Five years after Hurricane Sandy hit Martha’s Vineyard in 2012, certain parts of the Island are still recovering. The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) is working to restore 230 acres of tribal land from the storm and is taking on the task of protecting their ancestral home from future storms.

Bret Stearns, director of the tribe’s department of natural resources, and his team have been working tirelessly since Sandy to repair, assess and survey Lobsterville Road, plant 19,000 eel grass plants at Lobsterville Beach, and manage the herring population in the herring run between Menemsha and Squibnocket Ponds.

The tribe is completing this work with $670,000 from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Hurricane Sandy coastal resiliency competitive grant program, and additional funding from other sources totaling more than $230,000.

Herring Creek and Menemsha and Squibnocket Ponds are all key parts of the tribe’s long history on the Island, as tribal members have fished for herring there for tens of thousands of years. The tribe has historically relied on herring from the land to serve as sustenance for the people and it has intense cultural significance for the community.

The grant has paid for an underwater camera system installation on the herring run to identify species in the creek and get a better idea of how many herring are returning to Squibnocket Pond every year. The team is still working to collect and analyze the data, but early findings indicate that the herring population has decreased acutely in recent years.

Herring are being considered for listing on the endangered species list, and it is estimated that most herring runs have been reduced to three per cent of their original capacity.

The herring are not the only natural resource the department aims to preserve. The beach grasses planted at Lobsterville Beach also help to establish a root system to hold sand in place and reduce the salinity of the water making it to some of the oldest surviving natural cranberry bogs in the world. The natural peat cranberry bogs border Lobsterville Road and are a significant part of the Wampanoag history.

This work is essential to protect the land that has belonged to the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head for at least 10,000 years. The work would not be possible without funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the steadfast work of the team at the tribe’s department of natural resources.

Kate Jamison works for GreenSmith Public Affairs, a firm that does public relations for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.