Do healthier ponds mean healthier people?
Founded in 1968, the
Association to Preserve Cape Cod can list some major successes, including spearheading the cleanup of contamination at Joint Base Cape Cod (formerly known as the Massachusetts Military Reservation) and promoting the Cape Cod Water Protection Trust Fund to help towns deal with wastewater management.
In many ways, an environmental organization is also a public health organization, and that’s why APCC is getting support from Cape Cod Healthcare’s Community Benefits program.
“There's voluminous data out there about the physical and mental health benefits of people spending time in nature,” said Andrew Gottlieb, executive director of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod (APCC).
“Whether your chosen vocation is swimming, hiking, kayaking, whatever it might be, there are health benefits to being out there and moving. And so, an environment that's inviting to people and that people have access to is clearly a feature of maintaining good health for all in the community.
“Plus, there's a lot of work out there now on the mental health benefits that come from people spending time outdoors. You can look at the well-documented increase in the use of public space resources during the period of COVID. The tranquility that comes with being in the natural world helps people lower their stress levels.”
To help support that aspect of public health, Cape Cod Healthcare awarded a $20,000 Community Benefits initiative grant to APCC for its Pond Health Program. In 2021, CCHC will award $299,608 in grants to groups working to improve the health and wellness of the Cape Cod community.
There are almost 1,000 ponds on Cape Cod and many of them are frequently visited by people who want to boat, fish, swim or play with a dog.
“Our ponds are a treasured resource, but the extent to which they're a healthy environment has started to come into question,” Gottlieb said.
Cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, is a natural part of a pond’s ecosystem, but when it’s overabundant it can degrade the habitat and be dangerous to wildlife, pets and humans. In humans, reactions can range from mild skin irritation to neurologic problems. Exposure to cyanobacteria can be fatal to dogs.
APCC began monitoring Cape ponds for cyanobacteria in 2016.
“We've found that the cyanobacteria blooms are more widely distributed across the Cape than we expected,” he said. “They start earlier, and they last longer into the year than we expected, and they are more severe in a number of ponds than we expected. It's a major concern for people who want to utilize the ponds.”
APCC’s findings in the last few years have resulted in town boards of health issuing restrictions on the use of some ponds.
The grant from the Community Benefits initiative will allow APCC to expand its Pond Health program from about 50 in 2020 to as many as 150 ponds, including some in each of the Cape’s 15 towns, he said.
“It expands our capacity to hire the staff and pay for equipment,” Gottlieb said. “It also serves as anchor funding that we've been able to use to attract additional resources from other funders.
“The commitment of Cape Cod Healthcare is an important validation of the work that we're doing and has made it easier for us to accumulate the additional resources we need.”
During the pond sampling season (May-October), APCC regularly updates a
cyanobacteria monitoring map, where you can check the safety of many popular Cape Cod ponds.
“We want to give people the information they need so they can make important choices about where they want to recreate and how that could potentially affect their health,” said Gottlieb.