The recent story in the Gazette about the Edgartown Great Pond was great, and work being done by the Great Pond Foundation is helping the pond in a host of ways. The annual dredging helps the water quality in the pond immensely. Water quality monitoring is helpful as well. Kudos to the foundation and other private donors — too numerous to mention here — who have helped the pond over the years.

I have some concerns about statements made by Emily Reddington where she states that before the release of the Massachusetts Estuaries project report in 2008, no comprehensive study of the Great Pond had taken place. This is not the case. In fact the town needed at least three years of comprehensive data on the pond to enter the estuaries project in the first place. This three years-plus collection of data was done by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission under Bill Wilcox.

The summer of 1993 was what I consider the low point in water quality for the Edgartown Great Pond. Ironically, in 1992 Arthur Gaines of Woods Hole had just finished a three-year study of the pond. In the spring and summer of 1993, the water in the pond turned brown and water clarity dropped rapidly. The cause was a unicellular brown algae that died — virtually overnight — and smothered and killed 80 to 90 per cent of the softshell clams and oysters in the pond.

At the time, we were running a remote set of oysters with the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group at Michael Wild’s house, so we witnessed the event firsthand.

What happened was the Island had received a near miss from a hurricane, and the rain and the saltwater running through and over the beach lowered the water temperature and raised the salinity, triggering the dieoff of the algae. We quickly eliminated any toxic chemicals like pesticides as the cause, and began looking at other causes which would lead to this type of event. These investigations and the Gaines report helped form the conclusion that too many nutrients were entering the pond.

To help solve the problem, the town voters approved a multimillion-dollar upgrade our sewer plant which reduced its nitrogen output significantly. This was a major step forward for the health of the pond and the wastewater treatment facility became part of solution instead of part of the problem. The upgrade was taken into account when the Great Pond entered the estuaries program. In 2000 data was collected until 2004, with a draft report issued in 2006 and a final report in 2008. By this time the town had already started implementing recommendations found in the draft report. This has been a lot of money well spent and the pond is improving. However we must remain vigilant. It is important for town voters to know these facts for our annual town meeting, because our 40-year-old wastewater facility is in need of some expensive maintenance which is critical for the plant to operate.

As for other studies on the Edgartown Great Pond, there have been many over the years. They have involved various institutions like the Marine Biological Laboratories, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Rutgers, the University of Rhode Island, University of Connecticut, Virginia Institute of Marine Science and the Center for Coastal Studies. The studies have looked at various aspects of the pond from shellfish diseases to contaminants. The shellfish department has helped two graduate students obtain their master’s degrees with studies done on the pond.

The Great Pond Foundation has been a part of this effort for many years Their dredging crew and scientific staff deserve a huge thank you. Stewardship of the pond is truly a community effort and it has been going on for decades. I remember when I was out there harvesting clams to pay for college and George Jackson, shellfish constable, was putting out oyster spat collectors. That was in 1977.

Paul Bagnall

The writer is the Edgartown shellfish constable.