MA convincing Conservation Commissions to change their wetland orders and conditions to include no fertilizing of established lawns near wetlands/water.
    May one of ORI Fall interns contact you for a site visit in September? If yes, please send me your contact info to Rob@ oceanriver dot org.

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