I am a new board member of Friends of Sengekontacket. (FOS) After first learning how to spell the name of the organization, I had to become familiar with the geographical boundaries of our area of concern. Sengekontacket Pond is located across from the Joseph Sylvia State Beach. The western end of the pond is in the town of Oak Bluffs, and the eastern section is in the town of Edgartown. The pond is 745 acres in area and two and a half miles long. Salt marshes are found along most of the pond’s shoreline as well as Trapp’s Pond which is connected to Sengekontacket through a culvert under Beach Road.

In the summer of 1988 Sengekontacket Pond was closed to shellfishing for the first time by the Division of Marine Fisheries due to high levels of bacterial contamination. A year later scientists, committed environmentalists, and local residents held meetings to discuss the problem. From these meetings, FOS was born.

That first year in 1989 the founding board of FOS raised $42,000 to help fund a study by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to identify the sources of pollution in the pond. The study found failed septic systems leaching into the pond, fertilizer from lawns adding nitrogen and other nutrients promoting algae growth, and rainwater runoff carrying a host of contaminants into the pond. From that initial study and continuing into the present, FOS has worked diligently, partnering with other organizations, to protect water quality in Sengekontacket and Trapp’s Pond, to preserve habitat for aquatic plants, shellfish and birds, and to promote environmentally sound management and use of the pond and barrier beach.

An important FOS concern is keeping the beaches in our area of concern clean and beautiful. Each spring we sponsor the carry in/carry out poster contest in the Oak Bluffs and Edgartown schools. Winning posters are then strategically placed along State Beach with the message to carry out your trash. The goal is for humans to leave nothing behind except their footprints. FOS also celebrates Earth Day by organizing volunteers to pick up trash along our beaches.

In addition, FOS purchases and our volunteers plant dune grass and other plants to fight beach erosion. We also fund shellfish restoration programs and water quality testing in collaboration with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

Finally, FOS is deeply committed to environmental education. Among other things, in collaboration with a Felix Neck Wildlife naturalist, we sponsor a free nature program for children each Saturday during July and August from 9:30 to 10:30 am. We also educate homeowners who border the pond regarding septic system concerns, approved fertilizers, and the planting of non-invasive plants in their gardens.

Sengekontacket Pond is the home of scallops and clams. The small islands in the pond are important nesting sites for terns and other shorebirds. People kayak and canoe its waters, picnic on its protected shores, and windsurf its waters. It’s a valuable Vineyard treasure needing our protection. If you can help or want to learn more about the organization, please visit our Friends of Sengekontacket website.

Rick Herrick writes the East Chop column for the Gazette.